Guide to glass codes: Battling hurricanes
The devastation recently wrought by Hurricane Katrina has served as a tragic reminder of the vulnerability of the United States coastal areas to these powerful storms. While it was the force of the winds and water that was responsible for the damage and devastation, the destructive effect of the elements was perhaps heightened because they hit an area largely unprotected by uniform hurricane building codes. Building codes cannot prevent wind and flooding, but adhering to strict codes can help protect structures so residents have something to return to when the storms have passed.
Unfortunately, hurricane activity is not predicted to abate in the near future. While 1970-94 was a relatively inactive hurricane period, since then we’ve been in a period of heightened activity. Scientists predict that active hurricane seasons may continue for the next 10 to 20 years.
The good news is that the experiences of the 2004 hurricane seasons, combined with the predictions for continuing periods of heightened hurricane activity, have prompted officials in many coastal states to begin statewide building code adoption and amendment activities. “We’re moving in the right direction,” says Jeff Burton, building codes manager at the Institute for Business & Home Safety in Tampa.
Burton cautions that adopting and amending codes can be a slow process, as the codes must address the various concerns of lawmakers, the building community and citizens. Some government officials worry about having the funding and staffing to both educate builders and consumers about changes to the codes and to then consistently enforce the codes. Some lawmakers, building association officials and consumers also have expressed concerns about the economic ramifications of tightening building codes. They worry that more stringent codes could significantly drive up the cost of construction and make new home building unaffordable to average consumers.
Whatever the hurdles to enacting or strengthening the building codes, Burton says that most lawmakers, builders and consumers ultimately support measures to make their homes safer and more durable. “As states like Florida strengthen building codes, we’ve seen that officials and citizens are incredibly adaptable and supportive of measures to increase the safety of their homes,” he says.
To address economic concerns, Burton emphasizes a direct relationship between better building codes and limiting the economic impact of natural disasters. He points to Charlotte County, Fla., as an example. Although Florida has some of the best hurricane-related building codes in the country, many older homes have not been retrofitted and brought up to code. When Hurricane Charley passed through, destroying homes and businesses in its path, the economic effect was devastating to the local economy.
Property appraisers had to devalue heavily damaged properties, resulting in less tax revenue for the government trying to rebuild after the storm. Many businesses destroyed by the hurricanes took months to reopen, leading to decreased business revenues, unemployment and scarcity of goods and services local residents needed.
“Ultimately, strengthening building codes can provide tremendous levels of protection to people and property throughout hurricane regions,” Burton says.
Florida resident Chris Schwier echoes Burton’s sentiments. Schwier lives on the beach near Pensacola, Fla. Although he has an older home, he has updated it with code-approved elements such as laminated glass windows. When Hurricane Dennis tore through the area on July 10, Schwier’s house and windows were hit with flying pieces of plywood from a neighbor’s roof. The windows cracked, but the laminated glass interlayer kept the building envelope intact and saved his house. “The flying debris would have ripped the side of my house open,” Schwier says. “Other houses down the street from me that had not been brought up to code were completely destroyed. Instead of having to rebuild, I just had to replace the windows that were hit and fix some siding.”
Like Florida, enforcement and application to rehab structures remain inconsistent. Statewide building codes mean a minimum and predictable level of wind resistance and safety throughout each state. Without the adoption statewide, local jurisdictions may alter or weaken a code at any time. Key code amendment and adoption activities include the following:
Battered by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, Alabama does not have a statewide residential code. Individual counties and cities have adopted a variety of residential codes and amendments, including versions of the 2003 International Residential Code developed by the International Code Council. Code use and enforcement lack consistency, and some officials strive to adopt a statewide code. Some building officials support these efforts and anticipate progress.
Code officials want to overhaul the Connecticut State Building Code. They expect the new code to be based on the 2003 International Residential and Building Codes. Under the plan, six jurisdictions will be designated as 120-mile-per-hour wind zones and will be within the wind-borne debris region. A wind-borne debris region is defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ ASCE 7 (Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures), 1998, for hurricane-prone areas where the wind speeds are in excess of 120 mph or 110 mph if within a mile of a coast. These wind-borne debris regions are typically areas where debris hurtles toward buildings with enough force to break glazed openings. The new code has been delayed, but is anticipated to be in effect by the beginning of 2007.
The 2004 Florida Building Code was scheduled to become effective July 1. However, the effective date was delayed until Oct. 1. Compliance with the FBC becomes mandatory Jan. 1, 2006. The 2004 FBC now differentiates between residential and commercial construction because it is based on the 2003 IRC and IBC.
The 2005 Florida legislature also was active in building-code issues. On June 8, Florida’s Republican Gov. Jeb Bush signed Senate Bill 442 into law. The law directs the Florida Building Commission to adopt the latest version of ASCE 7, and remove the option for partially enclosed design—designing for internal pressures—when the 2004 FBC gets updated. The legislation received broad support from legislators, the building community and consumers alike.
Included within SB 442 was a mandate for the FBC to provide the results of a study of the Florida panhandle that will evaluate the need for additional wind-borne debris protection. The results of this study are to be presented to the legislature prior to the 2006 session. Currently, the Panhandle exempts the requirements for wind-borne debris protection beyond one mile from the water. This, in many cases, doesn’t extend beyond the barrier islands.
Code officials and politicians want to adopt a statewide building code, but some members of the building community have expressed concerns. Legislation to enact the code has been introduced for the past two years, but it was summarily defeated in 2004 and dismissed in 2005. On Aug. 31, the state convened a study committee through the Louisiana Department of Insurance to review local codes in some cities and parishes, and to explore the potential effects of statewide building code legislation.
State officials are in the process of bringing its building codes from 1997-98 up to date. In the expected code, the wind-borne debris region—removed from the most recent code—will be reinstated for one mile along the coast of the entire state, except in Boston.
The state adopted the 2000 IRC and IBC in May 2003. New Jersey recently created a wind-borne debris region that extends one mile from the coast around the entire state.
The first comprehensive building code in the United States was established by New York City when it enacted the New York Tenement Code in 1850, and both city and state officials have been active in building-code adoption and enforcement ever since. New York state officials currently use the 2000 IRC and IBC. The city of New York is currently in the process of adopting the IRC and IBC, because the legislation establishing the state building codes exempts New York City. Legislation has been introduced to the city council and the 2003 IRC and IBC are widely expected to be in effect by mid-2006.
State officials have been active in updating its 2002 building codes. The 2006 state building codes are expected to be based on the 2003 IBC and IRC and have an anticipated effective date of July 1, 2006.
The North Carolina Building Code Council also approved a wind-borne debris region that will extend from the Atlantic Ocean inland 1,500 feet for both residential and commercial construction. The effective date is Jan. 1, 2006. However, the amendment is approved for use if requested by the owner of the permit. And, there is legislation under consideration to allow for jurisdictions to override the 1,500-foot limit.
State officials adopted the 2003 IBC and IRC with amendments in the eighth edition of their state building codes, effective July 1, 2004. Within the past year, the building commission moved the wind-speed region contours. The wind-borne debris region now extends from U.S. Highway A-1 to the coast along the southern portion of the state and within one mile of the coast in other portions of the state.
The 2003 IBC went into effect Jan. 1, and the 2003 IRC went into effect July 1, in South Carolina. A residential moratorium on wind-borne debris enforcement was removed on July 1, allowing for enforcement along the entire coastline.
As of Jan. 1, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association building codes are the 2003 IRC and IBC with the Texas Revisions, and the codes apply to commercial and residential structures.
The modifications from the 2003 IRC and IBC are the addition of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s AAMA 450, Voluntary Performance Rating Method for Mulled Fenestration Assemblies, and AAMA 506, Voluntary Specifications for Hurricane Impact and Cycle Testing of Fenestration Products. Additional requirements are now in place for corrosion-resistant connectors and fasteners in all unconditioned spaces.
The 2003 IBC and IRC became effective Jan. 1. The wind-borne debris region extends one mile from the coast and does not include the Chesapeake Bay.
Building-code adoption does not happen without effort. If codes drive a business, business owners must get involved locally and at the state level. Members of the public do not often participate. Without the voice of the business community, members of the regulatory body only hear half of the picture and that is usually a plea for lessening the codes to save costs. If you own or manage a local contract glazing company or glass shop, consider that support for strong building codes helps your business, your community and you. Let us acknowledge the real potential danger of hurricanes and work to adopt building codes that make our coastal communities stronger and more resistant to the effects of the storms.