“Obliterated”: Building for the Future

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Bahamas caused by hurricane Dorian. We wish you a speedy recovery.

“Obliterated” is the word CNN used to describe the impact of Cat. 5 hurricane Dorian on the Abaco Island of the Bahamas. We live in a new world as a result of global warming in which Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are the norm – and this is not expected to change soon, if ever. In 2017, large portions of the US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Barbuda, and Puerto Rico were devastated by the Cat. 4 winds generated by hurricanes Maria and Irma. Consequently, as many as three quarters of a million homes have been either severely damaged or totally destroyed in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic in the last two years.

The notion that building back in any way similar to the past must be discarded. The hurricane straps and steel hold-downs required by building codes are not sufficient to save wood-framed houses from the destructive power of these strong storms. It has become obvious that two solutions are available: either abandon these islands entirely, or decide to construct homes (and other buildings) that will NOT be destroyed by 180 MPH winds. That simple.

Though many suggest using concrete to rebuild, unless highly detailed and with adequate steel reinforcement, concrete and concrete block structures are largely not a good choice for these islands. Concrete batch plants don’t exist, so concrete must be mixed onsite and largely by hand, which is fraught with danger. Even if done correctly, concrete is highly expensive, laborious, and time-consuming. Wood framing hardly fares better. Made from once living tissue, it is subject to high variability: it cracks, shrinks, and is prone to sudden failure.

Pre-engineered and pre-fabricated steel framing is the only answer that can solve these problems. Steel is not exotic and is ubiquitous around the world. It is predictably strong and uniform, bending under high wind loads to absorb the force of a storm. Steel sections are very malleable, and can be fabricated to accomplish many tasks (such as new industries and jobs). And keep in mind, wood and cement are NOT local materials on these islands. Assuming an equivalent measure of strength is achieved using wood or concrete, prefabricated steel framing components will likely cost less since a smaller amount of steel will need to be imported.

Steel should be used for the STRUCTURAL framework of all houses in these locations. HabiTek’s erector-set like steel framing system addresses the issues of using wood or cement in these environments, and can even be do-it-yourself in many instances. This means almost any able-bodied person can grab a wrench and get to work assembling a pre-engineered and pre-fabricated kit of steel components. Though it can easily utilize people outside the traditional building industries, HabiTek is not a threat to local trades: carpenters will still be needed to construct infill walls and floors between the steel structural elements. Local plumbers and electricians will still be necessary to finish buildings. As an added benefit, the system is post-and-pier; a HabiTek house can be readily ELEVATED above the ground, mitigating the affects of storm surge and localized flooding.

HabiTek’s building system provides the tools to construct new homes and buildings in this region capable of surviving hurricanes, earthquakes, and that will last for 100 years or more.