S.C.: Clemson Studies How to Make Homes Safer in Storms

June 4, 2007

South Carolina’s Clemson University researchers are looking for ways to reduce damage in hurricanes done to small structures – the ones that people live in.

“There are lots of labs all over the country looking at the Cadillacs of buildings, the high-rise structures,” said Scott Schiff, professor of civil engineering and director of Clemson’s Wind and Structural Engineering Research facility. “But in Hurricane Hugo, the bulk of damage on the coasts was to low-rise buildings, like single-story homes.”

Hugo was a Category 4 storm that hit Charleston in 1989, causing $6 billion in damage in South Carolina.

Researchers recommend using plastic sheeting instead of wood paneling to protect windows and the use of more nails in ceiling joists.

“In most houses, you will have two nails, that’s what’s holding up the roof,” said Bryant Nielson, assistant professor.

Clemson researchers recommend using brackets anchored with 10 nails at joists between the ceiling and rafters. “By fastening clips to the rafters we can increase the load capacity of the joints,” Nielson said.

Roofs are usually pulled off during storms by the pressure of wind coming underneath the roof.

Increasing the amount of pressure the joists can withstand means the roof is likely to stay on the house longer, which also decreases water damage.

Building codes for high-wind regions of the state would include use of the connectors in the next year, he said.

On the window cover changes, Schiff showed what happens when a 2-by-4 is turned into a missile by high winds.

At 34 mph, the beam broke through plywood easily. With the plastic, corrugated sheeting, a beam traveling at 34 mph bounced off and landed about 10 feet away from the building.

“Insurance companies want shutters that protect the interior for the building and minimize damage,” he said. “The corrugated plastic won’t break, which prevents rainwater from coming in and eliminates water damage. Plastic is more stable, it’s lighter, it’s easier to store.”

Also, unlike plywood that has been through a storm, the plastic covers can be reused, Schiff said.

“In the future, we hope that when builders sell homes, they will include these plastic panels, labeled for people to put up in the event of a hurricane,” he said.

Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail,

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