The recent cold weather blast is a reminder for many homeowners to be prepared. But for a few, they've taken extreme measures to battle the elements.
"Many Americans right now are feeling the effects of the polar vortex, whether it is through canceled flights, school and business closings, or turning the heat up at home due to single-digit temperatures in some areas of the country," said Alison Schwartz, vice president of corporate communications for Move Inc., the operator of realtor.com.
Built-in features for protecting houses from such potentially destructive weather conditions have progressed beyond the basic storm cellars, lightning rods and old-fashioned sturdy construction.
While it's often true in housing today that they don't build 'em like they used to, flimsy home construction is not going to cut it for withstanding drastic weather. The following homes are examples of habitations designed with special features to withstand flooding, high winds, extreme cold, fires and other natural disasters.
—By Colleen Kane
Posted 10 Jan. 2014
Location: Camano Island, Wash.
Square footage: 900
When the owners of this Puget Sound fishing cabin decided to remodel, they found their home was zoned in a designated "high velocity wind zone" and would need to be able to withstand a tsunami. Principal architect Dan Nelson of Seattle's Designs Northwest Architects said the Army Corps of Engineers determined it was possible for a wall of water 7 feet 8 inches tall to hit the area, and homes had to be designed accordingly.
Nelson opted to raise the home on 9-foot pillars and create more living space below the main level, forming an area the owners call the cabana. Also, all the walls and windows on that lower level, made from industrial garage doors, were designed to break away with the force of extreme waves. Electrical outlets and mechanical components were all installed above the 5-foot level and the furnishings are all waterproof.
The upper level main living space is capable of withstanding the area's maximum wind pressure of 85 mph. Metal and Vivix (a Formica-like material) were used as weather-durable outer siding materials.
Dome homes, like the one pictured here from Natural Spaces Domes, can withstand a severe tornado as well as hurricanes and earthquakes due to their self-supporting, double-curved shape. They cost a little more than an average house, but the energy bills are about 50-75 percent less than that of a conventional home, Gary Clark of Monolithic recently told CNBC.
Monolithic domes are concrete structures approved by FEMA for "near-absolute protection and proven ability to survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, most manmade disasters, fire, termites and rot." They can also withstand blows from falling trees or wind-borne projectiles. Pensacola, Fla.'s Dome of a Home is one example that survived a blow from Hurricane Katrina and a host of other tropical storms and hurricanes.
Lightweight steel frames used in residential homes, like the one pictured here from Strong Steel Homes of Alabama, have numerous advantages such as strength, durability and the environmental benefit of very often using recycled steel rather than wood.
In terms of their extreme weather advantages, steel-frame houses are fire-resistant, noncorrosive as well as being of zero interest to termites. The steel frame doesn't create danger of fire or explosions from lightning strikes, and in fact helps direct the current down into the ground. In hurricanes, steel-frame homes can withstand winds of 100 mph or more.
Location: Vero Beach, Fla.
Price: $1.295 million
Bathrooms: 2 full, 1 half
Square footage: Approximately 2,100
This house was built in 2007 by Capp Custom Builders to stand up to Florida's hurricanes—as well it should, being only about a block from the Atlantic Ocean. The structure meets or exceeds building codes, with features including 180 mph wind-resistant windows and doors as well as electric and accordion shutters.
The structure is built to last as well, with Pella steel and concrete pilings 30 feet deep. In the likely event of electricity being knocked out by a storm, the whole house can be powered by the 25,000 watt generator.
This custom designed lake home was built in 2008 with many luxurious trappings such as four covered porches including one with a fireplace, a rec room with secondary kitchen and a supplementary third garage just for collector cars and "lake toys." But also incorporated into the design are the practical precautions of earthquake- and wind-resistant engineering.
Other smart features of this year-round lake/mountain style cottage estate include divided light double glazed and aluminum clad French doors and windows, four energy-efficient HVAC systems, three hot water heaters with a hot water recirculating system and a poured solid concrete foundation and reinforced wall basement with waterproofing and French drains.
Location: Ooltewah, Tenn.
Bathrooms: 3 full, 2 half
Square footage: 3,800
This custom Italian villa style home has purely aesthetic features like the Bevlo gas-fired lanterns from New Orleans' French Quarter that light the way on to the property, and views galore of the surrounding mountains and Chattanooga.
However in a practical move, the current owners replaced the original roof with an extreme weather-rated composite tile. Composite tiles can withstand winds up to 100 mph as well as blocking rain from getting into the home and having high impact ratings and high fire ratings.
Location: Pace, Fla.
Bathrooms: 3 full, 2 half
Square footage: 2,624
This log cabin style house looks more suited to the mountains, but its wind-resistant features are spot on for its Gulf Coast location in the Florida panhandle. It was made with structurally engineered panels with a layer of 10-inch split pine logs to increase energy efficiency and comprise a wind resistance to forces over 230 mph.
Other smart details of this property include passive solar features, and Energy Star certified appliances, heat pump, hot water heater, Pella windows and walls.
Location: Celina, Tex.
Price: $6.9 million
Bathrooms: 5 full, 2 half
Square footage: 9,131
This ranch on 73 acres has numerous amenities like the property's creeks, ponds, a fishing dock, stables, pastures, infinity pool, guest house and a freestanding art studio.
But for those times when the wind is whipping by and may damage all those exposed features, residents can hide out in the home's tornado-safe room. And should things become tedious waiting out the tornado, there is also a wine cellar nearby.
Location: Manitou Springs, Colo.
Square footage: 3,756
This custom built three-story concrete house has 16-inch thick walls which, much like a cave home or an underground home, naturally help keep the living space warm in winter and cool in summer. Adding to that cavelike protection effect, it's nestled into the side of a rocky incline.
Those same thick concrete walls help the house resist damage by fire and water. Geothermal heating and cooling add to the energy efficiency of this disaster-ready and eco-friendly habitation.