@BR Ednote:Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories about local businesses who provide tropical storm protection devices.
By CHRISTINE HAWES
MANATEE -- When Hurricane Charley tore through Charlotte County in 2004, one of the most common sources of damage was soffits, those strips of hole-filled aluminum intended to allow air venting in attics.
Up to 75 percent of homes damaged in the hurricane had soffits that flew off, allowing wind and moisture to further damage homes.
A new company building its base in Manatee County says that one of its products eliminates the danger posed by soffits, and that a second product vastly improves the “roof-to-wall” connection considered essential to harden a building against hurricane-force winds.
Building Performance Americas USA, led locally by Manatee County entrepreneur Bob Stobaugh, is marketing the “safety” vent and the “claw and strap.”
Both products are designed to make homes built at least 10 years ago as hardy as possible in the face of hurricanes. Both products also stand up to rigorous testing for compliance with not only the Florida Building Code, but Miami-Dade’s more strict building code.
The products are currently installed in two demonstration homes. But Stobaugh, a former mortgage broker who also has a master’s degree in business administration, says each product holds unique promise, especially during a tight recession.
The “safety vent” is remarkable because of its “simplicity” and “multi-dimensional” way of protecting against wind and rain intrusion into attics, Stobaugh says. And the “claw and strap” may save some homeowners thousands of dollars.
“The straps that are made by our competition require that they go over the top of the truss cord and wrap around,” Stobaugh says. “That means the roof deck has to come off in order to attach them.
“What’s unique about our product is that we can do all of the work from the exterior of the house, through the soffits, and it doesn’t require the deck to come up.”
Stobaugh agreed to become general manager of Building Performance Americas, which is owned by a group of Cayman Island investors, after he educated himself on the innovations behind the two products.
“What drew me to this is that we’re building something from scratch; this is a brand new business and a brand new product,” Stobaugh says. “It’s also a chance to bring innovation to Floridians, to help them and their homes be safer.”
Stobaugh touts several benefits of the “claw and strap:” it’s made of 10-gauge steel rather than the 20-gauge that most roof straps are made of, and the “claw” part offers extra protection. It can be installed using masonry screws and using fewer nails, which can be an advantage for houses that have older, drier wood.
The “safety vent,” Stobaugh says, both blocks wind and moisture from the attic and creates an “eddy” along the side of a house that further pulls the roof down.
“We’re preventing high pressure and moisture from entering the attic, and we’re harnessing the power of the storm to protect homes,” Stobaugh says.
The two devices were installed on a 2,000-square foot home in Sarasota for about $9,000 -- about $6,000 less than it would cost to install straps by removing the home’s roof deck, Stobaugh says. The exact cost for each home will vary depending on its age, size and construction, he says.
While engineers have differing opinions on whether Building Performance is improving on what’s already available for hurricane hardening, many experts emphasize that their ability to withstand testing to Miami-Dade standards is worth noting.
At least one engineer says the products have unique qualities that set them apart from what’s available.
John McCall, a managing member of McCall Engineering in Sarasota, says the “claw and strap” is especially fitting for many of the houses along the waterfront in Bradenton and in downtown Sarasota.
He also says the “safety vent” is a definite improvement over aluminum soffits for protecting attics from wind and moisture.
The Sarasota resident whose home is serving as a demonstration for the “safety vent” points out another benefit: less toll on her air-conditioning unit.
“I notice the AC doesn’t run as much at night anymore,” says Rosanne Davis. “I think with the new venting system, it allows that hot air up there in the attic to escape, and I think my house cools down quicker at night.”
Stobaugh says the vents are undergoing additional wind tunnel modeling to further demonstrate their value in hurricane protection. In the meantime, he’s hoping to contribute to the community’s awareness of the importance of hurricane hardening.
“The point here is, mitigate. Start getting prepared. Do something,” Stobaugh says. “Because a storm is an inevitable thing. It’s just a question of when and where.”
Building Performance America can be reached at (941) 320-6350 or www.buildingperformanceamerica. com.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.