Volume 42, Issue 7 - July 2007

Code Challenges
Ten States Weigh the International Codes
by Les Shaver

When most people think of hurricane building codes, their questions usually revolve around the language. How are the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Building Council (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) incorporated in a state’s law? And how far back from the coastline is stronger glazing required?

While these elements remain the lifeblood of any strong state code, Thomas Kopec, North American architectural manager for DuPont, a manufacturer of polyvinyl butryal (PVB) interlayers designed for laminated glazing, contends that it takes more than strong language to support a successful code.

“If you look at adoption of codes and enforcement, you can have adoption but not necessarily enforcement,” Kopec says. “There’s a variance state-to-state in that. There are some states that are good and some that are weaker.”

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, some states developed stronger codes and, to some people’s surprise, some took steps to weaken their codes. Here’s a look at what code lobbyists from the glazing and insurance industries think about the ten most active states: 

1. Florida: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC and IRC
Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 113 (according to independent research) Florida was tackling hurricane codes long before they were even on the radar for other states. The reason? Hurricane Andrew. In 1992, Andrew roared through the state, pummeling homes and offices. After the destruction, insurers threatened to discontinue writing policies. That was enough to spur the politicians to action.

While other states usually go with some variation of the international building codes, Florida pushes things a bit further. “Florida actually takes the codes and modifies them with Florida-specific amendments,” Kopec says. “They’re basically doing their own codes.”

Florida also requires builders to construct buildings to even higher standards. “It’s the most vulnerable state and they have the strongest code,” says Jeff Burton, building codes manager for the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). “They have licensure of builders and licensure of code professionals. It’s mandatory because of their vulnerability.”

2. Louisiana: 
Codes adopted: 2006 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 52Katrina was Louisiana’s Andrew, except it was worse. Katrina’s destruction was enough to convince politicians in notoriously corrupt Louisiana that they needed a statewide building code.

“Louisiana didn’t have a statewide building code before Rita and Katrina,” says Jennifer Gibson, spokesperson for the ICC. “But they did adopt the ICC’s wind and flood provision for areas that were declared disaster areas after Katrina.”

Still, Burton sees progress in Louisiana. Before Katrina, five of the state’s 65 parishes were enforcing a building code. The Louisiana Code Council has made money available for jurisdictions to begin code enforcements. Sixty parishes have tapped into those funds.

Once those parishes begin using that money to train their builders and enforce codes, Burton sees Louisiana’s codes matching its hurricane vulnerability. “The infrastructure still isn’t there,” Burton says. “But they’re working on it. They’re going through some pains, but that happens in any state.”

3. Texas: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC and 2000 IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 60Only Florida has felt the brunt of more hurricanes than Texas. Unfortunately, Burton says, Texas doesn’t have the codes of enforcement to match its vulnerability. For starters, Texas has no building code council. While the state has adopted the 2000 IRC and the 2003 IBC, it has no way to adopt a new code without a council.

To make matters even worse, following these codes is completely optional in the Lone Star state. Even if contractors had to follow the ICC codes in Texas, there really wouldn’t be any solid enforcement. “Their residential contractors are not licensed,” Burton says. “And, their code compliance labor forces are unlicensed and uncertified. It’s voluntary.”

The only real oversight in the state is from the Texas Department of Insurance, which offers a program to insure structures in hurricane-prone regions if they aren’t insured through a common carrier. 

4. Alabama: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC (only for state-owned schools, hotels and movie theaters)

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 23At least Texas has codes to work with. 

As of press time, a bill (H.B. 526) that would provide building codes in Alabama had passed the state’s House of Representatives and is now into its Senate.

If passed Alabama’s bill would create a wide-ranging code process. “It would identify a statewide code, create a code council and address the professionalism of code officials and inspectors,” Burton says. Right now, individual counties in Alabama decide what codes to use and how they’re enforced. 

Like many states, builders have remained the staunchest opponents of codes in Alabama. “In Alabama, it has been the builders,” says Nanette Lockwood, director of legislative affairs for Solutia. “The builders are more powerful than the insurers in Alabama.”

5. Mississippi: Codes adopted: No statewide code Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 16
In some states, the builders get in the way of codes. In Mississippi, Lockwood says it’s the county supervisors. “They don’t want to be told what to do,” Lockwood says.

Burton says there’s been some progress in Mississippi, but change moves at a glacial pace. “They’ve identified a statewide code,” Burton says, “but they made it optional. Louisiana has taken it more seriously. Louisiana has addressed future needs while Mississippi is not as serious about it.”

The state did set up a codes council that met in July 2006. But little has happened since that initial meeting, where it moved to adopt the 2003 IRC and the 2003 IBC. “They had one meeting,” Burton says. “They scheduled more but they have not had enough for a quorum since then.”

6. South Carolina: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2004: 31South Carolina is one the top states in hurricane vulnerability. But there’s good news: The state, which was slammed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, has a building code that acknowledges its looming hurricane threat. 

“If you look at their vulnerability and how they manage their codes compared to Florida, they do just as well as Florida, if not better, just because they’re less vulnerable,” Burton says.

That’s not to say issues with hurricane codes don’t pop up in South Carolina. The main issue: How far off the coastline hurricane protections like shutters and impact glazing are required. The state wanted to pull hurricane codes closer to the shore than the ICC prescribed.

“South Carolina tried to weaken their code after Katrina,” Lockwood says. “We were able to defeat that.”

7. North Carolina: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 46

Like its neighbor to the South, North Carolina also has had disputes over how far inland hurricane protection, such as shutters and protective glazing, is mandated. At one point it eliminated the requirements altogether. Now, it’s down to 1,500 feet from sea level. 

Since the state does get whacked by hurricanes, such as Hugo, the fact that buildings 1,600 feet from the coastline are not required to follow the international codes can be an issue. Both Lockwood and Burton think the state should require stronger protection further inland. “Their biggest flaw is that they don’t have windborne debris protection according to the minimum standards,” Burton says. “It’s should be much further inland.”

Part of the problem is financial, according to Sigi Valentin, the southeast regional director for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association.

“Insurance is very low,” Valentin says. “There’s no incentive to put shutters on your home.”

8. Massachusetts: 
Codes adopted: 2003 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 10

People don’t normally think of Massachusetts and its neighboring states in the Northeast as a target for hurricanes. But hurricanes have landed there—and they’ve hit it hard. Take the 1938 hurricane called the Long Island Express. It hit Long Island and Boston, killing more than 600 people. 

In preparation for another Long Island Express, Massachusetts upgraded its codes to cover areas further out in the Atlantic, such as Cape Cod. On these islands, they’ve increased standards from the 110-mile-per-hour wind zone to a 120-mile-per-hour wind zone. “They decided they wanted more protection,” Kopec says.

9. Georgia: 
Codes adopted: 2006 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 20Despite being between Florida and South Carolina, Georgia rarely feels the brunt of hurricanes. Its building codes reflect that reality.

Georgia has a state code modeled after the 2006 International Code. “If you are a licensed builder in Georgia, you must build in accordance with the code,” Valentin says.

While Valentin admits codes aren’t imposed all over the state, they’re followed in the areas that count. “In the coastal areas, they’re enforced,” he says.Overall, Burton sees positive momentum in the state. “They are moving forward at a much slower pace, but they are moving forward,” he says.

10. New York: 
Codes adopted: 2000 IBC and IRC

Hurricane strikes between 1851-2006: 12If there’s any place where a hurricane could be disastrous, it’s New York City. “You get four inches of rain on the subway and the whole city is shut down,” Burton says.

But it’s hard to predict exactly what the city will do. “New York City is an entity of its own,” Valentin says.

Fortunately, New York realizes the threat of damage caused by a hurricane and is in the process of updating its codes. The industry is confident these codes will be strong enough to protect New Yorkers. “Long Island is fine and New York didn’t minimize anything in their codes,” Lockwood says. 

the author: Les Shaver is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine.

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