All You Need To Know: Tough Buildings For Tough Weather!

The biggest threats your commercial and residential buildings face are those from Mother Nature. Weather conditions have never been known to go easy on our buildings. According to the National Weather Service, floods, tornados, hail, blizzards and hurricanes cost a total damage of more than $ 13 billion in the year 2013. Undoubtedly, calling in an exterminator is the last of our worries!

An increasing number of construction professionals are adopting newer methods and more climate-resistant materials in their projects. For example, vinyl and wood is fast being replaced by fiber cement materials.

Strong Winds and Your Vinyl Sidings

Hurricanes, tornadoes and storms can cause damage to even the sturdiest of structures. Your building’s hardiness depends upon your structure’s design and the materials you have used in its construction. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a high-wind event is anything above 90 mph; also notorious for causing extensive destruction to building structures.  As per the National Storm Damage Center, vinyl siding, although popular and low maintenance, could still be prone to damages by big storms. Storms cause these three common disruptions to Vinyl sidings:

  • Chipping: A building envelope consultant could check for chippings by looking upwards from below a panel section. You could spot a semi-circle in the direction of the ridge’s bottom; this spot has minimal flexibility for direct contact.
  • Cracking: The best place to check for cracks- right between the panel’s ridges and valley.
  • Breaking and holes: Vinyl sidings are prone to damage by the flying debris and hail during harsh storms.

Fires and Your Vinyl and Wood Sidings

As much damage as storms does to vinyl sidings, so does fire to wood sidings. The combustibility factor of your exterior elements is of major concern in wildfire-prone areas. I completely agree that wood adds rustic elegance to your building, but they also raise the probabilities of a fire hazard.

According to the U.S. Forest Services, the use of wood sidings that haven’t been treated with fire-retardants, should be avoided. A per their records, a majority of fires start with direct flaming of external wood sidings, porches and garage doors. Big fires could melt vinyl sidings, even from 40 feet away. Vinyl sidings release toxic fumes when ignited, posing severe health hazards.

FEMA advises the implementation of exterior wall arrangements with a rating of minimum 1-hour fire-resistance. Unfortunately, wood and vinyl siding that aren’t treated with fire-retardants fail to meet this criterion. The standard test method used for deciding the hourly fire resistance is ASTM E-119. For the purpose of the test, a side of a wall system is exposed to controlled flame. As per the hour requirement, the wall system is continuously monitored throughout this exposure, to ensure:

  • The system’s resistance to the fire.
  • If the system was able to sustain without letting the flames ignite cotton waste.

During the fire and hose stream test,  do ensure the following:

  1. The wall is strong enough to bear the applied pressure without allowing the gases and flame to inflame the cotton waste.
  1. The wall prevents the hose stream to extend outside the unexposed area.
  1. The temperature of the unexposed area stays at or below 250 degrees Fahrenheit (of initial temperature).

The amount of hours that pass by before any of the above occurs determines the fire resistance. An effective wall system has a rating of one or two-hour fire resistance. Good building envelope consultants recommend the non-combustibility factor as a key determinant in the selection of the right exterior wall system.

FEMA and Water Resistance

When it comes to water resistance, FEMA has similar rating guidelines. As per them, the highest level for determining powerful floodwater-resistant building materials is Class 5. For fiber cement,  a Class 5 rating signifies its resistance to floods for 72 hours, after which it can be dried and reused. Quite contrarily, although vinyl sidings can stand up to some water exposure, wood sidings get completely damaged during floods. FEMA requires construction with strictly Class 5 and 4 building materials for structures in areas of flood hazard.

When it comes to natural disasters, it is inevitable to overlook the quality and robustness of the exterior building materials. A good building envelope consultant will not only consider the aesthetic appeal or market ratings of the sidings, but also give due consideration to the resistance of such materials to natural disasters.