wild edibles package allotment gardening course greenhouse of the future pdc dvd world domination gardening
Permies likes permaculture and the farmer likes Why Do People In Tornado/Hurricane Zones Still Build The Same Destroyable Houses? permies
  Search | Permaculture Wiki | Recent Topics | Flagged Topics | Hot Topics | Zero Replies | World Domination!
Register / Login
permies » forums » growies » permaculture
Bookmark "Why Do People In Tornado/Hurricane Zones Still Build The Same Destroyable Houses?" Watch "Why Do People In Tornado/Hurricane Zones Still Build The Same Destroyable Houses?" New topic

Why Do People In Tornado/Hurricane Zones Still Build The Same Destroyable Houses?

Andrew Michaels

Joined: Sep 05, 2008
Posts: 74
This may be a dumb question from someone who has never lived in an earthquake/hurricane/tornado zone, but I've been wondering for years, why on earth do people who live in these disaster-prone areas continue to build houses which are easily destroyed in natural disasters?

Take a dome home. There are many varieties, but companies like Monolithic are popular: http://www.monolithic.com/

Their domes stand up to hurricanes quite well: http://www.monolithic.com/stories/duponts-monolithic-dome-hurricane-shelter

And Tornadoes: http://www.monolithic.com/stories/monolithic-dome-home-survives-missouri-tornado

And Earthquakes: http://www.monolithic.com/stories/earthquake-safety

The domes are often of a comparable price to normal homes stick-build homes in many cases.

Although there are no models as cheap as you can buy a camper for, there are some fairly low prices cabin domes: http://www.monolithic.com/topics/cabins-model15

Now this is just one example. There are about a million other building styles/companies/techniques that are resistant to disasters, but year after year, decade after decade, all you hear about is how these stick built homes are being destroyed by disasters.


It seems so wasteful to keep rebuilding these houses which are not well suited to their environment.

I can at least understand energy inefficiency, but I can't understand this.

They know the disasters are coming, so why do they just keep doing the same thing over and over again?

Surely they must think when their houses are destroyed the first time, "Hmm, I should research alternative home designs to see if there's a better option for when I rebuild,"

...But it doesn't happen. They just rebuild the same damn house the next time.

What am I missing here? Can they really be this dumb?

Tom Rutledge

Joined: Apr 15, 2012
Posts: 50
It comes down to math, risk and perception.

The risk / reward of a safer house is not seen as a worth it.

The cost (time , money , energy , ridicule) of building a emergency safe domicile is going to cost more. Those dome houses look funny to most people.

The natural disasters tend to strike every generation or so. Rather rare when compared to how often Americans move about 11 times in a lifetime. http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/geomob.html Maybe once every 7 years or so.

The liability of having a funny looking home that cost a bundle, that is still under mortgage, that no one will buy from you is seen as a larger problem than getting a free new house after the insurance money pays out.

It makes sense if your disasters are further apart than you'll expect to live in the home. Which makes no sense to lots of permiculture people because they are thinking, well permanently. The average American anyway is something like $10k in credit card debt and living paycheck to paycheck. With a 14 day economic event horizon, even the questions of doing it right don't make sense.

Tens of thousands of lives would be saved a year in the USA if we'd all stop speeding... but we don't seem to be doing it. Same sort of thing.

Dan Wallace

Joined: May 27, 2010
Posts: 41
I live in the CA Bay Area (earthquake zone) and most homes are 80-100 years old. New homes have to meet strict codes and are likely to survive an earthquake. Older homes need retrofitting
Elizabeth Day

Joined: Apr 16, 2012
Posts: 1
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Where I'm from most people don't build their own homes and the companies who do build them are not always local. There aren"t really repercussions if there's any kind of storm damage. The company has long since sold the house and has no liability unless they did something that isn't up to code. The people who buy the houses assume that these houses are safe since they meet code. Tornadoes are rare occurences, You can live in Tornado Alley and go your whole life without seeing one so it's easy to put the fear out of your mind until the storm comes.
Elisha Gray

Joined: Mar 26, 2012
Posts: 9
Location: Sussex County, NJ
I can't speak for earthquakes because I've never needed to deal with one. But overall the craftsmanship/quality of work put into the house make a huge difference. Modern buildings fare a lot better because code in those areas require things like hurricane ties, which in essence are meant to hold the roof down if wind gets underneath it during a storm (structurally speaking most roofs are held down by their own weight, nails and such just keep them from moving around relative to the structure).

A dome seems like it has less edges that would allow storm winds to get underneath it, but I still think quality of work is still going to be one of the most important factors if you expect a building to stand against the elements in time. Usually the homeowner is deeply involved with the construction of alternative buildings, which naturally impacts the quality of work.

Insurance requirements (like mandatory flood insurance), really become a strong incentive to rebuild a home even in the worst locations. Areas near me flood annually, after one big storm an owner was out shopping for new bedroom furniture because "her house flooded again, this is the 4th year in a row!".... 5ft of water in the first floor of the house, 4 years in a row is a damn good sign that your house is in a poor location. But to her credit, its almost impossible to sell a house with water damage that bad so her only option may have been to keep rebuilding until they could sell the house.

Houses don't need to last forever to be sustainable, recognizing the impermanence of the structure might lead to a more sustainable design... Very little economic damage is done if a tent gets blown over in the night. Consider the following:

-- Multi-Mode
R Scott

Joined: Apr 13, 2012
Posts: 3011
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
Mortgage and insurance. Plain and simple.

If you want a mortgage, you need a house that is seen as "normal." And by normal they mean they can fit it in their form AND find 3+ identical "comps" that have sold recently in the area to determine the "value."

And with insurance, you need to build back the same structure if you want them to pay you. And you are in a hurry to get a roof back over your head, so you take shortcuts.

You are stuck in a vicious cycle...

Dale Look

Joined: Mar 07, 2012
Posts: 29
For the same reason people in flood plains keep rebuilding.
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
does anyone know what the native Americans of the plains did when it came to tornadoes? did they have the knowledge to "predict" them and move on first. after all they only had tipis for the most part.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
insurance companies let them..they need to have different insurance rules..such as..

if you are at risk for the same type of situation, maybe we'll have to improve your home to be less of a risk

here our poorly designed wood furnace failed in a power outage..and our ins co is buying us a new wood furnace, but this one has protection against power outage damage..an upgrade..and they were happy to upgrade it..it will be installed in May


Bloom where you are planted.
Darren Couch

Joined: Apr 16, 2012
Posts: 2
Location: Oregon - on the cusp of zone 8a and 8b
My ex father in law used to own an earth shelter construction business near Wichita KS, that went belly up after about three houses. He said when he'd go to fairs and such to pitch his business, people would tell him if they were going to spend 30% more on the construction cost, they wanted people to see the opulence.
Jason Long

Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
Some islands folks look at hurricanes and such as a time for cleaning, rebuilding, and rebirthing. There is a name that they call hurricanes, but I can not remember. My friend who grow up in the carribbean was telling me about it. They see the hurricanes as a fresh start by tearing down old, weak structures. They see pass the destruction and into the beauty a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural occurrence has to offer.

Isn't that amazing? I was raised with the fear of losing everything you worked for, losing your lives, losing your livelihood, and losing loved ones because of these events. However, certain people who are not in this rat race are thankful and grateful that all of that terror had happened. I like that life!

Anyways, that is not the point of this thread.

It's better for business if you through something up quick and get out. When the next hurricane comes rolling through, the contractors have lots of jobs opened for them.

Treehugger Organic Farms
Jean SmilingCoyote

Joined: Apr 25, 2012
Posts: 2
I've got some ideas. For one, many people in tornado-hit towns don't have any formal education in meteorology. They think that, since such destructive tornadoes only hit that place once every X# years on average, their house is not "due" for another for X# years. This isn't how weather works, but they don't know. People in the Oklahoma City area are more experienced, and have more "safe rooms." But Woodward, Oklahoma, which lost 6 to the last tornado, had a previous fatal tornado only in 1947. That apparently is too long ago to teach uneducated people.
It's worse than people being persuaded to build Monolithic Domes. Most don't even want to consider extra-thick rectangular reinforced concrete, which can look like any other ordinary house but will take at least an EF3, possibly EF4.
It gets worse. Joplin, MO, was so eager to facilitate rebuilding after its EF5, that: "It even resisted the temptation to make "safe rooms" a condition of rebuilding." [Wall Street Journal, 4/13/12]
And it gets even worse. A woman in Harrisburg, IL, who was away when her trailer home was destroyed by the tornado in 2/12, was gifted with: another trailer home!
There are stories about buildings, even big non-residential ones, being rebuilt to the exact same plans as the ones which were destroyed.
The difficulty in getting a mortgage for a Monolithic Dome does not apply to ordinary-looking rectangular reinforced-concrete construction which will withstand most tornadoes statistically expected to hit it, ever. It certainly doesn't apply to a "safe room" inside a flimsy new wood balloon-frame house.
Ignorance about weather is necessary for all this to happen, but not sufficient. What lets this happen is a combination of insurance companies, governments at all levels, and government aid which has no teeth. I think government aid is the most likely place to grow some teeth. Safer rebuilding should be a condition of getting aid. I've already appealed to my elected representatives at State & Federal levels to pass some laws to this effect.
Jean SmilingCoyote

Joined: Apr 25, 2012
Posts: 2
Jordan Lowery wrote:does anyone know what the native Americans of the plains did when it came to tornadoes? did they have the knowledge to "predict" them and move on first. after all they only had tipis for the most part.

Someone who'd BTDT told me that the tipi will actually take a weak tornado, better than an ordinary house. The shape is fairly streamlined, and it's staked down pretty well, with a rock holding down the rope from the vertex. These people spent a lot of time outside during tornado season, so could see a very far horizon in all directions, and bad weather developing - and they could strike camp and skeedaddle pretty fast, no thanks to NWS warnings. If you're in a tipi at night, you're also going to become quickly aware of suspicious weather developing, through both sounds and smells and winds and temperatures and humidity changes.
subject: Why Do People In Tornado/Hurricane Zones Still Build The Same Destroyable Houses?