Building Science

7 Key Strategies for Construction in Coastal Regions

There is not a sin­gle strat­e­gy or solu­tion for build­ing struc­tures along the coast. Any build­ing design needs to be looked at holis­ti­cal­ly, not as indi­vid­ual design aspects or mate­ri­als. When designed togeth­er and con­struct­ed as an assem­bly, all of the com­po­nents of a build­ing can cre­ate a safe, effi­cient, and resilient build­ing. The fol­low­ing are 7 strate­gies for bet­ter con­struc­tion along the coast.

1. Higher Finished Floor Heights and Site Design

Build­ing at fin­ished floor ele­va­tion well above the storm surge mod­el can pro­tect a build­ing from hur­ri­cane and trop­i­cal storm surge flood­ing. This can be accom­plished by build­ing on pil­ings and, in some cas­es, by bring­ing the build­ing pad up a few feet with fill mate­r­i­al.

Anoth­er site design to pay atten­tion to is land­scape design, instal­la­tion, and upkeep that should main­tain the property’s abil­i­ty to drain water away from the struc­ture. Pro­tect­ing coastal build­ings from water is vital­ly impor­tant to the inte­ri­or fin­ish­es and fur­nish­ings, and the structure’s long-term val­ue.

2. Using Resilient and Efficient Wall Systems

Using resilient wall sys­tems to build in coastal areas can pro­tect both the struc­tur­al integri­ty of the build­ing, but also elim­i­nate the chance for fly­ing debris to pen­e­trate the walls. Con­crete wall assem­blies like the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem should be con­sid­ered for the inher­ent strength against high winds, but also for the lab-test­ed resis­tance to wind-borne mis­sile debris.

These types of walls do not rely on sheath­ing for strength, and are far less like­ly to suf­fer cat­a­stroph­ic fail­ure in a high wind event (like wood and met­al light framed walls). Con­crete walls don’t rot and rust in salt air, and are designed to be long last­ing safe struc­tures.

Bau­tex wall assem­blies are also inte­gral­ly insu­lat­ed, pro­vid­ing both ther­mal mass and high R-val­ue. Many coastal areas have hot sum­mers, and effi­cient walls are a must when build­ing in these regions. Resilient and high-per­form­ing walls must be one of the first con­sid­er­a­tions when build­ing coastal struc­tures for dura­bil­i­ty, safe­ty, and ener­gy effi­cien­cy.

3. Robust and Water-Resistant Roofs

Roofs have to be designed with low pitch­es to min­i­mize the amount of wind pres­sure on the struc­ture. Con­nec­tions to the wall assem­bly should be designed to be robust and, if pos­si­ble, to exceed the pre­scribed code. Hav­ing an adhered weath­er bar­ri­er on the roof sheath­ing will add pro­tec­tion against water pen­e­tra­tion, should the roof­ing mate­r­i­al become com­pro­mised dur­ing wind­storm events. This type of redun­dan­cy not only cre­ates a more effi­cient build­ing, but can be the dif­fer­ence between water dam­age or not.

In most cas­es, roofs are the first part of the struc­ture to be dam­aged along the coast dur­ing wind­storms and hur­ri­canes, and should be con­struct­ed to the high­est qual­i­ty and strength. Robust roofs on coastal build­ings are nec­es­sary to pro­tect the inte­ri­or of the build­ing, includ­ing all the fur­ni­ture, appli­ances and oth­er valu­able per­son­al prop­er­ty.

4. High-Performance Windows

Win­dows are often looked at for mate­ri­als and col­ors, but should also be com­pared for per­for­mance as well. Build­ings along the coast should be built with high-per­form­ing win­dows.

First, all of the win­dow mate­ri­als should be resis­tant to salt air and easy to clean. The win­dows should also have impact test­ing for wind­storm and hur­ri­cane debris. Los­ing a win­dow in a high wind event could result in flood­ing or an even worse struc­tur­al fail­ure when the enclo­sure is com­prised and pres­sures are increased inside the struc­ture.

Coastal areas are known for con­stant and long-term expo­sure to sun and heat. There­fore, the win­dows should be select­ed to com­bat those ele­ments. When choos­ing win­dows, the solar heat gain coef­fi­cient (the amount of solar radi­a­tion allowed through the win­dow) should be less than 0.20 and the U-fac­tor (resis­tance to heat flow) should be less than 0.25. High-per­form­ing win­dows will con­tribute to a safer, easy to main­tain, and more effi­cient struc­ture.

5. Insulated and Sealed Attics

Putting HVAC units in uncon­di­tioned attic space should be avoid­ed. Instead the ther­mal and air enve­lope should be at the roof line rather than the ceil­ing. Enclos­ing the attic space inside the build­ing enve­lope low­ers the tem­per­a­ture in this area and avoids expos­ing the air han­dler and HVAC duct­ing to heat, result­ing in high­er effi­cien­cy and more indoor com­fort.

It is also eas­i­er and more effec­tive to air seal the struc­ture at the roofline than at the ceil­ing lev­el, con­sid­er­ing all of the light fix­tures and oth­er pen­e­tra­tions that are com­mon­ly installed in the ceil­ings of most homes.

6. Direct-Adhered Air and Moisture Barriers

Although not tech­ni­cal­ly part of the HVAC sys­tem, the design of the build­ing enve­lope needs to be con­sid­ered as part of the indoor air qual­i­ty and com­fort deliv­ery sys­tem. An effec­tive air and mois­ture bar­ri­er is vital to the per­for­mance of any build­ing locat­ed in humid coastal envi­ron­ments.

Flu­id-applied and direct-adhered mem­brane air and mois­ture bar­ri­ers offer the high­est lev­el of per­for­mance, espe­cial­ly as com­pared to mechan­i­cal­ly fas­tened build­ing wraps and felt paper. These air and mois­ture bar­ri­er sys­tems will also per­form bet­ter in wind­storm events, pro­tect­ing the build­ing from water intru­sion even after any façade or wall fin­ish is com­pro­mised by high winds.

7. Supplemental Dehumidification

In con­junc­tion with a well-designed HVAC sys­tem and a more air­tight build­ing enve­lope, sup­ple­men­tal dehu­mid­i­fi­ca­tion should be con­sid­ered in coastal envi­ron­ments, espe­cial­ly along the Gulf Coast. Dehu­mid­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tems are much more effi­cient at pulling mois­ture out of the indoor air than air con­di­tion­ers. These sys­tems allow the HVAC sys­tem to run much less often, espe­cial­ly in tem­per­ate months and when the build­ing is unoc­cu­pied.

As a Texas-based com­pa­ny Bau­tex Sys­tems, LLC is com­mit­ted to high-per­for­mance build­ing sys­tems and design. To find out more about Bau­tex and how the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem can be a part of a robust coastal design go to bau​texsys​tems​.com.