In my part of the world, on any given day, you can drive by commercial projects and see precast panels being used everywhere. A few days ago when I passed the Williamson County Medical Center in Franklin, Tenn., the contractor was adding four floors to the parking garage using precast panels.

But what surprises me most is the gradual acceptance of precast by the residential contractors. Producers seem to be using technologies that are making it easier for precast to gain certain residential markets.

We all know the average home builder, if there is one left after this current crisis, isn't going to build a 500-home subdivision in Any City, USA. But the discriminating buyer is opting for a precast choice in the higher-end homes. And I think there's an underlying reason—safety.

For many years, we have delivered concrete to residential wall contractors who produce solid poured-in-place walls. Unfortunately, this foundation of safety was topped with a lumber package, framing the walls, setting the rafters, and then the usual process continues to finished product. And after a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire, the owner is left with concrete.

I think it's time for precast concrete to provide the missing part of the puzzle when it comes to stabilizing the average home. It should be mandatory to have a precast or block safe room in areas where tornadoes and storms are common.

Building codes should favor concrete homes. You could set the planks for the floors on top of the poured-in-place walls. Then afterward, use panels for the initial structures and put the “finish” on the exterior to cover up the gray, just like some of us older guys in the business did with whiskers and hair. Is there a Grecian Formula for concrete? Yes, it is in the form of an integral color additive.

With the availability of formliners, colors, and designers in general, you could have a one-of-a-kind home or office and have the piece of mind that it could withstand higher than normal winds.

Help to the rescue

I'm not the only person who thinks this way. In fact, a group of very smart people shares my opinion. The folks at the International Code Council also think it's important to increase public safety for people evacuated to storm shelters and those who use safe rooms in their homes during hurricanes and tornadoes.

Concrete in all its forms is referenced in the new International Code Council/National Storm Shelter Association's Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. Due for publication soon, the document shows the overall interest in safer construction techniques.

I wish I had built a home meeting those new standards several years ago when I lived near Murfreesboro. One Saturday night after I had turned in, my friend phoned and yelled at me to get into the bathtub and cover up with a mattress. I hadn't been asleep very long, so at first I thought he was telling me that I needed to take a bath. He was actually trying to tell me that a tornado had been spotted in my subdivision and I needed to get to the safest place in the house. I turned on the television and sure enough, he was right.

The tub's porcelain was cold that night. But I was thankful for the security when the wind started shaking the whole house. Now, when I build my next home with the new code provisions, I'll be able to use the top side of the mattress and watch the storm pass.

—jimambrose@aol.com

To learn more about the code as it relates to storm shelters, visit the National Storm Shelter Association's Web site at www.nssa.cc.