Home building improves in aftermath of May 1999 tornadoes (The Norman Transcript)

May 4, 2009

Ten years after the May 3, 1999 tornadoes, communities have rebuilt, and builders are making the homes stronger and safer with new technology that developed as a result of the May 3 event.

“We have changed the way we build homes,” said Jan Astani, marketing director for Home Creations.

Home Creations owner Jalal Farzaneh toured Moore in the tornado’s aftermath, and noticed that the exterior walls were held down with just nails as were the roofs, Astani said.

Farzaneh consulted with Harold Conner, University of Oklahoma Professor Emeritus of Construction Science, and devised three additions to be made to homes under construction:

  • The use of anchor bolts, placed every 6 feet, to fasten the bottom plate of exterior walls to the foundation.
  • Improved exterior wall bracing, achieved with plywood or Oriented Strand Board sheathing nailed to the wall studs every 12 to 16 inches. This further connects the walls to the foundation, she said.
  • The use of tornado straps to secure the rafters to the walls, thereby securing the roof to the walls, further connecting the house to the foundation.

The tornado strap is the most important aspect of the new construction practices, Astani said.

Tornado straps attaching the roof rafters to the studs in the wall can increase the wind resistance up to 160 mph, meaning that 96 percent of tornadoes can be resisted, she said.

“If the roof stays on the house, there may still be damage to the inside, but it is greatly reduced because the roof is intact,” she said.

Astani said prior to the May 3, 1999 tornado, there were no construction methods in place to adequately hold the roof on houses. Conner and Farzaneh felt certain construction methods could be utilized, “not to make homes tornado-proof, but to give homes a much better chance to withstand a tornado coming down the street.”

Astani said Home Creations is the only major builder in the metro area using all three of the tornado safety features in all their homes.

“Those three items we started putting in all of our homes after the May 3, 1999 tornado, making the homes safer and giving the homeowner added peace of mind,” she said.

On May 8, 2003, an F3 or F4 tornado again pounded the Oklahoma City area, leaving evidence the safety features implemented by Home Creations have improved the durability and stability of homes.

Astani said the tornado “took out a bank at I-40 and Sooner Road.”

“But none of our homes under construction in the new community were damaged. We can’t say the same for the homes built by our competition that didn’t have the tornado straps, anchor bolts or the oriented strand board sheathing. These three items exceed local building codes.

“You can’t put a price on safety, especially when your family members are involved. We take pride in knowing we’re the only major home builder in the state that installs all three tornado safety features into all of their homes,” Astani said.

After the May 3, 1999, tornado, 2,000 new homes were built in the Moore area. Some of those builders are still doing business, but others left town before completing the job, officials said.

In establishing some form of oversight, the state builders association began certifying home builders through the Builders Association of South Central Oklahoma. A certified builder carries general liability and workers compensation insurance, completes required continuing education classes, agrees to mediation if there is a dispute, complies with building codes and provides at least a one-year warranty on a new home, according to BASCO President Bob Thompson, owner of Thomas Paige Homes.

“A certified builder complies with a code of ethics and is a cut above the rest,” Thompson said.

Certification keeps builders on top of the newest products, city building code changes, energy-saving programs and new heating and cooling mandates. Four builders in Norman are green builders, he said.

BASCO is located in Norman and serves Cleveland, McClain, Garvin and Grady counties. BASCO seeks to inform members of ongoing changes in the industry as well as improvements in construction materials and techniques through local, state and national educational programs.

Other developments in the Moore community include a storm cellar registry to help rescue workers locate cellars that could be hidden by debris.