Updated: Dec 16, 2021
If you’re putting plans together for new home construction, no doubt you’ve been considering whether or not to use concrete block or conventional wooden framing.
In hurricane-prone southwest Florida, concrete block framing is pretty much the standard for new home construction.
Concrete block has been used as a building material for more than a century, claims Tony Guerra for SFGate. Concrete blocks are fabricated using products such as Portland cement, different aggregates such as stone or quartz, and water. With advances in design, it’s hard to tell in many higher-end homes such as what you see in Naples or Miami that they are made from concrete because of the detail in their external facings or coverings.
Conversely, as recalled in a Yahoo answer as to whether or not wood homes are worth their weight in Florida, Birdman recalls, “When Andrew came through South Florida, I accompanied a news crew down to Homestead. Nothing was left standing more than three feet tall, with the exception, in the distance, of a close to 15-year-old, totally intact cypress-built ‘cracker shack.’ You can’t tell me wood can’t take it if it’s built right.”
The experts at WoodItsReal agree, insisting that a house built from the right wood can easily withstand hurricane-level winds and storm surges. Post-and-beam or log-cabin, two of the most traditional wood construction methods are able to hold up to earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes, as long as they are built properly, and the timber is strong and durable. Regulations now specify building techniques as well as how foundations, walls and roof are connected, even the nail patterns and the metal strapping that should be used.
They swear by Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) for its strength, flexibility and durability, as it is able to withstand 150 mph winds. In fact, Florida’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) building code specifies it for new wooden homes along the Gulf coast. Southern Yellow Pine’s characteristics make it the strongest and best choice softwood structural timber because of its excellent load-bearing capacity (MOR of up to 112,000 kPa). But what makes SYP ideal for hurricane resistance is not just its strength, but also its flexibility (MOE of up to 13700 MPa), allowing the structure to bend and ‘give’ a little under high wind pressures without splitting.
Some further thoughts about each:
ADVANTAGES OF CONCRETE BLOCK FRAMING
Strength for Hurricane Resistance
Thoughtco.com reports that a south Florida concrete mansion incorporating commercial-grade impact glass, post-tensioned concrete floor slabs and a dual fuel-generator was able to withstand 180mph winds from Hurricane Irma. Concrete block is unaffected by termites or extreme temperatures and is virtually soundproof, depending on construction quality. Concrete blocks also provide insulation against cold and heat and may reduce a home’s energy usage. Partition walls in any home can be put up quickly using concrete blocks, and their cores or voids can be filled with steel reinforcing rods and concrete for additional strength.
Concrete block (also known as concrete masonry units, or CMU) is indeed more fire resistant than wood studs and plywood sheathing, although wood framing is still used and attached to the inside of CMU walls to allow for concealment of mechanical piping and wiring. If a fire occurs where CMU walls are used, wood studs (sleepers) would most likely be damaged while the CMU may or may not be salvageable, says Emerald Coast-based Coastal Luxury. Yet, you still have better chances in a fire with CMU.
Concrete block is more forgiving to water and moisture intrusion. For example, if a garage were to flood, it would be much easier to dry out or repair damage to CMU walls. Water coming in over time will rot out exterior sheeting, window and door headers, and structural wood framing. ADVANTAGES OF WOOD FRAMING
While wood framing seems to pale in comparison here in Florida, there are some advantages to using it.
Less Build Time
Houses with wood frames will take less time to build and require fewer inspections. If you’re building in inland Florida, wood framing can be more readily used as you’re typically out of a flood zone. However, as we’ve seen with Hurricane Irma, all of Florida is susceptible to hurricanes.
Effective Storm Resistance
Similar to buildings constructed in earthquake-prone zones like the west coast that have a certain “give and sway”, wood framing allows homes to give and sway, to a degree, in hurricane-strength winds in order to avoid damage, especially homes built with Southern Yellow Pine, as previously mentioned.
The experts at J. Sweet Construction put over 25 years of new home construction and remodeling to use for our clients, with honesty and integrity. Locally based in southwest Florida, we are well versed in building safe, high-quality homes to withstand whatever nature has to offer.