After doing battle with the rolling Atlantic, a South Carolina couple fights back by building a timber home that's as stunning as it is strong.
Hurricane Hugo and its 16-foot high storm surges destroyed Ed and Lexy Edelen's Myrtle Beach home and all their possessions. When the Category-5 tempest subsided, there was nothing left of the house they'd built in 1976 - the place where they'd raised two daughters. They obtained closure only after finding a piece of siding and can of spray paint. On a remnant they scrawled "gone with the wind," and they left.
However, this tragedy couldn't dampen their love for the oceanfront site they'd called home for more than two decades. Facing Mother Nature head-on, they decided to rebuild on the same spot. In the process they discovered a harsh truth, according to Ed: "Even with all the modern technology available, you can't build a hurricane-proof house." However, you can minimize its impact.
When it comes to protecting a house from hurricane-force winds, choosing the right building materials is key. For the Edelen's home, that translated to a structure supported by 50-foot-long concrete pilings, which were driven 30 feet into the sandy soil. They were so heavy, they sunk 8 feet into the ground on their own. "This process was critical, because the pilings had to be accurately placed for the whole structure to work," recalls Steve Fournier, Ed and Lexy's construction foreman.
With the pilings in place and the land graded, construction began in earnest. To combat future storm surges, the main living level was raised 17 feet above the ground, (1 foot higher than the apex of Hugo's floodwaters). More than 110 yards of concrete was poured on top of the pilings to form a cap beam, to which the timber frame was bolted. This constitutes the strongest point of the house.
For the framing, Ed and Lexy chose timbers of dense, close-grain Douglas fir to give their home extra strength. For wind resistance, the timbers were fastened with reinforced metal joinery, but the hardware was hidden so it won't detract from the detailed posts and beams. To further emphasize the beauty of the wood, Bruce Marsh, a timber-framing specialist who built the Edelen's frame, recommended scrubbing the timbers with a cleanser, then applying two layers of tung oil to enhance the fir's natural sheen.
In addition to the frame itself, timber posts are installed between the windows, and steel straps that stretch from the gable rafters to the first floor protect the home against uplift and lateral sheer. The windows themselves are glazed to offer shatter protection.
Given their property's susceptibility to severe weather conditions, a concrete roof made more sense than shingles. It weighs 56,000 pounds - 14 times more than a conventional roof - which gives it more strength and the ability to withstand wind gusts up to 200 miles per hour. Structural insulated panels, consisting of a solid 7-inch-thick foam core sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board, comprise the walls and add to the structure's strength.
"We wanted open spaces so we'd feel like we were living outside," Ed says of his home's two-story wall of windows that faces the Atlantic. "When the tide is up, you don't see any beach -- just ocean. It's like being on a ship." Not only did this wall have to afford beautiful views, it had to be strong. At the beach, even a simple thunderstorm can bring 70-mph winds.
Ken McDowell, a structural engineer who helped design the house, "was the guiding light through the whole construction process," says Ed. According to Ken, there were only two ways to build a home with that much open space, size, and strength-use steel beams or build a timber frame. "Steel just wouldn't give us the look we wanted," Ed says.
Ken was familiar with timber provider Davis Frame Co. of Claremont, New Hampshire, through previous construction projects and recommended the company to the Edelens. "Davis Frame's staff helped in every way, and their workmanship was impeccable," says Ed.
They started with a basic plan, then Ed, Lexy, Steve, and Ken, together with Davis Frame's designers, made modifications along with way until finally the design was perfect.
The system of Douglas fir posts and beams gives the Edelens the wide-open floor plan and the natural look they'd longed for.
The main floor of the Edelens' house is raised 17 feet above the ground -- one foot higher than the water level reached when Hurricane Hugo made its way to the South Carolina shore in 1986.
Bright white cabinets and professional-grade stainless steel appliances give the small kitchen a crisp, clean appearance. Polished-marble countertops boast both durability and good looks.
Built with both brawn and beauty in mind, the oceanfront side of Lexy and Ed's home features an entire wall of windows, which are reinforced with timber posts inside and a coating that's both UV-ray and shatter resistant.