A well-built roof protected with quality materials can save your home from destruction in severe weather.
This guide discusses the best roofing types, materials and techniques for withstanding high winds and impact from the flying debris commonly associated with hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and other hurricane zones on the East Coast.
Case in Point: Hurricane Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas are just the two recent examples of storms that left widespread devastation in their wake.
Tens of thousands of homes were severely damaged by water. While flooding accounted for much of the damage, many homes were destroyed when their roof or roofing materials gave way to the wind, allowing heavy rains to soak the interior of the home.
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High winds expose several key roofing flaws:
- Overhanging eaves “catch” wind and make it easier for roof sections, framing and all, to be lifted from the home
- Insufficient bracing and/or the lack of hurricane straps make roof structures easier to separate from the rest of the home
- Roofs connected to walls with staples rather than nails are strongly secured
- Lightweight shingles and shingles not installed using wind-zone techniques are easily lifted in high wind, and even if not torn off, this allows wind-driven rain under the shingles where it threatens damage to the roof deck
- Very steep roof pitches that act like a sail in high winds
All these issues are preventable with the kinds of proper techniques discussed next.
Did you know?
The use of staples as fasteners to hold rafters to walls was banned in Florida construction following Hurricane Andrew in 1992. If your home was built before that, the roof might be susceptible to high-wind events.
Consider discussing with a roofing contractor your options for retrofitting your home with proper fasteners, hurricane straps/clips and more.
Pro Tip: The next time you have your home roofed, ask the contractor to fully inspect the roof and attic for current best-practice methods of preventing wind damage. It’s the perfect time to bolster the wind resistance of any roof.
Best Roof Shape and Support Techniques for Florida and Texas
Both Florida and Texas have building codes that reduce the risk of damage in high-wind events, and those are addressed next. However, there are basic design and installation tips not fully addressed in the codes that will help reduce wind damage.
- Roof shape: There are important do’s and don’ts. Do not use overhangs of more than 20 inches. Eliminating them altogether is the best practice.
Gables, while popular for looks and lower building costs, are susceptible to winds hitting the flat, horizontal side of a home.
A better design is to eliminate gables in favor of a hip roof all around the home, so each side has a slope.
- Roof pitch: Civil and structural engineer Rima Taher, PhD, recommends a 30-degree slope as the right pitch to aerodynamically handle high wind. That’s a 7/12 pitch – the roof gets 7 inches higher for every 12 inches of run toward the peak.
Steeper slopes increase the “sail effect” that makes them susceptible to wind. Lower slopes don’t handle wind-driven rain as well.
The 30-degree, 7/12 roof recommendation is backed up by testing, according to the publication Science Daily.
- Fasteners: Staples should never be used. Nails and hurricane straps/clips that attach to the wall studs and to the rafters are highly recommended anywhere hurricane or straight-line winds are possible.
Nails and straps are required by the Florida Building Code. Staples are prohibited in Florida and Texas.
- Notched frieze board: A frieze board is a board that bridges the gap between roof and wall and is attached to both. Experts recommend a frieze board notched for the rafters for a tighter, more secure fit. The purpose of the board is to keep wind from getting into the gap between wall and roof, potentially lifting the roof structure. It also helps to keep wind-driven rain from getting into the home’s structure.
Stringent Florida Building Codes – and Do They Help?
In 1992, Miami-Dade Counties and Broward Counties were the first to pass stringent building codes for High Velocity Hurricane Zones (HVHZ). Those codes were incorporated into the Florida Building Code in 2002, though not all counties require the HVHZ portion of the code be met.
In Texas, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association issued a Building Code for Windstorm Resistant Construction that regulates materials, fasteners and practices. It is less stringent than the codes established in Florida.
A study of damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 revealed that, “homes that were built to the stricter building codes seem to have fared better,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
In the same report, Julie Rochman, chief executive of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety said, “It looks like the building codes have proved themselves, that the new construction has done well.”
Hard data compiled from 2001 to 2010 by researcher Kevin Simmons shows that the new building code, “reduced windstorm damage by up to 72%.” Simmons estimated that for every $1 spent on storm-related repairs, homes and commercial buildings were spared $6 worth of damage.
The takeaway for homeowners, as we’ve noted, is that they should consider retrofitting their homes to meet the upgraded building code standards that are now in force throughout Florida.
Did you know?
While homeowners in Texas or hurricane zones on the East Coast should consider a retrofit for their home when replacing the roof, such retrofits are required in all Florida counties since 2007.
Florida Statute 553.844 requires:
- The installation of gable-end bracing in gable roofs
- Secondary water barriers beneath roofing materials
- Upgraded roof-to-wall connections (with total cost not to exceed 15% of the cost of the reroofing job)
- Correcting or strengthening roof decking attachments with approved fasteners
These practices are known as Wind Mitigation or Hurricane Mitigation.
Best Shingles for High Wind Areas like Florida and Texas
Let’s start with asphalt shingles you should stay away from. Most 3-tab (three-tab) asphalt shingles are rated for windspeeds of just 60mph to 70mph. — That’s tropical storm speed. Category One hurricanes are those with a wind speed from 74-95mph. 3-Tab shingles do not meet Miami-Dade/Florida building codes.
Three-tab shingles are lightweight, so affordable and easy to work with, but their lack of material makes them susceptible to blow-offs. If you install them anyway, such as on an outbuilding or detached garage, don’t expect the manufacturer to honor its warranty if the shingles are damaged in a wind event.
The heavier shingles known as architectural or dimensional are typically rated for 110mph winds. The wind rating for most can be increased to 130mph with enhanced installation, which means one or more of the following:
- 6-nail installation instead of 4
- 3 or 4 dabs of asphalt roof cement strategically located
- Additional fasteners in the last shingle at the peak/ridge plus roofing cement
FEMA’s brochure called Asphalt Shingle Roofing for High Wind Regions recommends additional guidelines such as:
- Drip edge nailed and glued down on roof rakes (the outer edge of a gable roof)
- Fasteners installed at the rake edge in the nailing region of the shingles
- The use of shingles with fastener pull-through rating of 25lb at 73 degrees F for up to 120mph winds or 30lbs for wind speeds greater than 120mph
- Roofing nails at least ¾” long and long enough to extend through the roof deck
- Best nailing practices including nail heads driven to the shingle surface, not denting the surface nor leaving a gap between the nail head and shingle
*The alternate name of this FEMA brochure is Technical Fact Sheet No. 7.3.
Other Roofing Materials Suitable for High Winds
While asphalt shingles remain the most common roofing material even in high-wind zones, there are others worth considering.
Here they are with their pros and cons:
- Standing seam metal roofs: These roofs have a limited number of seams, so keep water out very well. The seams are raised, so they remain above the water line as it flows down the roof, even in the torrential rains of hurricanes.
The toughness of the material helps prevent wind-blown tree limbs and other heavy debris from penetrating it and allowing water to enter through the hole. A properly installed and maintained standing seam metal roof is one of your very best options in hurricane and other high-wind zones.
Some metal roofing brands make products specifically designed for HVHZs that withstand winds to 160mph.
- Stone-coated steel roofs: Available in shingles, shakes, tiles and panels, stone-coated roofing materials offer 120mph wind resistance and excellent durability.
- Metal shingles: These products have the wind resistance necessary for hurricane zones, but like asphalt shingles, their fasteners are beneath the flow of water.
Metal shingles are a good choice in high-wind areas when the roof pitch is at least 5/12 and the roof underlayment is of the very highest quality. FEMA has released a Metal Roof Systems in High-Wind Regions brochure that offers a wealth of details.
- Clay and concrete tiles: These materials can be a good defense against high wind and heavy rain, as proven by their use in Florida for a century.
To be effective, however, they must be properly installed with enhanced methods including adhesive foam that adheres them to the roof deck and screws a minimum of 1” long. The first row of tiles should be secured using steel ties like hurricane clips.
Tiles must also be maintained yearly to look for cracked and loose tiles. When clay and concrete tiles are blown loose, they become dangerous projectiles that can cause physical harm and severe damage to property.
- Natural slate tiles: While costly and very heavy, slate tile has tremendous durability with resistance to wind and rain.
Make sure your installer is very experienced, because proper installation is the only way to guarantee you’ll get the performance you expect.
Learn more about all types of metal roofing products in our guide here.
Did you know?
Most building materials specific in their literature whether they meet the new building codes. They typically refer to Miami-Dade, since that code remains the most stringent anywhere, and some include approval notifications for the Florida Building Code (FBC) too.
As you research various roofing materials such as asphalt shingles, the literature about each line will tell you whether it is meets the strict Miami-Dade criteria. For examples, see these Notice of Acceptance (NOA) letters issued by Miami-Dade for:
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