After a Unique Hurricane Season, Eyes are on Building Codes

We’re in the midst of a hurricane season unlike any other. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused significant damage to large portions of Texas and Florida in close succession. And though experts anticipate Hurricane Jose will stay away from the U.S. mainland, they’re still keeping close eyes on the storm.

I just returned from GlassBuild America 2017, hosted in Atlanta, and indeed, the effects of this hurricane season were readily noticeable. On Sunday and Monday, Atlanta found itself under its first-ever tropical storm warning, as Irma made its way up the Florida panhandle and into other Southern states. That made air travel to the city quite difficult; though official numbers haven’t been made available yet, it only required a set of eyes to know that attendance at the show suffered.

As the storm dissipated, widespread damage was reported throughout Georgia, and it was a topic of conversation among many I spoke with throughout the week. It got me thinking about upcoming rebuilding efforts and to what standards some of those efforts will be made.

History offers some perspective here. In 1992, after Hurricane Andrew decimated huge portions of Florida, a major overhaul of the state’s building codes took place to better prepare structures for storms of similar magnitude in the future.

Irma brought the biggest test to those codes since Andrew. Did they help? The Miami Herald reported that in some instances, the answer might be yes.

“Monroe County’s building standards are among the toughest in the nation and—at least for the newest single-family homes built after 2001—they appear to have been up to the challenge,” the newspaper wrote.

Further in the article, the Florida Engineering Society Executive director Allen Douglas is quoted: “Monroe and Dade County definitely have the strongest building codes in the country when it comes to the wind and water. We’re hopeful, when all the assessments are done, we’re going to find the codes stood the test.”

I’m wondering if we’ll see any kind of similar impact on the code landscape after this hurricane season. Will Georgia, or South Carolina, or other affected states see this unprecedented weather as cause for action? Will others look to Florida as a model for rebuilding? It will be interesting to watch if codes are impacted in this way over the coming months and years.

Interestingly enough, earlier in August, the Florida legislature moved in the opposite direction. GOP Gov. Rick Scott recently passed a law that “untethers Florida’s code from international standards and requires fewer votes for the Florida Building Commission to make changes to the building codes,” according to USA Today. Builders see some of the codes as prohibitive, driving up costs, while others find them necessary for the severe weather Florida frequently withstands. Meanwhile, President Trump has signaled willingness to roll back energy and performance requirements at the federal level. It’s an interesting crosswinds.

Regardless, it’s a fact that we’ve seen some unprecedented weather recently. The impact that could bring to our industry has yet to be seen—but I’ll be watching for it.