In Moore, near the intersection of Santa Fe Avenue and SW 19, the landscape is still largely barren along the path traced by last May’s deadly tornado.
Concrete slabs remain where the houses they supported were either blown away or bulldozed afterward. Stripped and broken trees resemble skeleton hands reaching up from the mud and gravel.
But there is human activity, lots of it — mostly contractor trucks and construction crews. The effort to rebuild that began on May 21 last year continues, and to the untrained eye it appears that years’ worth of vacant lots remain to be rebuilt.
In addition to the confidence it takes to build in or near the destructive track of at least two powerful tornadoes, a local builder is meeting the challenge with “resilient” construction technology designed to withstand killer winds.
Josh Kitchen, a partner in McAlister Construction, said that the house his firm is building as a model at 14517 Brent Drive is unusual for the region in that it is being built with 8-inch Dolese concrete block walls around the entire exterior, replacing traditional wood framing.
“It’s as tornado proof as anything being built today,” Kitchen said.
The Brent Drive house features not only wind resistance, but also greater insulation ratings and increased water impermeability from the stacked concrete blocks.
The block walls’ strength comes from internal steel support bars and a vertical concrete pour through the hollow blocks at door and window openings, and at 4-foot intervals around the house’s perimeter.
Brian Lenz, who markets masonry products for Dolese Bros., said the methods employed in the house’s exterior wall construction will ensure that the house is resistant to winds up to 135 miles per hour.
Lenz, who worked with hurricane-resistant construction materials in Florida before moving to Oklahoma, said he was surprised to find concrete blocks were not more common here in Tornado Alley.
“Ninety-five percent of houses in Florida are built like this,” said Lenz, who will be at the house Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to show the site and answer questions. The area is northwest of S Santa Fe Avenue and SW 149 (SW 19 in Moore).
So maybe it’s a matter of cost? Are Oklahomans not ready to lay out more money to gain some wind resistance?
“It’s not really all that different,” Kitchen said. In fact, “looking at comps for the neighborhood, we’re actually under those prices” at $189,000, the sticker Kitchen said he foresees for the 1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.
Kitchen said that another barrier to more widespread adoption of cement block exterior framing is “contractors have a learning curve on any new product.” But he and his crews have found that “it’s a change, sure, but really not a big one.”
Kitchen and Lenz agreed that plumbers, electricians and other craftspeople might be “scared of it at first, but you learn quick.”
Lenz said that concrete construction materials, in addition to meeting resilient construction requirements, also mean lower homeowner’s insurance premiums, thanks to their fire resistance.
Jeffrey Seeliger, concrete products manager for Dolese, pointed out an added benefit: reduced utility bills.
“By the time you add a 4-inch brick or stone exterior veneer to these 8-inch blocks, then a layer of insulation and drywall inside, you’re looking at walls 16 inches thick,” Seeliger said.
Kitchen said that the Brent Drive house will feature a brick veneer exterior with shingle accents.
As an extra layer of interior security, the house includes a safe room: The master closet has reinforced, poured-through cement block walls and a poured-concrete slab ceiling.
According to The Concrete Producer magazine, Oklahoma is in an area of the country where resilient construction methods are recommended — in fact, 73 percent of all U.S. housing starts in 2014 will be in such areas.
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