How One Family’s Brand-New Beach Home Became an Overnight Symbol of Storm-Strong Construction
When Lebron and Heather Lackey created a Facebook page in May for their newly constructed vacation rental home they dubbed “The Sand Palace,” it began like this: “Our home is located in the quiet seaside town of Mexico Beach, Fl. With beautiful white beaches and a family-oriented atmosphere, Mexico Beach is the perfect beach vacation ‘off the beaten path.’"
Today, the family is sharing much different information on Facebook: The house is built with durable poured concrete walls and covered in James Hardie fiber cement siding; the aluminum roof is adhered to those concrete walls like Super Glue with Simpson Strong-Tie fasteners; the custom windows are impact resistant—designed to stand up to the kinds of winds every beach dweller hopes they’ll never see in a lifetime.
But even unwelcome once-in-a-lifetime moments happen, and on October 10, the sleepy little town of Mexico Beach along Florida’s Forgotten Coast became the landing ground of one of the most powerful hurricanes in history.
As Hurricane Michael tore through Florida’s pristine panhandle, the Lackeys—who own the Sand Palace with Lebron’s uncle, Russell King—watched footage from their main home in Tennessee from a security camera they’d mounted to the roof of the home. “You could tell the wind and the waves were getting stronger,” recalls Heather. “You could see the surge coming up over the pier and the dunes, you could see debris flying past the house. It was very scary.”
The security camera, miraculously, lasted through the storm. But it wasn’t until the Lackeys had seen aerial drone videos later on in the day that they were able to confirm The Sand Palace had survived—decks, windows, doors, even the home’s elevator, still in place. Yet, the Lackeys’ relief was shaded with a veil of sadness. “The whole town just looked like it was gone,” says Heather. “And all we could think was ‘Who is still safe?’”
Amidst all the questions, shock, and the trips down to Mexico Beach to help with relief efforts and assess their own damage, the Lackeys’ Sand Palace has unwittingly become a guidebook for storm-strong building. Photos of the “last house standing” have gone viral, prompting curious beach house owners (or hopeful owners) to reach out via Facebook to learn the family’s storm-proof secrets—and the Lackeys are happy to oblige. “When we built this house we never dreamed something like this would occur from it,” says Heather. “We thought we were just building a home with enough space for the extended family with a focus on making sure if there ever was a hurricane, we’d have something to come back to. We’re not experts, but we definitely want to be able to share what we learned throughout the building process as much as we can.”
In addition to durable materials—concrete walls, Hardie siding, impact-resistant windows—the house uses smart building practices, such as minimizing the space underneath the roof to prevent lift from winds and elevating the home atop high pilings that allow storm surge to flow underneath it. While codes in the panhandle require new construction to withstand up to 150 mph winds, the Sand Palace is built to stand up to 250 mph winds. “We took all of the advice we were given by professionals, and then kept asking ‘What’s the next step to make this house even stronger?’” says Heather.
The Sand Palace is not without damage—the siding and stairway on the ground level were whisked away during Hurricane Michael. But much of what was damaged was by design, minimizing any devastating impact the storm could’ve had.
But despite the home’s calculated resilience, the Lackeys count themselves as lucky. All around them, houses are reduced to concrete slabs or rubble; others are still standing but gutted on the inside. The family has done what they can to help the community near and far, participating in donation drives all the way back in their hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee. And they’re committed—as is every other neighbor, friend, and business owner they’ve talked to—to restoring their sweet little paradise of a town to its former glory.
“We look forward to Mexico beach rebuilding and everyone being able to visit this beautiful spot along the Forgotten Coast once again,” says Heather.