TODAY - The Newspaper for Country St. Maarten
Published On: Mon, Sep 25th, 2017

The reason why certain roofs survived hurricane Irma

PHILIPSBURG — Today photo journalist took a series of photographs of buildings whose roofs have withstood the category 6 storm force winds of Hurricane Irma without much of a scratch. You can view these photographs below and see for yourself.

Roofs - Alley Roofs - Boardwalk Roofs - Jamaica Cuisine Roofs - St. Joseph School Roofs - Brick House Roofs - Tanzanie Roofs - Effy Jewelers

When questioned about this phenomenon, architect Julian Bruney, of Independent Drafting, Estate Development & Surveying (I.D.E.A.S.), told this newspaper that this had everything to do with the pitch of the roofs.

“Anything above a 22-degrees pitch withstand storm force winds better.” says Bruney. “The higher the pitch, the better they stand. The old people always build that way.”

Bruney explains that the wind will simply glide around such roofs. Flat roofs between 0 to 22 degrees pitches with a big overhang are susceptible to damage from the gale forces of a category 4 or 5 hurricane. In building construction, the roof pitch is a numerical measure of the steepness of a roof. Roofs may be functionally flat or ‘pitched’, according to Wikipedia.

Bruney states that no matter the material, a roof with an average of a 25 to a 30-degrees pitch can have a zinc roof secured with nails and easily survive a hurricane like Irma without a scratch. “In the olden days zinc and nails is all they had.” Bruney says. “They didn’t have screws.”

To make his point, Bruney notes: “Just look at churches. They have steeper pitches – almost 45 degrees or more – and churches were built to shelter people in times of stormy weather”. Also, the steeper the roof, the quicker rain water would flow off, avoiding cause for leakage.

Bruney further explains that a steep roof is expensive to build. “People choose to go cheap.” he says. “Easier to build, less lumber and easier walkability when working on the roof.” As an architect, Bruney says to people who goes the cheap route when building a roof: “See you in October!”

Roofs - Courthouse

On the question what his recommendations would be for post-Hurricane Irma reconstruction efforts and the rebuilding of roofs, Bruney gives the following recommendations.

  • Enforce building codes – see to it that they are implemented.
  • Don’t just approve drawings – check the actual building – that the approved pitch is implemented on the actual constructed roofs.
  • Not just upgrade the building codes, but put inspectors out there to control and enforce these as well.

“A big problem is that you can have a good roof built according to regulations and the applicable building codes,” Bruney stresses. “but if your neighbour’s roof is not built properly and it gets ripped off and fly over and damage your roof, then you still have a problem.”

Many buildings with zinc roofs at a certain pitch below 22 degrees were simply an accident waiting to happen, explains Bruney. “For you to get a building with water and light you need a building permit.” Bruney wonders out loud. “How does shacks not built up according to specs get a building permit?”

When asked what he means by that exactly, Bruney explains that GEBE places a manifold and a meter wall based on prior approval from building inspections done by VROMI. From the actual construction you can tell that such shacks don’t have a proper permit. Yet these shacks have water and electricity. Hurricane Irma made waste with these shacks. For the obvious reasons.

Photos by TODAY photo journalist, Milton Pieters.

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