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Durable House Construction

DennisDC's picture

I am looking for a good book or website which shows latest developments in durable house construction (such as concrete, masonry or well braced wood construction) which can be executed by a non-professional (owner-built home) or can be executed by a pretty standard residential crew without special training and without significantly higher cost (obviously concrete and masonry is more costly than stud framing).

I recently acquired some land in Pennsylvania and I want to build a house which is pretty much storm-proof (maximum resistance to tornadoes or high winds as well as intrusion prevention and fire resistance.

Another area of help would be a pre-fab product line or system (such as prefab panel or bracing system) which is user-friendly and does not require large equipment or special skills.


(post #175916, reply #1 of 9)

I don't know of any sources, though there are many.  The idea of ICF construction (insulated concrete forms) comes to mind.

A key point on structural strength is to make sure the building is fastened down to the foundation well.  Believe it or not some homes aren't and even a small earthquake can shift the house a few inches, which essentially cracks it up and totals it.  Also, use hurricane straps on the roof structure to hold it down.

Fiber cement siding can help with fire resistance, but a non-combustible roof is more important than siding.

(post #175916, reply #2 of 9)

Thanks for the info.  I have heard of ICF construction and will look into it further.  Also, thanks for the reminder on hurricane straps.  I had heard of these as well and will research further.

Do you know if the ICF construction requires special qualifications or training.  In otherwords, can a Harry Homeowner learn how to construct with this system or does this require a professional with special training?

(post #175916, reply #3 of 9)

It is no more difficult than other skills needed to build a house -- framing, drywall, trim carpentry, roofing, and so forth.  It requires less skill than, say, bricklaying.  If you are competent at these other types of skills you can learn to construct with ICF's, too.  If you aren't skilled in these types of crafts then building your own house is not a wise move.

(post #175916, reply #4 of 9)

Lots of builders hang out at the Breaktime forum--you might try asking your question there. I'm all for reinforced concrete domes, but it's not something a non-professional would tackle.

(post #175916, reply #5 of 9)

Look on Breaktime (the forum associated with Fine Homebuilding). There is a poster there by the handle of Cloud Hidden. Jim designs thin-shelled concrete domes. These dome homes are supposed to be as disaster proof as it's possible for a home to be. A couple of years ago FHB did a little blurb about it.

(post #175916, reply #6 of 9)

Dennis ,
PA has ####number of Prefab builders (or what most are called now is Modular Home Builders ) in it mostly mid and north east in the state .
I know it's not what exactly what your asking for but this new type of prefab is exceptionably strong don't get it confused with trailers these are real houses built in large Modular pieces and delivered to the site to be built on your slab or basement foundation .There stronger than on site built because they have to build them to travel and their built in jigs so their very straight and true. They go up quick and you can then chose to do the interior your self and or the exterior siding .
It's quite a time saver which can save money too .
Just about anything you can come up with they can now pretty much build .
Excel, JT Maloney, Sun, and Signature are just a few of the Companies in PA.
Just a though .

(post #175916, reply #7 of 9)

This is very helpful information.  Prefab panel construction is something I am very interested in finding out more about.

My paranoia about building my own house (whether myself...with friends or via subcontracting) is the concern about getting the shell up quick before it is trashed by weather.

It seems like pre-fab construction is one way to do it.

I am also interested in investigating various approaches to poure-in-place concrete (perhaps only for the walls or even only for a basic sheer wall core).

I will definitely look into the companies you listed.

(post #175916, reply #8 of 9)

Yep, a quick search in the Breaktime forum will give you a bunch of information on ICF houses, etc.  I worked on ICF houses and helped purchasers of our ICF blocks build their own.  For details the Breaktime forum search is best.

Learning about building codes for various areas will give you an idea of what the various parts of the country do to build solid homes and the information can be used to upgrade a house for your area.  For instance, if you live in an area that doesn't necessarily require building for hurricane-force winds, but you would like a house that would survive such, then simply follow the building codes for the high wind areas.  Same goes for earthquakes, forest fires, cold, rain, etc.  The codes show what materials and methods are required and you can calculate the prices from there.

While it is possible to overbuild a house to withstand much more than what is typical for your area, the costs do go up accordingly.  There isn't an easy way to build something for nothing, or else everyone would already be doing just that.  10s of thousands of builders around the country are constantly trying to cut building costs while delivering a quality product.

Basically, building codes are developed to meet specific requirements, essentially what you're looking for, and all construction methods are modified to perform for those requirements, even ICF homes.   Basic ICF construction would fail under hurricane winds, just like basic wood framed construction.  Likewise it's possible to build a hurricane proof house with either method.

If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

(post #175916, reply #9 of 9)

have you looked into one of those dome kits. Everything would come ready I think anyways they should be for the most part immune to high winds earthquakes fires ect. Just a thought might not be the look your going for.