Midwest Homebuilder's Systems-Built Homes Stand Strong Against Florida Hurricanes

-Builders Report No All American® Homes Sustain Structural Damage

Decatur, Ind.--Systems-built homes from All American Homes continue to remain virtually unscathed despite the relentless onslaught of major hurricanes leaving a path of damage, devastation and despair throughout Florida and several other southern states.

Doug Relick, owner of DD&K Traditional Homes in Sebastian, Fla., survived both Hurricane Frances and Jeanne. Relick, an All American Homes® builder who lives with his family in an All American® home in Vero Beach, said he provided the neighborhood "safe house" twice in three weeks. "Some of my neighbors didn't feel secure in their stick-built or masonry block homes, so they asked if they could stay with us while we rode out Frances." Seven adults, eleven kids, nine guinea pigs, four dogs and four cats gathered in the home to brave the storm's sustained 110 mph winds as they pummeled Florida's Atlantic coast. Relick's home stood tall with no structural damage.

Across the state, other All American Homes builders had similar stories. "All of our homes came through just fine, including one home where the interior wasn't yet complete. We lost a few shingles and some fascia here and there, but that was about it," said Oren Schneider, owner of Castle Rock Contracting's New Castle Homes in hard-hit Port Charlotte, Fla., where Hurricane Charley made its brutal landfall with sustained winds between 131 and 155 mph.

Though nearby Punta Gorda also bore the brunt of Hurricane Charley's force, Kermit Horne said his All American homes suffered no structural damage. Horne owns Hallmark Homes in Dundee, Fla. and has homes in the Punta Gorda area. "While some homes were demolished, all we lost was a ridge vent, which is part of the roof's ventilation system, and a few pieces of siding. Our homes fared very well."

All American Homes, LLC, a subsidiary of Coachmen Industries, Inc. (NYSE: COA), is one of the nation's largest builders of system-built homes. All American began building in Florida just two years ago, and now has 75 homes up throughout the state. Precision-built off site in a climate-controlled environment that provides greater quality control, construction speed and protection from the elements, the structural frames of systems-built homes are stronger than traditional site-built (sometimes called stick-built) homes.

"Because they're transported by highway to building sites, then lifted by cranes to be set in place on permanent foundations, All American's systems-built homes by necessity use more building materials than site-built homes. The additional lumber, nails, fasteners and adhesives greatly increase our homes' overall strength," said Steve Kerr, President of All American Homes. "Our exterior walls are built with 2" by 6" wall studs on 16-inch centers, giving them more rigidity than the 2" by 4" studs used in most stick-built homes. Our floor joists are 2" by 10" on 16" centers, also much sturdier than the joists normally found in site-built homes. And even in high winds, the expandable foam bonding the ceiling wallboard to the framing offers tremendous holding power."

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report on building performance during 1992's Hurricane Andrew noted that homes of the type built by All American withstood the ravages of that storm's Category 4 winds of 131-155 mph far better than stick-built housing. FEMA stated these homes "provided an inherently rigid system that performed much better than conventional residential framing."

Kerr said that the homes All American builds for Florida must adhere to that state's strict wind zone regulations so that they're strong enough to offer protection during a hurricane. The zones vary throughout the state, with the highest along the coastal regions. "Florida has wind zones that start at 90 mph, but we take extra steps to go ahead and wind-build our homes for at least 130 mph so that we know they're strong, even building some of our homes strong enough to withstand 160 mph winds," explained Kerr. "To meet those wind zone standards we increase the amount of nails and screws we use to secure our roof sheathing to the rafters. We only use DP50-rated windows that are engineered to withstand hurricane force winds and protect against flying debris. We also increase the number of metal fabricated straps we use to connect floor joists, walls and floors so that the homes are even stronger."

Several neighbors had watched Relick set his home last year, which he had built to the 160 mph wind zone standard, so they saw first hand the extra strength built into an All American® systems-built home. After safely riding out one hurricane, some of his neighbors asked to stay with the Relicks again when the warning came that Vero Beach was in the path of Jeanne. Despite Jeanne's 120 mph winds, the home remained undamaged. "One neighbor was a veteran of nine hurricanes. She slept soundly all night in my son's room upstairs, and said she never felt so secure in a home during a hurricane," said Relick.

Kerr pointed out that building in a controlled environment gives All American Homes an advantage in producing strong homes. "Before they even leave our facility, we have every aspect of the homes inspected by an independent third party to ensure they meet Florida's wind zone standards. Even the metal straps we use are verified by outside engineers as meeting the required standards. We actually overbuild our homes to ensure they're strong, but building the way we do allows us to keep costs reasonable because we have so much more construction and quality control over the building process."

That building process helped homes built by A.J. Builders in Brandon, Fla., to withstand two hurricanes and not suffer any significant damage, according to owner Jim Helmich. "We had a home that was 99 percent complete in Myakka City, where the winds were over 135 mph from Hurricane Charley. It didn't lose so much as a shingle. Frances hit this area hard, too, and still all we lost were a few shingles. There was no structural damage at all."

Several builders contrasted the strength of All American's systems-built homes to another type of home construction popular in Florida. "Since it's a hard material, some people assume masonry block construction is stronger, but that's not necessarily the case. While there's reinforced steel every four feet, the rest is mortar and those mortar joints may crack in very high winds," said Lee Jolicoeur of Homes by Jolicoeur in Okeechobee. Jolicoeur had 29 All American® homes that survived the fury of both Frances and Jeanne without any structural damage.

In Naples, Mark Johnson of Florida Custom Homes said although masonry block homes are strong, since they're all one piece, hurricane-force winds can damage the entire structure. "Systems-built homes are built in sections, so the impact of high winds is spread out and dissipated."

All American homes that Johnson built in Lehigh Acres, where Hurricane Charley ravaged the landscape, "just lost a few shingles. They held up well during the hurricanes and several tornadoes, which caused extensive roof damage on homes throughout the area."

Referring to Florida's strict hurricane wind zone regulations, Johnson said, "I've always done well by building All American homes, because they already exceeded the state hurricane design standards."

Homes built by All American Homes, LLC are made to meet or exceed state and local building codes and are constructed for placement on traditional site-built home foundations in residential neighborhoods. All American Homes is a subsidiary of Elkhart, Ind.-based Coachmen Industries, Inc. The company has homebuilding facilities in Decatur, Ind.; Dyersville, Iowa; Milliken, Colo.; Osage City, Kan.; Rutherfordton, N.C.; Springfield, Tenn. and Zanesville, Ohio. Mod-U-Kraf Homes, a division of All American Homes®, is located in Rocky Mount, Va.

Coachmen Industries, Inc., now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is one of America's leading manufacturers of recreational vehicles with well-known brand names including COACHMEN®, GEORGIE BOY™, SPORTSCOACH®, and VIKING®. The Company's subsidiary, ALL AMERICAN HOMES®, is one of the nation's largest producers of systems-built homes. Coachmen Industries is also a major builder of commercial structures with its ALL AMERICAN BUILDING SYSTEMS™ and MILLER BUILDING SYSTEMS™ products. Prodesign, LLC is a subsidiary that produces custom composite and thermoformed plastic parts for numerous industries under the PRODESIGN® brand. Coachmen Industries, Inc. is a publicly held company with stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker COA.

 
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