Rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey: Benefits of Steel Buildings in Flood Zones

Published September 6, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

steel building in flood zone

The waters are finally beginning to recede from the catastrophic flooding created by Hurricane Harvey. Now begins the cleanup in the aftermath of an unprecedented deluge. According to officials from Harris County, over 136,000 structures have been damaged and recovery costs are estimated to be $36 billion or more.

Our thoughts are with all the people who are now forced to rebuild their lives. So many structures that were damaged were built from wood frame and cannot be repaired. They must be demolished to make way for completely new construction. There is an alternative that could save money, property, and lives in the future and that is steel.

If you look at what happens to buildings that are flooded and the required repairs, you can find several advantages that steel has provided and continues to provide to this day.

Steel is durable, resistant to mold, and is quick and easy to restore and repair. There are significant cost savings in comparison to traditional construction in both building and repairing steel buildings. Also, you kill way fewer trees into the bargain.

Steel buildings are durable

Steel structures stand for decades longer than most other traditional construction and at a fraction of the total cost of ownership.  Steel, with its high strength-to-weight ratio, is the best construction material available.

  • Steel is strong without being overly heavy, which means the foundation costs are minimized.
  • Steel withstands high winds, seismic activity, and other environmental impacts much better than wood or stone.
  • When subjected to forces that overcome its strength, steel bends instead of breaking, increasing the safety of occupants.

As far as water is concerned, not only does steel withstand the strength of billions of gallons of rushing water, it is resistant to warping, twisting, rotting, and shrinkage in moist conditions. Steel even resists rust with special coatings and finishes, beginning with factory applied galvanization to additional coatings for special environments or to add color and texture.

Galvanization is a method of coating steel with zinc that protects the base iron from exposure to the elements. Zinc molecules are sacrificed, so the steel retains its strength and cohesiveness even after prolonged exposure to water. As long as steel is not allowed to corrode and rust, it keeps all its strength.


Steel resists mold

The chief problem post-flood in most structures is the growth of mold. For a wood-framed building, mold can grow in and on the wooden members, and it is impossible to eradicate completely. The presence of mold causes health problems in human occupants, demolition and total building replacement is the only choice.

Health problems caused by mold include:

  • Throat irritation
  • Lung irritation with wheezing and coughing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Asthma
  • Upper respiratory tract infections

Mold survives by feeding off its host, weakening and breaking down the structural elements of many porous building materials. Steel, on the other hand, may get mold on its exterior but it won’t live long because mold cannot feed off metal. In addition, since steel is not porous, it is easily cleaned and sanitized, wiping out any mold colonies adhering to the surface.

After a flood event, you won’t be forced to demolish your entire building. You may need to replace many of the interior and exterior elements such as insulation, floor coverings, and wall finishes, but you will not be forced to reconstruct from the ground up.

steel building flood area

Steel is quickly restored and repaired

Once your structure is stripped to its bones, as long as those bones are steel, you can easily replace any damaged wall and roof panels. You can replace the insulation and even add more as you refurbish your building. If you have ever wanted to make your property more energy efficient, a flood event could be a blessing in disguise.

Many types of insulation and batting are designed for easy placement within the frame members and roof system of a metal building. If you need to repair or replace roof panels, now may be the time to install a cool roof as well as add skylights or other penetrations required for your HVAC system.

The biggest advantage may be the speed with which repairs can be made. The sooner your building is back in shape, the sooner you can get back to business. Decreased downtime reduces the financial hit by allowing you to open much sooner than if you had to rebuild the entire structure.


Steel is cost effective

You will save costs by going with a metal building, including before the flood.

  • Steel is fire resistant as well as resistant to water damage. Insurance companies reward owners who choose steel with lower insurance premiums.
  • You also receive lower premiums because there is nothing (so far) that will eat steel. It is resistant to termites, mice, rats, and other pests, reducing the risk of damage.
  • Steel buildings are at lower risk in extreme weather conditions and seismic events resulting in lower premiums.
  • Tax breaks are available from the government for expanding energy efficient construction. You can get tax credits for environmentally friendly buildings.

After a flood, you save on labor, repair, and removal of damaged components. Also, less material makes its way to the landfill.

Steel is environmentally friendly

Besides avoiding landfills, steel is about conservation.

  • Steel is 100% recyclable without losing any strength.
  • Steel contains a high percentage of recycled material.
  • Using steel to build saves trees, which take forever to regrow.
  • If there is less need for tree farms to replace trees, the land becomes available for other uses, wildfires are reduced, and water and air quality increase.

One of the biggest problems after a natural disaster is sourcing enough material to replace ruined structures. It can be difficult to harvest enough trees to provide wood for extensive rebuilding. Regrowing trees to the appropriate size to use for building materials takes decades, especially for hardwoods.

It’s tough enough to predict the weather a week in advance. It is nearly impossible to predict what the environment will be in the years to come. Weather systems writhe around the planet in an unending display of flood and drought, heat and cold.

The same problems that damage buildings and homes can also reduce access to many of the materials you need to repair them. Building with steel provides benefits to your wallet and the planet.

  • Reduced downtime
  • Reduced insurance costs and taxes
  • Reduced repairs
  • Reduced landfills
  • Increased durability and longevity
  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Infinite supply

All of these benefits stem from using durable, recyclable, flexible steel for your primary construction material.

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