Huff and puff all you want, you old hurricanes

This man built his own castle as his home, making sure those storms with the names can't blow it down.

Published July 27, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Hidden behind a canopy of trees on Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Allendale Terrace, is a home that resembles a medieval castle.

The castle, in comparison to the traditional and Spanish-style homes in the area, sticks out like a pink elephant.

What makes this home different from the construction of others is not only its unique square castle appearance, but also how and why it was constructed.

Jim Kuhnsman, a contractor, designed and built the home to be what he says is virtually 100 percent hurricane resistant. The foundation, roofing and walls are constructed of steel and reinforced concrete. Absolutely nothing, he said, can blow down the house.

Kuhnsman hopes his home can be a model for others who wish to have a hurricane-resistant home.

Inspiration for his creation: Hurricane Charley.

During last year's hurricane season, weather forecasters predicted Charley would churn into the Tampa Bay area. Upon hearing the news, Kuhnsman boarded up his three-story home in Shore Acres. Even though he knew he had a well-built home, Kuhnsman was still worried about it being severely damaged. Despite Hurricane Charley making landfall 80 miles south of Tampa, the worry alone was enough to motivate him to create a hurricaneproof home.

"If Hurricane Charley came up the bay, I'd have no doubt that I'd have nowhere to live," said Kuhnsman.

Having nowhere to live during a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, is not an option for a contractor, he explained.

"If my house was destroyed I'd have to fix that first. I wouldn't be able to work on anyone else's," said Kuhnsman.

Soon after Hurricane Charley, Kuhnsman began designing his new hurricaneproof home.

"At first, I was going to make it a Spanish look. But it's a really unique house so I figured I'd make the front really different," he said.

In his mind, he imagined his new home to be like a fortress against a hurricane - building a castle seemed to fit. Kuhnsman surfed the Internet, researching castles until he had seen enough to design his own.

Kuhnsman had been into construction since 1991, doing room additions and home remodeling. In 1997, he became a contractor for Kuhnsman and Sons Construction. Although he had spent many years in the business of building homes, this new project of building a hurricaneproof home was completely new.

On Dec. 15, 2004, he began the part-time construction of his home. With the idea of a hurricane-resistant fortress in his mind, he made sure his home's construction features exceeded the state's requirement for building hurricane-resistant homes.

"You can't say hurricaneproof home, you have to say hurricane-resistant home - but really, this is a hurricaneproof home. There's nothing to blow off; if a tree fell (on the roof) nothing would happen," he said.

Kuhnsman describes his house as "one big chunk."

In building his house, he used 1,000 20-foot steel bars and 150 cubic yards of concrete. Each concrete block from the foundation of the house up, including the roof and walls, are reinforced with concrete.

According to the state building code, for a house to be considered hurricane resistant, the walls must have steel rebars every 4-6 feet. Kuhnsman says in the walls of his home he has built rebars maximum every 2 feet. The flat roof of his home is constructed with 500 steel rebars every 8 inches and 35 yards of concrete.

Kuhnsman also built in a 1,500-watt generator that could run everything in the house for as long as the generator has gas.

The rough stone texture on the face of the home, Kuhnsman says, is stucco cut to look like stone.

The home has 3,400 square feet of air-conditioned living space, including five bedrooms, four bathrooms and 850-square-foot game room above the 850-square-foot garage.

The only thing that can be penetrated, Kuhnsman says, are the windows. For now, he has made plywood shutters for the windows, but says he will design an easier shutter system in the future.

This new house, Kuhnsman says, will prevent him from worrying about a hurricane possibly damaging his home.

Wendy Rose, of the Institute for Business & Home Safety, in Tampa, an organization that provides criteria for building disaster-resistant homes, says investing in disaster-resistant construction does not necessarily require heavy spending.

She said it's a matter of choosing the right materials and techniques.

"As for return on investment, while there are insurance incentives available for wind-resistant construction in Florida, ask anyone who is still out of their home because of last year's hurricanes and even a few thousand dollars for a better roof or window protection would seem like pennies to what they've gone through, emotionally as well as financially," she said.

Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, explained that insurance companies offer a wide variety of discounts for homes that use a wide variety of hurricane protection techniques.

Kuhnsman, who recently filled out his seven-page insurance form, says he is expecting a large discount for all of the hurricane protection he built into his home.

The cost of building such a home is the question for one neighbor, Mark Carson.

"Is it worth it? I don't know what it costs to build a hurricaneproof home," said Carson. "It may cost $200,000-$300,000 more than in the repairing the damage done to the home."

While Kuhnsman declined to reveal the price he paid to build the house himself, he said he would charge someone about $125 per square foot for a house built like his.

Although Carson was not sure whether he would invest in a hurricane-resistant home, he thought Kuhnsman's idea was timely and clever, considering hurricane season has just begun.

"It's a great house. I would have done something different to the appearance of it," said Carson "If he can sell it, more power to him."

Betty Black, who lives next door, says even though some neighbors said the look of the house does not fit the neighborhood, she doesn't care.

"Thank goodness that lot is not empty," Black said "I'm just delighted that someone is building something on that lot."

Kuhnsman hopes to use his hurricane-resistant castle home as a model home for other people who are interested in building one with the same features.