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Earth Technology

Engineers Design Tornado Proof Home 189

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Emily Badger writes at the Atlantic that it's not too hard to build a tornado proof home but it's pretty difficult to design one that's liveable. "If you made a perfect earthquake structure, it would be a bunker with 24-inch walls and one small steel door for you to get in," says architect Michael Willis. That structure would be based on the empirical measurements of structural engineers. "You could design it to be perfectly resistant. But it would not be a place you'd want to live." The task behind the "Designing Recovery" competition (PDF): was to design a liveable tornado proof home in a part of the country where the geology makes it impossible to build tornado cellars or basements. Q4 Architects designed a safe space within a home instead of a shelter underneath it, a kind of house inside of a house. The result is an idea that could be replicated anywhere in tornado alley: a highly indestructible 600 square-foot core of concrete masonry, hurricane shutters and tornado doors where a family could survive a tornado and live beyond it, with several more flexible (and affordable) rooms wrapped around it. "It's going to do it's best to fight the tornado," says Elizabeth George." "Part of your house might get torn away, but the most important parts of the house are safe. After the disaster, everything is not lost. You're able to keep the most valuable things, which are the people, the functions of the house, and maybe your valuables." The genius of this idea is that while it would be significantly more expensive to build out the same tornado precautions for the entire home, the CORE house is meant to be constructed for under $50,000."
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Engineers Design Tornado Proof Home

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  • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:43AM (#45043415) Homepage Journal

    You're able to keep the most valuable things, which are the people, the functions of the house, and maybe your valuables

    Just putting that out there.

  • "The Surprising Reason" houses don't have underground facilities? Maybe surprising to the provincial readers of The Atlantic, but obvious plain logic to everyone else. You'd think educated people would be aware of basic facts like clay soils and what they mean, but evidently that's no longer true. Saying things like "why didn't they just go to the basement, stupid Oklahomans" is like saying "idiotic famine victims, why didn't they just buy some food from the store?" Surprise, my ass.
    • what is even funnier is that tornado safe rooms have been designed for the last couple of decades, and a concrete bunker in the center of the house isn't a new idea.

      the problem is twofold.

      the average age of a house in the USA is 30-40 years old. that means things like decent insulation are still far beyond them let alone double pane windows. None of those houses can have a safe room easily or cheaply.

      Second none of these are cheap period. a $30,000 addition to even a $300,000 house is a serious investmen

      • the average age of a house in the USA is 30-40 years old

        Living as I do in a ~250 year old English house, once a coaching inn, I sometimes forget just how young much of the US is. Which is regrettable, because it's its youth which has made it so dynamic and at the same time so naïve.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Yet houses like mine that are 60 years old are better built than the crap built today.

        3/4" thick plywood, real brick and stone and not the styrofoam crap. 6" thick outer walls, real rafters and eaves that extend out. etc....

        all homes built today are garbage compared to a properly built home from the 50's

        • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @10:01AM (#45043781) Homepage

          And it would probably pop apart in the first tornado or hurricane since it most likely doesn't have roof straps. Then you're buried under 3/4" plywood, those six inch outer walls and six decades of dirt swept into the corner.

        • Not exactly. Your 60 year old home is better than the majority of homes built 60 years ago, which is why yours is still standing when most of them are not (well, it's one of the reasons.)

          In 60 years, most of the homes built today will be gone. But I dare say a fair number, possibly a higher proportion, will be still standing. It'll probably be a higher proportion (than homes built 60 years ago from today are still standing today) because building codes are getting better, and we're getting better at enfo

          • Your 60 year old home is better than the majority of homes built 60 years ago, which is why yours is still standing when most of them are not

            Really? Not on Long Island, and I doubt it's because of stricter building codes. For example, there are thousands of houses in Levittown, which were built as tiny inexpensive homes, and the last of them was built exactly 60 years ago. They're virtually all standing, have been expanded, and are in good shape. In my town, there are lots of houses built in the 1920's (a construction boom era), and quite a few that date back further than that.

          • In 60 years, most of the homes built today will be gone. But I dare say a fair number, possibly a higher proportion, will be still standing.

            I'm sorry, what?

    • Get your nose out of the clouds. Surprisingly, most people are not familiar with the type of soil in Oklahoma, and how it affects construction. This denizen of the East Coast found the article interesting and informative. BTW, I presume you're familiar with the details of how barrier islands shift, what preservation efforts do and don't work for them (and why), the stability of different varieties of coastal sand bluffs, the hydrology of Long Island, which affects millions of people, the reason for the hump

      • But people from the East Coast are urbane, educated, and sophisticated. Surely during their lives they have encountered this phenomenon, it is very common. Such raw ignorance can only be explained by a narrowness of outlook and a poverty of experience.
    • by unrtst ( 777550 )

      "The Surprising Reason" houses don't have underground facilities? Maybe surprising to the provincial readers of The Atlantic, but obvious plain logic to everyone else

      Maybe I missed something, but the article doesn't seem to clearly explain why.

      The ground is mostly clay, and it's not very stable. I get that. However, it also says, "one in 10 Oklahomans have access to the basements". So it's entirely possible, and not that uncommon.

      On the question of possibility of building a tornado proof house, one expert said, "You can, but your neighbors probably would not like it in their neighborhood and you would need some of Bill Gates's wealth to pay for it."
      Later, the article sa

  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:48AM (#45043425)

    Living in tornado alley I must protest that one does not make a tornado "proof" home, one makes a tornado resistant home. The idea that you can make a home tornado "proof" is greatly misleading and like saying you can make an armored vehicle bomb "proof". You can only make things resistant to a given degree - this in important technicality on a tech site.

    Tornadoes are these machinations of nature that are perfectly capable of lifting the foundations of a freeway out of a ground and flinging semi trucks through the air. When the news covers an area that was hit the word used to describe the people that lived is always "survived". Bad headline, bad headline.

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Sure you can make your house tornado-proof, but you have to live in an underground bunker somewhere that's not flood-prone.

  • The walls may help shield from debris in the event of a EF-1 to 3 (which granted is the vast majority of tornadoes). But there isn't much on this earth (above ground, anyway) that's going to survive a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado.

    My dad saw the track left by one that hit in Alabama years ago. The thing sucked up everything, including grass, in a 1/2 mile wide path. The only thing left behind was orange clay. There wasn't a single intact structure left, not even foundations.

    Closest thing humanity has

    • If the tornado left behind clay then you can pretty sure that a shallow dome-shaped building with concrete walls (or thick clay walls for that matter) would survive.

      I would think the key to building a completely and utterly tornado-proof building is building it out of heavy materials that are hard for the wind to pick up and making sure the airflow over the building remains smooth and free of turbulence. You want smooth, flowing exterior surfaces. You do not want flat walls and corners that create turbulenc

    • by tp1024 ( 2409684 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @10:23AM (#45043981)

      Joplin Hospital begs to differ. Yet, it was still standing and moved by all of 4 inches (which, however, was sufficient to make it uneconomic to repair). People died either because they couldn't be moved away from the windows in time (being in a bed in a hospital). Or because they depended on ventilators for breathing that lost power due to wind/hail/rain damage on powerlines and emergency backup.

      Reinforced concrete is perfectly sufficient to withstand an EF-5. Unfortunately, most buildings in the US are made of reinforced cardboard.

      • Hospitals are not residence-sized buildings. Make something huge enough and sure it'll survive.
        • by tp1024 ( 2409684 )

          Quite the opposite actually. The smaller you build something, the easier it is for it to survive. The larger the house, the larger the area where the wind can push, the larger the forces that all the walls and structural members have to handle. Nobody would use the same thick walls of the first or second floor of a 14 storey building, if you weren't going to put the other 12 floors on top of it. It would be ludicrously overengineered for such a small thing.

          It is much easier to build a small building to last

  • by CaptainOfSpray ( 1229754 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @09:20AM (#45043537)
    Not a surprise that a piece about dgging a storm-proof hole is written by someone called Emily Badger.
  • I met a guy who built homes by pouring concrete into Styrofoam forms with rebar. After that it was brick veneer or siding outside and the usual stuff on the inside. He said they also tied the roof using the same materials they do in hurricane prone areas. He said homes like this had been hit dead on by tornadoes and other than broken windows and superficial damage were essentially unharmed. This building technique also make a very energy efficient home.
    • Cite? Not that I doubt you, but I'd be interested in details, whether it had been tested, what strength tornado, etc.

    • They are referred to as Insulating Concrete Forms. Plenty of info on the internet and the tech could be easily integrated with a reinforced non-ICF concrete central safe room for layered defense.

  • ...and the engineers said almost the same thing but their design was a strucutr that looked like a pyramid

    Well, the pharaoh's still there sleeping, isn't he?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Well, the pharaoh's still there sleeping, isn't he?

      Nope. They failed to make it archeologist-proof.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @09:32AM (#45043585) Homepage

    Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller had built several that are tornado and hurricane proof. He made several concrete dome homes that have taken the worst that nature can dish out and only need minor repairs.

    Heck they are sharknado proof.

  • It's an interesting challenge, and forces architectural 'entrpreneurs' to think through some of the relevant issues.

    However....I'd guess that the best that will come from this is a few decent ideas that *may* make things a little bit better. I hope so anyway.

    For example: it's a market fact that people are willing to spend very little $ on pure safety features. Witness the great swathes of country where a basement or even simply storm cellar would radically increase the chances of tornado survival....and y

  • Does anyone know if this type of soil is why houses don't have basements in San Diego? I don't live there, but even locals don't seem to know why.

  • by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @09:38AM (#45043625) Homepage
    I watched a video some time back about a hurricane proofed house. It looked pretty much like a standard house. But when that thing shuttered up it was sealed TIGHT. And I do know that Stanley of all companies designed a nail that would not just tear out of wood, thereby lessening the chance roof components could be lifted.

    You can build a structure to combat hurricanes and tornadoes - but it isn't going to be THAT cheap. Given that fact I have no intention of living anywhere beyond the northeast U.S. None! Sure, we get a little geologic action from time to time, and hurricanes get here about once every 30 or so years though the cycle seems to have been shortened lately.
    • You guys just have to deal with blizzards that can knock out power and make driving difficult for extended periods of time.

      Why not the southwest? Generally not too much geologic activity, no real hurricanes or tornadoes to speak of, etc.. There's a reason data centers are being built like crazy in Las Vegas (beyond the fact that the backbones go through there).

      Even central Texas isn't too bad. Hurricanes don't get that far inland, you're far enough south to avoid most of Tornado Alley, and there's virtually

  • My cave does just fine already. Free AC and heat year round too. Mold is kinda a problem. And bears.

  • My grandma bought a house 20 years ago in Topeka, KS, and had the entire thing reconstructed. She still couldn't get a basement, so she had steel-reinforced concrete put around her closet. Bam. Tornado-proof-house-in-a-house. This is a non-story.
  • Bad idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

    It will let people survive to rebuild in an area unsuitable for human occupation again and again. They will take our tax dollars through FEMA again and again. Unless people are asked to pay full price of their decisions, such shelters would lead to more financial pain, tax burden to others. People who decided not to live in plywood boxes in tornado country, or in wildfire area or below the sea level between a lake and the sea, or below the river level etc should not be asked to shoulder the burden of suppor
    • Re:Bad idea. (Score:5, Informative)

      by hankwang ( 413283 ) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @01:28PM (#45045379) Homepage

      People who decided not to live in plywood boxes in tornado country, or in wildfire area or below the sea level between a lake and the sea, or below the river level etc should not be asked to shoulder the burden

      For hurricanes and floodings, which could devastate large areas in a single event, I see your point. However, a single tornado usually impacts only a small area. The probability of an individual house in Tornado Alley being struck by an F4 or F5 tornado seems to be 10^(-7) per year []. Economically, it makes more sense to insure the risk than to build an F4-tornado-proof house. I couldn't find probabilities for F3 tornadoes, but I could imagine that a similar argument holds there.

      • Financially, it probably does make more sense to simply insure against the loss, as you said.

        But keep in mind that people can't evacuate from tornadoes like they can with hurricanes, so not having precautions like these is essentially a death sentence for the individuals in the path of a tornado like that. Did you remember to factor the cost of life in? And even if you did, telling people that it makes more sense to simply insure the loss is the same as telling them that those lives are only worth as much a

    • It will let people survive to rebuild in an area unsuitable for human occupation again and again.

      New York City began a North Atlantic port with connections to the Great Lakes and the Midwest. The Mohawk Valley providing a pass through the Appalachian mountains. New Orleans as a Gulf port with access to the whole of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River valleys.

      If you are looking for gainful employment and a place to live, you tend to be drawn to places that have fertile land, fresh water, good communications, the potential for trade, agricultural and industrial development.

      The geography and clim

  • paying tens of thousands of extra dollars for something that probably won't happen is a waste. better to play the odds and have low cost houses, sometimes a minute amount of people will die *shrug*

  • Presumably intended to handle hurricanes and flooding instead of tornadoes, the kettle house in Galveston TX is an inverted metal dome, (although I don't know why it has a door at ground level).
  • They probably have some Minuteman Missile Silos being decommissioned , they would be tornado proof.

  • Wind has nothing to push
  • like in science-fiction movies. I envision a hardened shell, coffin-like (but they could be spherical or any shape really), whose entry is flush with the ground. Each would be anchored or chained at a number of points to galvanized stakes (like fence stakes) driven deep into the ground. When a tornado approaches, you climb into your escape pod and latch it shut until the storm passes. This could be cheap and effective for all but the claustrophobic.
    • Protect yourself by climbing into the pipe.

      It would have to be buried or anchored and topped with earth/asphalt/gravel/concrete to streamline air flow over the pipe.

      Normally a culvert pipe is laid horizontally and could hold a number of people. Or you could use short sections and set them in the ground vertically. When trouble comes you climb in with a built-in ladder. Although these would be more trouble to maintain because:

      • - snakes, bugs and rodents would like to live there too,
      • - would be like h
  • People most at risk of tornadoes are the people living in trailer parks, not the ones living in homes. Sure, maybe the homes aren't tornado proof, quite a few of them get blown away every year and every year, people living in them get hurt or die when they get blown away with their homes when they are in them. But, they are a minority when it comes to people that die in their homes compared to when a tornado hits a trailer park. A trailer is about the worst place to be when a tornado hits and casualties are
  • There is no need to spend $50K. I designed and built a masonry (steel reinforced concrete, ferrocement and stone) small (252 sq-ft) home for our family for $7K. It is great to live in. It is also tornado proof but that is merely incidental. Because of it having a high thermal mass inside an insulating envelope it also stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter which saves more money every year on energy costs.

  • It sounds crazy but they make a lot of sense.

    1. Heating and cooling is less of an issue. The earth holds a pretty consistent temperature and you can regulate your home by exploiting it.

    2. Winds, hurricanes, etc are less of an issue because you're either flush with the ground or nearly so.

    3. The roof can more easily be used as a garden or expansion to your property. All natural light comes in through skylights.

    4. The major problem will be flooding. There are a variety of ways to deal with that from simply bu

  • I don't understand the need for this. Tomatoes are simply to small and soft to pose much peril to a house, even in large numbers. The only way there could possibly be a danger is if somehow they were exposed to large quantities of radiation, clearly impossible.

  • This is an old idea.
    Houses in the North West of Australia have been built using an inner safety core for at least 35 years.
    I know, I've lived in one.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur