This year’s hurricane season officially began on June 1, with peak season starting in mid- August and continuing through late October. While it may be impossible to build a structure that is 100% hurricane proof, coastal builders are trying to find solutions to building sound homes that could stand up against these detrimental storms.
Deltec Homes, an Asheville, N.C.—based builder, specializes in prefabricated round home construction. According to the company, the home’s shape, along with its quality of materials and engineering, allow the structure to be hurricane resistant. Since the company’s founding in 1968, several Deltec homes have survived direct hits from Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Harvey, Sandy, Katrina, Hugo, Ivan, and Charley.
With the 2019 peak hurricane season around the corner, BUILDER spoke with Steve Linton, president of Deltec Homes, about the company’s history, their signature panoramic home design, and how these round homes withstand strong winds brought on by hurricanes.
BUILDER: Tell us a bit about the history of Deltec Homes—how did the company come to be?
Linton: The company that would eventually evolve into Deltec Homes began as a home insulation company founded by Clyde Kinser in 1955. It wasn’t until his son Wayne began to work at the business that they started to expand their scope. They quickly realized that to keep growing, they needed someone with technical expertise to help engineer new products. Lucky for them, Wayne’s brother, Robert, had a degree in mechanical engineering. They asked him to come work with them, and he accepted. The two brothers quickly began to reshape the company, eventually putting Deltec on the path to become what it is today. That journey truly began in 1968, when Wayne and Robert decided to begin offering (what they thought was) a small-side service—building panoramic homes. The rest is history.
The principles that Robert and Wayne built Deltec on still shape our values and perspectives to this day. They wanted to create something unique and off the beaten path. This drive to do something different, something exceptional, was deeply ingrained in both brothers. It’s what eventually drew them to design and build round houses.
BUILDER: What types of homes do you produce? How does the shape and construction differ from regular stick-built homes?
Linton: Our flagship design is a panoramic home, shaped to offer incredible views, built to be resilient to hurricanes, and designed to provide exceptional energy efficiency. We build legacy homes, designed to connect homeowners with the people and world around them both now and for generations to come. Our homes are commitments to future generations of people, a promise that we will do what needs to be done to ensure they have a happy, healthy planet. Our products are intentionally crafted to create a positive impact on both Deltec homeowners and our planet.
Our homes are meticulously engineered and precision crafted to withstand the worst of conditions and ensure the safety and comfort of every person who lives in one. Our homes forge connections between people and our natural world, revealing how everything we do affects everyone and everything else.
BUILDER: How are Deltec homes hurricane resistant? What features make the structure more durable against strong winds?
Linton: Deltec’s resiliency comes from the house working together as a system. A Deltec home is stronger in high winds and seismic areas for two main reasons: a panoramic home has less pressure on it because of the shape, and Deltec’s engineering and construction techniques enhance the strength of the home.
A circular home has outstanding aerodynamics, allowing the wind to flow around the home rather than build up pressure on any one side. There just isn’t enough surface area to allow significant pressure to build up on any side. In fact, in a Deltec home, the pressure pushing on the exterior of the home is about 30% less than a traditional home because of the circular shape.
Strength in Three Key Components
1. Material Excellence
- 5 Ply, 5/8” plywood that is twice as strong as 7/16” OSB
- Specially graded (“Diamond Grade”) MSR lumber is used in our all structural components, and is typically twice as strong as the wood used in conventional homes. Each board is acoustically tested to ensure it meets the strength requirements of the design.
- Deltec’s panelized process allows for much greater quality control and implementation of all enhanced strength techniques (for example, we can get nail spacing just right, not too far, not too close)
- Stainless fasteners in all exterior applications
We emphasize high-strength connections at critical failure points. For example, our hurricane ties are three times as strong as those used in conventional hurricane construction.
3. Precision Engineering Process
We design the house as a system. For example, the radial floor trusses connect every wall of the home together through a central hub, allowing any force applied to one side of the home to be effectively resisted by the entire home, not just one section. This redundancy provides exceptional safety and ultimately means that our homeowners will not need to rebuild after major storms.
We also focus on the sustainability of the home after a severe weather event. By choosing strategies that promote livability after the storm (i.e., passive heating and cooling), we can promote long-term building durability, which ultimately conserves resources.
The conventional approach to building hurricane-resistant homes is to take a traditional home design and reinforce it. This approach can add many layers of complexity and cost, and you still end up with a design that is not ideal. It is like trying to make a race car out of a delivery van.
It is in the aftermath of power storms such as Maria, Harvey, and Irma, and Michael when we all need to rise to the challenge of creating homes that do more because we have the vision for communities that survive the challenging environments of our Earth. This vision is for homes that are designed to work with nature, not against it. As we think back to the homes built by our ancestors, they understood the land on which they lived. They understood the direction of the prevailing winds and how to design houses to use these for passive cooling. They understood what direction to face their homes and windows to take advantage of free heat and blocking out unwanted heat. On a larger scale, we have completely lost this connection to the land, and natural disasters highlight this on a large scale.
BUILDER: What kinds of floor plans do you offer and how much do they typically cost?
Linton: Each of the panoramic homes we build are different, but they are all based on the same 21 basic building blocks. There are almost endless possibilities to how you can mix and match different Deltec structures (over 1.8 million possible combinations). Our planning and design team typically suggests several plan ideas from our extensive library of plans, or customers may choose to design a home from scratch.
The upfront cost of a Deltec home is more expensive than a traditionally-built home because of the materials that we use to construct the homes. However, the total cost of ownership of a Deltec is where customers come out on top. Through reduced utility bills and maintenance costs, not to mention the savings of not having to rebuild after a storm, investing in a Deltec home leads to lower costs over time. A typical 2,000-square-foot Deltec home may range from $400K to $600K, depending on the location and features selected.
BUILDER: What areas have you improved since the company’s 1968 founding?
Linton: Innovation is one of our core values. We have made many advances over the last 50 years, both in the product itself and in the process by which we build. Some examples that come to mind:
- With 273 solar panels on the roof of our production facility, every Deltec home is prefabricated using 100% renewable energy
- We divert an average of 80% of construction waste away from landfills
- Our Energy Wall system and our Double Stud Walls use AirBlock gaskets between the framing and the sheathing, allowing our homes to be exceptionally airtight
- One of our model homes (what we call the “Innovation Center”) has temperature and moisture sensors embedded throughout the house, allowing us to monitor its performance and innovate the next generation of home
BUILDER: What advice do you have for other builders constructing homes in hurricane-prone areas?
Linton: Beyond just considering the hardware that can be added to a standard home design, builders should be considering other design elements that can greatly enhance the strength of a home: the shape, exposure, material strength, and livability (sustainability) in the days and weeks after the storm. Deltec is an expert in these areas, and we partner with builders across the country to design homes that perform in the most extreme environments.