In the Hurricane Irma aftermath, with all of the compliments the first responders and recovery people deserve, an issue with building laws and the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to be addressed.
Our house was built with insulated concrete forms, which is Styrofoam blocks two and a half inches thick on each side with an eight-inch space between them. They are held together with plastic ties and the whole unit, or block, is stacked to form a wall with rebar placed inside vertically and horizontally. Concrete is then pumped into the cavity to form a solid eight-inch wall. It is far stronger than concrete blocks.
After completion, before we could get our certificate of occupancy, FEMA required us to put three holes in these ground floor walls. They each had to be the approximate size of a concrete block, ostensibly, to let the water out; it’s the rules. My repeated argument, to no avail, was that this would let the water in. We then paid a great deal of money to cut through concrete and steel to install the required vents.
Fast forward to Irma. With minimal damage to the exterior, when we opened the downstairs doors, it revealed hundreds of pounds of seaweed four feet up the stairs and in every nook and cranny. Heavy dressers floated and capsized laded with salt water, with a nice four-inch cover of stinking mud ruining everything. Heirlooms, Christmas items, electronics, everything below the four-foot water line was lost. Several thousand dollars of needless loss, along with weeks of hot, dirty cleaning. A nearby friend that is on lower land than us didn’t have to install the vents; that friend had less than two inches of water inside, hence, minimal damage.
It is realized that this pales in comparison with those that lost everything and those that suffered a great deal more damage than us. But the point remains that FEMA’s logic is greatly flawed. Requiring these vents on walls that wouldn’t break away without a column of water a lot higher than the 35-foot restriction on our height limitation is absurd. One size does not fit all on this issue, as their blanket rules do not recognize stronger building materials and methods. One wonders how much similar avoidable losses totaled in the Keys.
Bob Thomas, Key Largo