Built to Last: A Q&A on the Future of Resilient Construction
Ray Frobosilo, owner and founder of Super Stud Building Products, Inc., a cold-formed steel (CFS) products manufacturer, knows about resilient construction firsthand. His company has supplied emergency building materials in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Frobosilo himself lived through the devastation of Sandy.
“From my home I watched three houses burn on the other side of the Bob Jones Canal [Long Beach, New York],” Frobosilo said. “The fire department couldn’t get to them to put out the fires.”
Perhaps due to such natural disasters or concerns related to terrorism, resilient construction is gaining interest in the built community. The hope is to erect buildings that last and repair easily after a catastrophic event.
We asked Frobosilo to share his insights on resilient construction.
Q: What is resiliency?
Resiliency is associated with a building’s robustness, resourcefulness, and recovery. Resiliency encompasses safety, security, durability, energy conservation, and environmental friendliness. It is a measure of a building’s ability to serve its intended purpose with minimal disruption, such as keeping a family from being displaced from their home or keeping a business or community service in operation.
It means different things depending on the circumstances. In high-moisture climates, mold and mildew resiliency can be a real safety net. In seismic areas, resiliency involves resistance to progressive collapse. After 9/11, building owners started looking for impact resistance in their structures.
Q: How do North American structures fare in the aftermath of catastrophic events?
If you look at data on deaths from earthquakes and hurricanes from around the world, you see that most storms are not nearly as strong as Andrew or Katrina. Yet, thousands of people die from them. In contrast, North America doesn’t have quite the loss of life in our catastrophic events, relatively speaking.
But when you look at data on costs, you find that we have costly repair scenarios related to our natural disasters. Resilient construction is about reducing those costs. It doesn’t have to cost so much to get going again.
Q: Tell us more about Hurricane Sandy.
When people think of hurricanes, they think of high winds and water. But many New York communities were devastated by fires after Sandy. Using fire-rated materials and non-combustible materials could have helped the communities fare better.
Of course, the water was devastating. But, what really hurt people was having to wait for the right inspections from government agencies, and the funds for those inspections. They had to wait weeks. Some waited months. By then it was too late. Homes developed severe cases of mold and mildew contamination, because the framing materials — wood, in many cases — fostered moisture.
Q: What was Katrina like?
I was in New Orleans probably 30 days after Katrina hit, and I saw structures picked up from their foundations and dropped blocks away. The high winds ripped off roofs. The communities were devastated.
Q: Did the government issue resiliency guidelines after Katrina?
To a degree. For example, we started to see new specifications for wood. It turns out that wood needs special clips to hold wood trusses to walls and wood walls to footings and foundations. Wood framing can’t deal with the high winds of a major storm.
Q: Will building codes start to include resiliency requirements?
This is an economic battle. If you make the codes more stringent, then initial construction costs will go up. But, in the long run, overall costs can be more favorable because resilient materials will hold up better after natural disasters and, therefore, generate fewer expenses related to reconstruction, repair, and remediation.
Overall, change won’t come easy. Builders often focus on least initial cost, while owners and insurance companies often have a longer-term perspective.
Q: Are owners and developers up to speed on resilient construction?
I feel they need more education. But, that education has to appeal to their appetite for bottom-line profits. When they look at the expense of maintaining a structure over 25 or 30 years, some developers are starting to think long term. They’re starting to see that certain framing materials have the potential to expose them to high upkeep costs, to mold and mildew problems, and to the potential for greater losses after catastrophic events.
Q: Any new developments in resilient construction?
There’s a new group in California, the U.S. Resiliency Council (USRC). It’s geared toward earthquakes, but it seems to want to expand to cover other types of disasters.
It’s a code-plus program similar to LEED. Building owners buy into the program, and USRC has structural engineers qualified to rate their buildings on resiliency. I think what they’re going to find is that buildings constructed with cold-formed steel will be consistently rated higher in resiliency than structures framed with other materials.
Q: Why would CFS get higher resiliency ratings?
Consistency of material. Quality of workmanship in commercial low-rise and mid-rise markets. [Cold-formed] steel framing is consistent stud to stud. It’s resistant to mold, termites, and lends itself to reuse.
We’ve put up metal houses in Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans. We’ve erected some prior to Katrina, and those houses have held up. I can say without bias that steel’s time has arrived. It’s time to think about the long-lasting benefits [cold-formed] steel brings to the table.
Want to learn more about CFS framing’s place in resilient construction? Check out the BuildSteel infographic, Know the Facts About Resiliency of Cold-Formed Steel Framing.