Volume 28, Issue 3 - May/June 2014

Cracking the Code
Not Every Cycle Creates a Stronger Code
by Megan Headley

Building professionals are often quick to point out that the building codes are the weakest degree to which a building legally can be built. That is one reason programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards are so popular: they give guidance for achieving a higher level of building efficiency and make it popular for builders and owners to go beyond what is required.

That’s also a reason why the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s claim in August 2013 that some states in hurricane-impacted areas were weakening their state codes raised concern among building professionals. In taking a look at these changes, however, glass professionals are asking: is an older code always a weaker code?

Not necessarily.

“In some cases, an older code may be more stringent than the newer code,” says David M. Rinehart, North America protective glazing marketing manager for DuPont Glass Laminating Solutions in Wilmington, Del.

Big Changes
One of the bigger changes impacting the International Building Code (IBC), and many states’ individual codes, was the 2012 IBC’s incorporation of the latest version of ASCE 7, Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures.

“The new version of ASCE 7-10 defines the wind speeds, and therefore the design pressures for buildings, and where you need impact-resistant products,” explains Dean Ruark, code compliance manager for PGT Industries, an impact-resistant window manufacturer with headquarters in Venice, Fla., and an office in N.C.

Among other changes, the most up-to-date ASCE 7 increases the regions that are included within wind zone 4, Rinehart explains. “In previous versions, wind zone 4 covered Miami Dade and Broward Counties in Florida, as well as Monroe and parts of Palm Beach County, Fla., and some regions of Louisiana. With the changes to ASCE 7-10, the wind contour line moved a little bit, and in that remapping of the wind contour line it included about a third of Conyers County in Florida (which includes both Naples and Marco Island), and in the Mississippi-Delta region it included more of Louisiana. It also included the three counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as Mobile County in Alabama,” Rinehart says. He speculates that the drastic remapping may have been part of the reason why in 2013 Louisiana approved an Emergency Declaration by the State Code Council, adopting the 2012 edition of the IBC design wind speed maps, but omitting the trigger for following high-wind design requirements (this has since changed—more on that below).

For Florida, it’s “status quo” for this code cycle since the state already had adopted the new ASCE 7 standard. That means Florida already has had a preview of what could happen when the new I-codes are adopted. “Everyone got worried and it changed markets, and everyone else will have to deal with that once they adopt this I-Code,” Ruark says.

Worsening Protection?
When IBHS rated the progress made by the 18 most hurricane-prone coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast in strengthening their residential building codes in 2013 (an updated report will be issued in 2015), the institute declared, among other things, that North Carolina and Louisiana had weakened provisions.

Since that time, Louisiana has adopted the 2012 editions of the I-codes, with Louisiana-specific amendments, leaving North Carolina on the chopping block. Although North Carolina has amended and adopted the 2009 editions of the I-Codes as the 2012 North Carolina State Building Code, it also enacted legislation that changed the adoption cycle for I-Codes from every three years to every six years.

Will this particular change have any real impact on the security of buildings along the coastline?

“I don’t think the change from a three year to six year cycle will have any significant effect,” says Paul Beers, managing member of Glazing Consultants International in West Palm Beach, Fla. North Carolina’s “weakened” code, as laid out by IBHS, may be more geared toward residential construction. “My experience of late has been that informed homeowners will seek out impact-rated glazing for insurability reasons. Quality wind insurance has become very difficult to acquire and without proper impact protection, it makes things even worse. Some of [North Carolina’s] changes may help those who are solely focused on a low construction cost get by with inadequate or no impact protection,” Beers says, adding, “This will all depend upon if and how the code is enforced by local jurisdictions in coastal areas.

Ruark adds, “IBHS is making the point that we might change some things that are found to be instrumental and we want to get them in place … So I would say it has the potential to weaken the code to not get a major change through as quickly.”

Ruark further suggests that the IBHS’ concern reflects the research being done on hurricanes’ impact of insurance and construction costs. “They are trying to say ‘these are the line items that are costing the insurance industry the most, and there are really big improvements we have to make there, and here are some things that we spend a huge amount of money on to build each home and we’re not seeing any failures there. Maybe we’re doing it right or maybe we’re overdoing and there’s some research that says we can spend money in places that make a little more sense,’” Ruark says.

What’s Enforced Where?
While the 2013 IBHS report focused on encouraging states to do more to protect their residents from hurricanes, it noted that many states have stepped up to adopt, and better enforce, the 2012 IBC. For example, in 2013 Maryland enacted a law preventing local jurisdictions from weakening statewide wind design and windborne debris requirements. New York City adopted its own code based on the 2009 edition of the IBC, set to go into effect in October 2014, moving the rest of the state toward updated codes. Following the IBHS report, Mississippi signed into law an act to adopt one of the last three adopted editions of the IBC and other relevant codes as of August 1, 2014.

So how does this affect glass companies?

To some degree this depends less on what the code says and more on how it is enforced.

“We heard a lot of buzz right after Hurricane Sandy [in October 2012] and a lot of folks asked ‘are you going to see a much bigger market?’” Ruark says. The answer to that question is still “no.” Ruark explains, “We haven’t seen major changes yet. We do sell some impact-resistant product along the Eastern seaboard, but it sure hasn’t gained the traction that Florida has. I think a part of it has to do with enforcement of the code because it really is already required up there in some instances.”

“In general, codes are very well enforced. However, it depends on the area,” says Steve Dawson, executive vice president of sales for CGI Windows and Doors Inc. in Miami. “We find the best course is to follow the code to avoid any issues.”

But with all of these changes and piecemeal code adoption, it can be difficult to keep track.

To keep abreast of code changes as they arise, Dawson advises, “Join the trade organizations in your area that monitor these. Participate in the state code meetings and conference calls when changes are being discussed.”

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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