PENSACOLA — Floodwaters 5 feet deep filled sculptor and retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Noguere's bayfront home when Hurricane Ivan made landfall in 2004.
More than three years of renovations and $200,000 later, friends now jokingly call the 6,000-square-foot home and art studio "Fort Noguere." From watertight ship doors and a 400-pound main door to exterior walls reinforced with concrete and rebar, the home is ready for the next brutal hurricane — similar homes did well during Ivan and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Noguere says he doesn't want even a small weakness to wreak havoc on the whole structure. "I'm not trying to prove anything here — I consider this adapting to the environment," he said.
Tired of the anxiety that comes when hurricanes threaten the United States, some homeowners along the gulf and Atlantic coasts have opened their bank accounts to turn their homes into fortresses that can withstand winds and flooding well beyond what building codes require.
"If I was still on level ground like I was before in the other storms, I know I would be dreading (Gustav)," said Dr. Alan Krys, whose Gulf Breeze home sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Krys and his wife repaired the home, but it was damaged again when Hurricane Dennis hit the Florida Panhandle a year later. The couple has since rebuilt it with reinforcements — on pilings 18 feet above Pensacola Bay, which backs into their home.
More people than ever are building homes with concrete exterior walls and other concrete features, said Jim Niehoff of the Portland Cement Association, a national industry group. He said the association gets more inquiries about concrete home construction after major hurricanes.
Florida has the strongest hurricane building codes in the nation, adopting the International Building Code in 2004 and adding other hurricane-specific provisions. Several other hurricane-prone states — including Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi — have followed the example and adopted the international code on some level, according to the International Code Council.
But many homeowners like Noguere say they've learned from previous hurricanes that meeting code sometimes isn't enough protection.
And even though the strongest homes sometimes can't survive every disaster, it isn't stopping some builders from trying to construct an indestructible home.
Pensacola developer and builder Philip Russell uses special hurricane nails, marine-treated exterior plywood sheeting, impact-resistant windows and ultrastrong concrete. One of his customers was Krys, who incorporated wind-resistant materials and reinforced the roof.
Krys doesn't figure he'll break a sweat this hurricane season, but he does plan to take precautions and perhaps evacuate his home if need be.
"I feel a lot better now though because at least I know I will have a home to come back to," he said. "It's like you've been slapped so hard in the past that you can almost still feel it. I just know how much work it was rebuilding everything."