The Aftermath: Built Like a Brick House

It's a lesson understood by anyone who's read the story of the Three Little Pigs: the stronger you build a house, the less likely it is to blow away when a wolf--or a hurricane--starts huffing and puffing. So as builders begin reconstructing the homes destroyed by Katrina, they're taking steps to increase the odds that the new houses will survive future storms. Says engineer Tim Reinhold of the Institute for Business and Home Safety: "[Builders] need to be thinking about how you'd build this house if you were going to hold it upside down and shake it, to keep things from falling off."

Before Katrina, neither Mississippi nor Louisiana had statewide building codes. Last fall Louisiana adopted one, modeled partly on practices used in Miami-Dade County, Fla., which requires more hurricane-protection measures than anywhere else in the United States. In Louisiana, framing carpenters now use metal clips to supplement the nails that hold roof frames to walls. Builders wrap the entire house in plywood, underneath the siding, instead of the foam insulation that some previously used as sheathing. On the roof, they're using more nails and gluing down the corners of shingles. To protect windows, builders are choosing between pricey impact-resistant glass or, more frequently, installing bolts on window frames and pre-cutting custom plywood shutters, which the new homeowner can fasten on when hurricane warnings are announced.

The new building practices won't prevent flood damage, which caused more harm than Katrina's winds. Protecting homes from storm water requires rebuilding outside of flood plains, or at higher elevations (often on stilts). That remains controversial: last week the Biloxi City Council rejected the recommendation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the city's flood-plain map, and to increase the elevation for homes from 13 feet above likely flood levels up to 18 to 25 feet. "How would you like to tell your 80-year-old constituent that she was now going to have to climb up 18 feet of stairs ... to get in and out of her house?" says councilman Mike Fitzpatrick.

The extra protection comes at a cost. New Orleans builder Randy Noel says the codes are adding about 8 percent to the expense of the homes he's building. A study by Louisiana State University, however, found that if Mississippi enacted a Miami-style building code, it could save $3.1 billion in damages in a future Category 3 hurricane. Says Noel: "It may be overkill, but if it makes the insurance guys happy and makes them want to cover us, it isn't that big a deal." The next time hurricane winds start huffing and puffing, new homeowners may be able to rest a little easier.

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