Building with Habitat for Humanity in Portugal

portugal-habitat-for-humanity-group

Five Simpson Strong-Tie employees had the opportunity to participate in a week-long Habitat for Humanity build in the small town of Amarante, Portugal, in late April. The group was originally scheduled to work on a Habitat project in Nepal late last year as part of Habitat’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP), but following the signing of a new constitution and civil unrest in the country, the project was canceled.

The company decided to allocate the funds for the CWP to Habitat’s Global Village program, allowing these employees to help renovate and remodel the older home of a widowed mother (Doña Margarida Ribiero) and daughter (Sonia) living in the Portuguese countryside.

The group, along with five other volunteers from the U.S., ranging from 29 to 76 years in age, was the first to start work on the 30-plus-year-old home. Alan Hanson, one of the Simpson Strong-Tie participants, was asked to share his thoughts about the experience.

My journey to Portugal began with a one-week vacation in the country with my wife, Holli. We traveled from Lisbon to Sintra, and then to Porto, the capital of port wine. It was a wonderful way to get to know the country. We met a number of friendly, unreserved people throughout the area. Language wasn’t a real barrier, since many locals spoke English. We toured cities, beaches, castles, palaces and other points of interest.

Holli flew out Saturday morning, so fellow Simpson Strong-Tie employee Rick Reid and I explored Porto for the rest of the day. We took a tour of the city, tasted some port wine, and had great meals. We met the other employees from Simpson Strong-Tie (Desiree Aquino, Phil Taylor, and Doug Melcolm) that night and had a seafood dinner near the water.

Rick Reid (l) and Alan Hanson at the jobsite.

Rick Reid (l) and Alan Hanson at the jobsite.

On Sunday morning, we met the rest of the volunteers from the U.S. as well as Florbela, our Habitat for Humanity representative. We took the 45-minute trip to Amarante, the city where the build would take place and had the afternoon free to explore. We were all excited about getting started on the build!

On Monday morning, we were taken to a rural part of Amarante where we met Doña Margarida, the homeowner, and Rogerio, the Habitat for Humanity superintendent. The house was very old and in need of many renovations. It had been added onto several times and was not very functional. Our work would entail remodeling rooms (a bedroom would become a living room), creating a hallway where none existed, and creating more space throughout the home.

L to R: Phil Taylor, Doug Melcolm and Alan Hanson hard at work.

L to R: Phil Taylor, Doug Melcolm and Alan Hanson hard at work.

We hit the ground running, cutting two new doorways into the granite and block, leveling out the irregular floors, filling in doorways that could no longer be used, patching various holes and openings, digging a ditch for the waste lines, removing paint and concrete from the granite interiors, and making many other improvements to the home throughout the build week. As a thank you at the end of each day, Doña Margarida served  us homemade red and “green” wine (the vino verde is a lightly carbonated white wine — delicious) with smoked ham and sausage. Despite the language barrier (she didn’t speak English), we could see that she was very grateful for our hard work, and she many times worked alongside us.

Alan Hanson fills in a former doorway.

Alan Hanson fills in a former doorway.

On Thursday we had our R&R day. We traveled to Guimaraes, about 45 minutes away. We had the opportunity to tour the “birthplace of Portugal” castle and palace and learn a lot of early Portuguese history. Friday came very early and we were off to Doña Margarida’s house again. We tore out another wall, finished fixing a few more openings, patched various holes in walls and leveled another floor.

Our last day at Doña Margarida’s house was actually only half a day on Saturday. We laid block in the door we removed earlier, filled in the floor where we tore out the wall, and made finishing touches to the patching on the other doors we filled in, as well as the hole from the wood stove. We accomplished a TON of work in 4½ days! We were told that we had finished ahead of schedule and completed more projects than were expected. We all had lunch together, including the family. In true Simpson Strong-Tie fashion, we had gifts for the family and our superintendent. We gave Rogerio a Simpson Strong-Tie-branded knife and sweatshirt and Doña Margarida a comforter and a wooden bowl that Phil made. He is quite a craftsman and did a wonderful job on it! Tears were shed, and we loaded into the van for the last time in Amarante. I took a nap when we got in because I was exhausted!

Doug Melcolm (l) and Rick Reid mixing cement for floor leveling.

Doug Melcolm (l) and Rick Reid mixing cement for floor leveling.

On Sunday, we left Amarante, heading to Porto. We attended a port wine tasting and took in a tour of the city. April 25 is “Freedom Day” in Portugal and marks the Carnation Revolution, when the military dictatorship was overthrown in 1974 with very little bloodshed, so there were fireworks at midnight and we had an incredible view. What a great way to end our trip to Portugal!

P.S. The complete renovation of the house is expected to be done in July, and we all can’t wait to see the home finished.

Habitat STRONG Blog

This week’s post was written by Kevin Gobble of Habitat for Humanity. Kevin is the Program Manager for Habitat for Humanity’s new Habitat Strong initiative. Kevin has spent over 22 years in residential construction building energy-efficient, high-performing home, and has consulted with several sustainable building programs on ways to develop their own best practices. As a third-generation builder, he has knowledge in the field of residential building science and has furthered his education to include many industry certifications — NARI Certified Remodeler, NAHB Certified Green Professional, RESNET Certified Green Rater, BPI Building Analyst, FORTIFIED evaluator, and Level 1 Infrared Thermography — while working directly with industry partners to focus on cost-effective construction solutions. Kevin has built and remodeled numerous homes to high-performance standards as certified by various building programs, including his latest project for himself: converting a condemned historic property in Atlanta to EarthCraft House Platinum.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the background of the Habitat Strong program. Habitat Strong promotes the building of resilient homes that are better equipped to withstand natural disasters in every region of the country. This program uses IBHS FORTIFIED Home™ standards and works well within Habitat’s model of building affordable, volunteer-friendly homes.

habitat1

Project Spotlight – Habitat for Humanity New Haven, CT

Habitat for Humanity New Haven’s innovative approach to building a traditional New England– style home with modern improvements began with a design from an historic home they rehabilitated years ago. The original was an old Winchester factory worker home, but the style was adapted to fit the narrow lots and surviving character of New Haven. Along with the design shift, the plans were standardized to incorporate FORTIFIED Gold techniques and practices for hurricanes.

New Haven has fully embraced FORTIFIED building practices following Superstorm Sandy. They have completed eight FORTIFIED Gold homes to date with three more under construction, perfecting their techniques as they go. An example to other Habitat affiliates, they have provided a model for using affordable construction methods and volunteers. They have also created a positive impact on their community by sharing their knowledge with other builders in the area.

“Improving the roof is a no-brainer, and it makes sense to tape the plywood seams,” noted construction manager Antoine Claiborne. Habitat has gone one step further by using the ZIP system on the roof for safety and durability improvements. This eliminates the need to nail down the underlayment every six inches o.c. along the edge and in the field, which can prove difficult for volunteers.

In addition to employing these roof techniques, New Haven uses Simpson Strong-Tie connectors (after re-engineering plans) to meet these new guidelines and to create a continuous load path. To promote ease of use for new volunteers, an advanced framing center is set up onsite, using diagrams and videos to demonstrate how the process works and what to expect. Documentation is another key to the FORTIFIED process – in New Haven’s case, the onsite construction manager documents all the FORTIFIED elements.

For opening protection, New Haven uses pressure-rated doors with Hurricane Fabric for impact protection as well as impact-rated windows. It was recently discovered that impact windows can shatter in a small area if hit there while  otherwise remaining intact. Thus there’s a need to use caution when mowing grass where there are small rocks near the home.

habitat2

How can you help?  Contact Habitat for Humanity if you would like to donate or volunteer. If you have engineering expertise you can lend, I would love to hear from you at HabitatSTRONG@habitat.org.

Habitat for Humanity Introduces Habitat Strong Program

You’re probably already familiar with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit builder of simple, decent and affordable homes for low-income families around the world. According to builderonline.com, they were the 15th-largest builder in the country in 2015 when ranked by number of closings. Simpson Strong-Tie has been an official national partner with Habitat for Humanity since 2007, making contributions of cash and products exceeding $2.5 million in that time, and Simpson Strong-Tie employees have spent hundreds of hours building homes and training local Habitat affiliates.

Habitat for Humanity Home

We know from working on Habitat houses that they tend to be well built. There were newspaper articles about Habitat houses performing better than neighboring houses in Hurricane Andrew. In an effort to better benefit the homeowners they serve, Habitat has recently started a formal program to build even better, code-plus homes that could stand up to local hazards and document the methods used during construction. The name of this new program is Habitat Strong. Simpson Strong-Tie is proud to be a major sponsor of the program.

Habitat Strong actually began as a pilot project funded by Travelers Insurance that built 20 disaster-resistant homes in Alabama, Mississippi, New York and Connecticut. The success of that project convinced Habitat of the importance of building stronger, more resilient homes in all parts of the country. Starting from those regional hurricane-inspired efforts, the Habitat Strong program is now being used by more than 48 affiliates throughout the country, as shown on this map.

Habitat for Humanity Habitat Strong affiliate map.

According to Habitat for Humanity, “The Habitat Strong program is designed to promote the building of homes that are more durable, resilient, and physically stronger. The need for stronger homes has become increasingly apparent, and through Habitat Strong’s fortified codes-plus building practices, we are able to strengthen homes’ building envelopes, which enable[s] them to better withstand natural disasters in every region of the country. This program was developed specifically for the Habitat model to be affordable and volunteer-friendly, while offering benefits to partner families that will last for years to come. Based on these principles, we believe that building homes Habitat Strong is the right thing to do!”

Habitat for Humanity has established a set of construction standards for Habitat Strong that are based on the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety® (IBHS) FORTIFIED Home™ program. The FORTIFIED program is a scientifically developed, systems-based incremental approach for creating stronger, safer homes. There are three levels of FORTIFIED Home™ designations: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each level builds upon measures at the preceding level to increase the disaster resistance of the home. You can take a look at the FORTIFIED Home standards on the IBHS website at www.disastersafety.org.

There are now three separate sets of FORTIFIED Home™ standards: Hurricane, High Wind & Hail, and High Wind. In general, the three levels consist of the following:

Bronze:

  • Strengthen roof deck fastening by using 8d ring-shank nails in a closer-than-normal nailing pattern.
  • Apply a secondary water barrier to the roof deck so there will still be protection from water damage even if the roof covering is blown off.
  • Install a roof covering that is rated for high winds and, if appropriate, hail forces.
  • Prune nearby trees to prevent damage to the home during a wind event.

Silver:

  • Complete all requirements for Bronze.
  • Brace gable ends over 4′ tall and ensure they are sheathed with a minimum thickness of wood structural panel.
  • Anchor wood frame chimneys to the roof structure.
  • Anchor attached structures, such as porches and carports, from the roof to the foundation.

Gold:

  • Complete all requirements for Silver.
  • Provide a continuous load path for wind forces from the roof to the foundation. In a normal 115-mph wind zone, the load path is to be designed for at least 140 mph.
  • Provide a garage door that is rated for high winds.

Habitat for Humanity is recommending to their affiliates that homes built in coastal areas be built to the IBHS Gold standard for hurricanes, and those built in inland areas be built at a minimum to the Bronze or Silver standards for high winds. The Habitat homes that meet the Bronze or Silver standards will be certified as Habitat Strong. Habitat homes that are built to the Gold standard will be certified as Habitat Strong+.

Simpson Strong-Tie is proud to be assisting Habitat for Humanity with Habitat Strong. In January, we hosted a training for Texas affiliates that was offered by Habitat and IBHS staff at our Houston training facility. We also donated connectors for a demonstration home at Michigan State University that we helped design.

If you would like more information on Habitat Strong, contact HabitatStrong@habitat.org. To learn how you can help Habitat for Humanity, visit www.habitat.org/getinv/volunteer.

Are you aware of any other programs for strengthening affordable housing? Let us know in the comments below.