Building better homes against typhoons

·3 min read

When supertyphoon Odette concluded its three-hour onslaught in Cebu last month, people were able to clearly see the dire consequences the moment the sun rose the next day. Many buildings, big and small, suffered damage and others were completely destroyed. These depressing snapshots reminded us of the value of having good architecture that adapts well to our local climatic conditions.

Buildings, including our own houses—which are our ultimate refuge in times of severe weather conditions—can be designed to better withstand or tone down the negative effects of the harshest heat of the sun and the strongest of storms.

Here are some key points that might help people achieve a typhoon-adaptable building:

Durability is key

We can take our cue from the indigenous stone houses in Batanes, in the northernmost part of the Philippines, where typhoons are more frequent. The presence of these rigid-looking houses with thick stone walls and minimal window openings just proves how these were able to withstand the numerous storms that struck the area.

In general, concrete buildings clearly demonstrate better resistance against the strong winds of a typhoon. Apart from that, concrete buildings are almost impenetrable by rainwater that usually comes with typhoon winds.

Keeping the roof in place

In the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) Emergency Architects document entitled “Guidelines for Disaster-Resilient Buildings/Structures,” “hip roofs offer much less resistance than gable roofs.” Gable roofs with high pitch are most ideal for better wind resistance.

Long roof eaves and overhangs are usually ideal in tropical countries as they provide shading of spaces and wall openings such as doors and windows from the sun’s heat, especially the harsh afternoon sun, and the monsoon rains. However, they can become liabilities during typhoons as they are among the most vulnerable parts of the house and are prone to being blown away by strong gusts of winds.

The UAP Emergency Architects recommended length of eaves to be not more than 0.50 meters. If canopies are to be used, they should be braced securely to the main building. Roofs over extended spaces like the verandah, should be independent from the main roof of the house to minimize damage just in case typhoon winds blow them away.

Safe with glass

Among the usual damage that plagued buildings, big or small, after the typhoon was broken glass windows and doors due to lateral wind forces. One must make sure that doors and windows are secure and tight when these are closed. These must not vibrate too much when wind tends to push the surfaces. Storm shutters will protect glass windows from dangerous debris.

Buildings, trees and electrical wires are not best friends

Surveying the different cities after supertyphoon Odette, we mostly see electrical posts, especially the old and decaying ones, being toppled by trees. This is the main cause of power outages and road obstructions. Branches and foliage of trees along streets and roads are ideally trimmed before a storm to prevent them from being entangled with and damaging exposed “spaghetti” utility wires, which are urban “eyesores.” Although trees can be good “wind buffers,” they should maintain a safe distance from utility lines and yes, buildings.

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