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Structural Engineering in Extreme Weather Conditions

Structural Engineering in Extreme Weather Conditions

Tornado season has not officially started yet in the Midwest, and there have already been dozens of deadly twisters that have devastated the Heartland. Unfortunately, this is the new normal in the era of climate change. Extreme weather events are popping up with greater frequency than ever before.

As such, engineers must design their structures with extreme weather in mind. Every detail, from key foundational elements to seemingly minor details such as the best metal roofing screws, must be carefully weighed when creating a weather-proof structure. Keep reading as we explore the various materials and techniques engineers are deploying to reduce the damage caused by extreme weather. 


Insulation in All Areas

Structural Engineering in Extreme Weather Conditions

Insulation is a common component in modern structures. It is critical for ensuring a minimum R-value in a property and promoting energy efficiency. While wall insulation is standard, there are far more insulation tools at engineers’ disposal to create next-level protection in areas of extreme weather. 

Below-grade insulation prevents air transfer through the floor. This can be extremely beneficial in blizzard conditions, as roughly 10-20% of all heat loss occurs here. For next-level stability, radiant floor heating is a perfect complement to below-grade insulation. It consistently releases heat in a stove-like manner. This reduces interior temperature fluctuations during extreme cold conditions and minimizes the use of inefficient forced-air systems. 

Roof cover board is another useful insulation consideration. In addition to improving the R-value of the roofing system, it offers additional protection against fires. It also provides sound insulation. This is beneficial in hail storms and gale-force winds for promoting a tranquil interior.

Pipe insulation is important in areas of extreme cold. It protects plumbing by ensuring that pipes never freeze and burst, reduces condensation buildup as temperatures rise, and dampens noise.


Hurricane-Grade Storm Windows

More and more buildings are engineered with large window areas to promote natural light flow. Not only does this help improve energy efficiency by reducing reliance on electric light, but it is an important component of creating a bright, inviting interior atmosphere.

The downside is that increased window area can be a potential weakness in the building envelope. Window-to-wall transitions are a notorious point of air and moisture ingress. As rampant winds are all but a guarantee during times of extreme weather, any weakness in these transitions will most definitely get exploited. 

Hurricane-grade storm windows are an effective solution to this concern. They typically use a steel or aluminum frame. These materials do not degrade due to UV exposure and will not crack like vinyl or wood when confronted with high winds. The glass itself is engineered to withstand category 5 hurricane winds of over 157 MPH. Different manufacturers accomplish this in different ways, but most will bond two panels of glass with a thin plastic membrane, usually polyvinyl butyral (PVB) or ionoplast polymer. Even if these windows were to crack due to projectile impact, they would not collapse, much in the same manner as laminated safety glass in car windshields.

Elite Roofing Infrastructure

Structural Engineering in Extreme Weather Conditions

As a building’s first line of defense against Mother Nature, no aspect of the structure will get put to the test quite like the roofing. This is why construction professionals prioritize roof features when building for inclement weather. 

"In extreme weather conditions, the choice of roofing materials can make all the difference in protecting your home and ensuring its resilience. By selecting materials that are wind-resistant, fire-retardant, and durable, homeowners can safeguard their investment and weather the storm with confidence." 

-Jeff Gutherie of Prescott Roofing Company

There are numerous features to consider for making the roof as protective as possible. Metal roofs and composite class 4 shingles are some strong options for providing the utmost in fire and impact resistance. Drip edge flashing ensures that blowing moisture does not infiltrate the roofing substrate. Roof crickets keep water from settling around the chimney. High-end gutters prevent moisture backflow and ice dams from compromising the roof. 

Foundation Waterproofing

Structural Engineering in Extreme Weather Conditions

Buildings in flood-prone areas must pay extra attention to their foundations. Any moisture damage or shifting can compromise the safety of the entire structure. Water-resistant liquid flashing is a strong technique that can prevent water absorption in the foundation.

However, the hydrostatic pressure exerted on the walls and surrounding soil can lead to buckling and erosion. As such, a more comprehensive solution in areas that see significant rainfall is foundation waterproofing. This innovative system uses a series of permeable exterior walls that siphons water toward a drainage mat. This mat then directs water into pipes or other drainage systems, keeping groundwater at equilibrium in the areas surrounding the building.

Brick Rainscreen Cladding

Brick rainscreen cladding is an innovative system that prevents moisture damage in a structure’s building envelope. The system consists of a load-bearing wall, insulation layer, and cladding material--engineered stone, most commonly fixed to the building using a support structure. This creates an air cavity between the load-bearing wall and the initial layer of exterior cladding, promoting continuous insulation in the walls. This greatly limits the chance of mold, rot, or any other types of water-related issues from compromising the framing. 

Engineering for Extreme Weather: The Best Material and Design Choices

Extreme weather events are rocking the country like never before. As a result, modern buildings must be engineered to withstand natural disasters. By considering the ideas listed above and the other resources at Structures Insider, engineers can get a leg up on creating the most weather-resistant buildings possible. 

Author Bio:

Natalie Akins is a freelance writer that loves sharing her knowledge and expertise in interior design and remodeling. She also has a background in the Hospitality and Real Estate Industry. She lives in her hometown of Austin, Texas where she enjoys spending time with her husband and decorating with her children. Natalie’s work as a freelance writer can be found on Building Product Advisor, a new construction industry resource site.


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