MOORE — Last June, probably every builder in the state was eyeing Moore as an opportunity, a cautionary tale and a massive challenge, all in one — such was the legacy of the May 20 tornado.
Jay London, builder and founder of Jay London Homes LLC, looked at the miles and miles of debris and wondered whether something could be done to protect houses if and when the next tornado struck.
London's vision culminated in the late-December delivery and installation of a prefabricated concrete disaster-resistant shell that encapsulates a portion of the living area of a home he's building in Moore.
Making up nearly a third of the 1,885-square-foot house's structural support, the 85,000-pound concrete monolith was lifted by crane from the flatbed truck that delivered it and anchored to the slab foundation where it “snapped in like a Lego block,” London said.
The five-sided shell — four walls and a ceiling — creates a nearly 600-square-foot enclosure, engineered to withstand catastrophic winds such as EF5 tornadoes and hurricanes.
Inside the shell, manufactured with openings for impact-resistant windows and hurricane shutters, London framed up two bedrooms and a bathroom.
With siding on the exterior and drywall on the interior, and with wooden rafters overhead supporting a traditional roofline, “you'd never know” that a third of the house behind that facade is essentially “one big safe room,” London said.
“Usually your safe room is a master closet, or in the garage,” London said, but in this design a homeowner can hear the sirens of a tornado warning but “just stay in bed and watch TV to see what happens.”
London said his bet in building the home, at 1601 Post Oak Lane in Moore, was that “there's a homeowner out there looking for the safety of a concrete shelter without giving up livable space.”
London first met John Greenwald, president of Montenero U.S., the Jacksonville, Fla.-based manufacturer of the monolithic concrete shell, in Moore following the May 20 tornado.
The tornado was “why we chose Oklahoma to be our next state to partner with local builders,” Greenwald said. “Like the rest of the country we were deeply saddened by the loss of life and property. We want to help rebuild Moore stronger and alleviate the amount of devastation should Oklahomans face another significant tornado.”
Greenwald said that according to structural integrity reports of homes after disasters, a house using his company's technology would be standing after a storm of the intensity of May 20, even if the windows and doors were breached.
Greenwald said technology has drastically reduced concerns about cost and aesthetics that led builders away from concrete and masonry construction after the 1950s.
Indeed, London said his spec home's price will be only 5 to 10 percent higher than if he had opted not to build using the Montenero shell, listing for “about $215,000” compared to “probably $205,000” for traditional framing.
For some people, the increase would be worth it, Greenwald said.
“The bedroom is basically a safe area that allows family members to gather comfortably within their home and not race elsewhere for cover every time the sirens sound,” he said. “If people know they can safely stay in their homes during storm threats, the stress of clamoring for shelter and worrying about loved ones or property loss is no longer an issue.”
London, a licensed real estate agent, said he is aware of buyers' sensitivity to home pricing. He said he thinks the concrete-reinforced living space and long-term peace of mind that come with it will be appealing, even with the slightly hiked sticker price.
Even with a delivery delay caused by December's ice storm, the structure was fitted to its foundation before Christmas. London said his crew would have the home completed and on the market by the end of March.