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Repair Cracked Plaster Walls Dear James: We just purchased an older house with real plaster walls. There are quite a few cracks that need to be fixed. What is the proper method to repair these so they do not reappear? — Marie G. Dear Marie: Older houses were constructed …Read more. Attempt Being Your Own General Contractor? Dear James: My husband and I talked to contractors about building our dream home, but the prices are too high. We would like to act as our own general contractors to cut the costs. What do you think of this idea? — Jennifer F. Dear Jennifer: …Read more. Installation and Care of a Sheet Vinyl Floor Dear James: We are planning to remodel our kitchen. Our neighbor has a very attractive sheet vinyl floor, but after only six months, it has dulled, cracked, etc. How can we avoid the same problems? — Jill H. Dear Jill: First, you should find …Read more. Cut Crown Moldings Properly for a Good Corner Fit Dear James: I had my dining room remodeled, and I am attempting to do some of the finishing work myself. I am having a terrible time getting the crown molding to fit at the corners. Any suggestions for me? — Julia N. Dear Julia: Don't feel bad …Read more.
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Build a Storm-Resistant House

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Dear James: My husband and I are planning to build a new house. With all of the recent tornadoes, hurricanes, etc., I want to be as safe as possible. Please give me some tips on building a safe house. — Amanda F.

Dear Amanda: There are methods to make a house "safer," but not totally "safe." No matter how strong you build your house, it most likely will not withstand a direct hit by a Fujita Scale 4 or 5 tornado.

By building your house stronger and safer, your family will have additional time to seek shelter before the walls and roof are gone. Having your house hold together for just an extra 30 seconds may make the difference between life and death.

Before giving you tips on building a safer, high-wind-resistant house, it would be wise for you to consider building a storm shelter within your new home. This is basically a super-strong closet with masonry walls and ceiling and a metal-reinforced door.

A typical family of four can get by with a 4 ft. by 8 ft. shelter. This might sound small, but tornadoes usually move through quickly, so you will not be inside of it for a long time. When you open the door, it may be the only thing still standing.

Make the walls with 8-in. concrete blocks with metal reinforcing rods in the cores. Fill the cores with pea gravel/concrete mixture to create a very strong, simple-to-build enclosure.

Steel rods from the floor should extend several feet up into the blocks, and rods from the walls should extend up into the concrete roof when it is poured. Install some small vents in the enclosure. This is for air circulation and to equalize the pressure as the storm passes over.

The door can be easily made with double- or triple sheets of plywood.

Cover the outside with 14-gauge sheet steel to stop any high-speed objects. A sliding-type of door, with strong channels top and bottom, often stays in place better than a standard hinged door.

Now the general house-construction tips. The basic architecture of the house should include as many corner offsets as possible. Not only will these make the house look more interesting but they increase the strength of the house. The weakest house is a simple rectangular design.

A hip roof, with more corners and angles, is stronger than a gable roof. Also, no matter which direction the winds come from, they will tend to flow smoothly over a hip roof. If high winds catch a gable roof from the wrong angle, it will be gone in an instant.

The key to building a high-wind-resistant house is having the roof and walls continuously connected to the foundation or slab. Obviously, a single-story ranch house design makes this easier. If you do not have a large enough lot, you will have to build a two-story house.

Have your builder use 12-in. long anchor bolts spaced on 4-ft. centers to attach the walls to the slab. Simpson Strong-Tie Company, (800) 999-5099, makes special straps to use in addition to anchor bolts. Actually, you really cannot have too many more mechanical wall attachment methods.

Make sure that your builder uses a pneumatic nail gun when assembling the walls. These guns use special nails that have an adhesive compound on them, so they hold in much better than hand-driven nails. This adhesive liquefies from friction when the nail is shot in and quickly sets up in the wood.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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