It's safe to assume that a concrete bunker could safely withstand strong winds, flying debris, and storm surges produced by hurricanes. Yet, most people would not want such an imposing Brutalist interpretation of a house in their neighborhood.
The executives at ForeverHome, however, want to dispel any notions you have of a cast concrete house. In fact, they say their prototype home would do a better job of resisting hurricanes than one of your stick-built homes and would look just as nice while doing it.
“The homes going up now in the areas where ForeverHome would be applicable are not any more resistant than those built before Hurricane Katrina,” says Joe Rogge, a spokesman for ForeverHome. “This one is resistant to strong lateral winds exceeding 165 miles per hour. The design loads exceed post-Katrina FEMA standards by two and one half times. There’s nothing else like it.”
A joint effort between Waukesha, Wis.–based Spancrete and Epic Creative in WestBend, Wis., ForeverHome is a total precast concrete home that is engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds. Everything is precast—everything. The foundation and floor system are cast on site, while the interior and exterior walls and roof are done in the factory. Everything is then assembled on site. “Innovation is present in virtually every feature of the construction, beginning with cutting-edge production processes and throughout the individual construction elements and their interconnection,” says Clinton Krell, an engineer on the project.
ForeverHome is intended for the Gulf Coast regions of the United States that are prone to hurricanes. And the company has built its first model in Sebring, Fla., as a way to demonstrate that the prototype can withstand Mother Nature while looking like any other house in the region. Measuring about 1,200 square feet, the LEED Platinum-certified home features a unique construction. The walls are made up of two 3-inch interior and exterior concrete skins that cover a continuous layer of 2-inch rigid insulation.
A precast concrete roof surrounds a continuous layer of insulation and the roof surface pattern is cast into the concrete. A waterproof membrane is bonded to the surface to prevent water penetration. Moreover, the exterior surface of the walls features the texture of shiplap siding. “The exterior ornamentation is a feature that can be easily changed during production to vary the exterior aesthetic of the structure while maintaining the efficiency of production on a large scale,” Krell says.
Even the windows and exterior doors are cast into the walls during production, and they are designed to exceed the code-required wind pressures, says Steve Berkus, the company’s director of development. “Each and every opening is evaluated in terms of location, size and operability,” he continues. “For example, the closer to an exterior corner, the more restrictive the options. Mid-wall locations offer the greatest flexibility. The precast concrete panels have considerable flexibility to accommodate window and door openings. However, each opening has to be evaluated to ensure the panel is designed and reinforced appropriately.”
In addition to supporting the exterior walls, concrete beams provide bearing for 8-inch thick Spancrete Hollowcore concrete planks that makes up the floor structure. “The concrete floor system also contributes greatly to the strength of the overall structure by distributing lateral forces to intended structural elements and is also used to tie the entire building together to perform as one reinforced unit,” Krell explains.
One of the biggest benefits of the home—after the hurricane resistance, of course—is its price. According to the company, builders in hurricane-prone areas primarily still use traditional stick-frame materials because they think it’s too expensive to build with concrete.
“It really comes down to tradition and price,” John Nagy, chairman and CEO of Spancrete, says. “The Gulf Coast is an historic region filled with world-renowned architecture; most residents think it would be a shame to take away from the tradition of the area by building new, modern-looking homes. And while the majority of residents would undoubtedly rather live in a home built to stand up to hurricanes and storm surges, most think that such homes would be too expensive to build in the areas most affected by these storms.”
But the ForeverHome prototype is a traditional, shotgun-style New Orleans home that costs about $175,000—“turnkey,” Rogge says, with everything. It costs about 30 days to cast and deliver, and it can be erected and weather-tight in about 40 hours. At the moment, the size is limited to about 1,200 square feet, but the company is working on multi-level designs.
The company believes this house is a game-changer not only because it withstands hurricanes, looks like a normal house, and has an attainable price point, but also because it means that homeowners will be able to afford homeowner’s insurance premiums. After Katrina, Rogge says, insurance in some cases were almost four times the national average. “Now premiums in these Katrina areas will be much more in line with the national average, which is about $2,000 to $2,800.”
ForeverHome will officially launch in late December, but it will be a soft-launch to builders, contractors, and developers. The company is also just beginning to move forward with consumer marketing efforts; however, it’s already bullish. Says Rogge, “Based on the excitement that we have seen with our prototype in Sebring, Fla., we are taking operational and logistical steps to meet demand.”
Nigel Maynard is a former senior editor with Builder magazine.