Volume 43, Issue 11 - November 2008


Ike's Impact
What Changes Will the Texas Codes Reflect?
by Megan Headley

Hurricane Ike swept through Texas on Saturday, September 13, leaving a trail of damage behind it. The Category 2 hurricane hit Texas (with winds just one mile per hour below a Category 3,) knocking out power to more than one million homes and reducing structures on low-lying coasts to slab. Estimates from the Insurance Information Institute rank Ike as the third costliest U.S. hurricane at about $11 billion, following Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005. 

Bob Lawrence, president of Craftsman Fabricated Glass president in Houston, reported from within the damage zone that the hurricane seemed worse than Hurricane Alicia, which hit Galveston and Houston in 1983 and was responsible for changing construction codes at the time to prevent glass damage from rooftop debris. 

“We got through fine,” said Lawrence on the Monday following the storm. He added, “It’s quite a mess. Electricity is off pretty much all over Houston.”

Quite a mess indeed. In addition to power outages that extended for weeks, glass was a major casualty of this Category 2 hurricane. The most dramatic example was of the JP Morgan Chase Tower in downtown, the tallest building in Texas, which sits now with 487 glassless windows (see sidebar page at bottom of page)

What Impact Will Ike Leave?
While codes are written to protect building occupants, every so often there comes along an event that sets terrible new precedents. Hurricane Andrew caused more than $26.5 billion of damage and led to significantly more stringent building codes in the Florida market (see August 2003 USGlass, page 44) and only three years ago Hurricane Katrina led to Louisiana’s adoption of a statewide building code (see September 2005 USGlass, page 52). While it may be too soon to tell what impact Ike’s damage might have on future codes, it’s clear from the amount of damage that there’s room for improvement in the hurricane protection measures, and the glass industry is ready to step up. 

“Texas currently requires enforcement of model building codes for cities (not counties) and allows local modifications that can weaken or eliminate wind-borne debris protection,” says Julia Schimmelpenningh, architectural applications manager of Saflex, a unit of Solutia Inc., in Springfield, Mass. “Most cities have not removed the wind-borne debris protection requirements, but some counties are not focused on enforcement. Fortunately, the Texas Department of Insurance enforces stringent wind-borne debris provisions for the state insurance program.”

Gary Taylor, marketing administrator, commercial products group of United States Aluminum based in Waxahachie, Texas, has some insight into this particular storm as the company is one of many in the industry with a facility in Houston. 

“We see that there have been about four times the amount of storms this decade that have gone to hurricane Category one than in the 1990s … and it seems there’s more coming up that Houston-Galveston corridor,” commented Taylor. As a result, he says, “One of the things we’re expecting is to see the International Building Code—which the Texas Insurance Council bases their wind zones on—increasing[ly used] in the inland part of Houston and Galveston and into Beaumont, Texas.”

Kelly Townsend, national sales director of Columbia Commercial Building Products in Rockwall, Texas, agrees. 

“My feeling is that we will see the impact requirement adopted by more cities and counties further inland that, up until Ike, hit had never revised their building codes, similar to what occurred after Katrina and Rita. The municipalities that had adopted an impact code previously will probably assess damages, review what codes are in place and adjust as needed,” Townsend says. 

As Taylor says, “There’s more inland coverage down on the very southern tip of Texas, whereas when you get into Houston it’s more on the coast. The codes just don’t seem to match up with the storms that we’re seeing right now.” 

More immediately, professionals in the hurricane arena expect counties that have adopted codes to begin stronger enforcement of those codes already in place.

“I would think that we will see more Texas municipalities adopting and enforcing the protective language in the model buildings codes, just as we saw the areas affected by Katrina do in her aftermath,” Schimmelpenningh says.

In addition to changing codes, hurricane-resistant products continue to evolve. 

“Glass breakage caused by Hurricane Ike reinforces the importance of impact-resistant glazing in areas of the country that are subjected to windborne debris,” says Valerie Block, CDT, LEED AP, senior marketing specialist for DuPont Glass Laminating Solutions in Wilmington, Del. “We have seen the effects of broken glass after other storms in Texas and elsewhere resulting in massive clean up, board-up and glass replacement—not to mention the possibility of significant interior damage. Impact-resistant glazing is designed to remain intact, serving as a barrier to the elements even if broken.”

As clean-up continues to large-scale damage, the industry waits to see how this latest storm will affect demand for these products. 

“I think by the time the insurance companies get in there—probably in another month or two—we’ll have a much better feel [for the demand for impact products],” Taylor says. 

“Columbia is adding additional personnel coverage in the effected areas to begin working with architects and customers in the region to be pro-active and not reactive to any and all changes that might be coming and adjust product offerings as needed to accommodate any changes,” Townsend says. He adds, “As of now I don’t believe anyone really knows even what to change.”  

New Glass, But No Change, for Chase Tower

In the days following Hurricane Ike, police roped off the streets around the JP Morgan Chase Tower in Houston as glass, insulation, furniture and computers fell out of the windows of the 75-story building, according to reports from the Houston Chronicle.

Lee Murphrey, assistant engineering manager of Hines | JPMorgan Chase Tower, reports that a company video shows what appears to be a funnel cloud between Chase Tower and Chase Center during the storm and it is believed to have caused the damage. Clay’s Glass Services in Houston was brought in following the storm to install the replacement lites. 

According to Murphrey, “The glass is a dual-pane unit with ¼-inch exterior pane shaded in standard gray and a clear ¼-inch interior pane. There is a ½-inch air gap between the two panes. Also, the glass is heat strengthened. This is the original specification and we are going back with the same.”


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