Groups Support Stronger Fla. Building Codes, Storm Shutter Requirements

July 6, 2006

Recommendations about the expansion of windborne debris regions in Florida’s Panhandle and requirements for storm shutters and missile-resistant glass will be discussed July 11 during a special Florida Building Commission hearing in Hollywood, Fla.

The commission will consider how to protect new homes in Florida’s Panhandle and discuss the recommendations of a North Carolina engineering consultants to expand Panhandle windborne debris regions in Florida. The entire commission takes the important final vote Aug. 23, in Miami Lakes, Fla. Under commission rules, a 75 percent majority is required, which makes approval difficult for controversial proposals.

“We strongly recommend that the Florida Building Commission remove the Panhandle exemption and adopt the current ASCE 7/IBC/IRC definitions and requirements for opening protection,” an insurance trades coalition states in a letter to Raul L. Rodriguez, Florida Building Commission chairman.

Comments were submitted by the Florida Insurance Council, American Insurance Association, Property Casualty Insurers of American, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and Institute for Business and Home Safety. A white paper has been published by the Florida Insurance Council in Tallahassee, Fla. to weigh in on a debate.

“Given the recent experience of multiple storms impacting Florida and the indications that we are early in a cycle of greater hurricane activity, we believe that it is prudent to err on the side of conservatism and greater protection, if there is in fact an error,” the insurance groups said.

“The Panhandle has, to some extent, been fortunate that the recent storms have dropped in wind intensity as they neared landfall. When the Panhandle is hit by a storm where the eye-wall stays together, such as a Camille (1969), we expect that the amount of windborne debris will be significantly greater and the need for window protection much greater than we have seen in the recent storms. When that happens, all Floridians will bear the costs of the increased damage that could have been prevented by having a broader use of opening protection.”

At a June 19 public hearing in Destin, Fla. the commission endorsed Applied Research Associate’s recommendation for expansion of Panhandle windborne debris regions, but under a standard the groups maintain is weaker than standards in effect for the majority of Florida.

Gov. Jeb Bush, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Thaddeus Stevens, Kevin McCarty, commissioner of the Office of Insurance Regulation, and the property and casualty insurance community are urging the commission to establish for the Panhandle the same windborne debris protection standards in effect for other areas of Florida. These officials and organizations say that the middle-ground recommendation is not the appropriate step, even though it is a dramatic improvement over current law.

In 2000, under pressure from north Florida lawmakers and home builders, the Florida Legislature established the Panhandle Carve-out or Panhandle Exemption when developing the Florida Uniform Statewide Building Code. The code established windborne debris regions, where shutters or impact-resistant glass would be required on new residential construction, and limited the requirements to one mile from the coast in Franklin through Escambia counties. The regions for the remainder of Florida are areas that would face 120 mile an hour or greater winds from a hurricane as determined by the American Society of Civil Engineering, about five miles from the coast in most areas and considerably farther inland for some areas. Dade and Broward counties require shutters or impact-resistant glass on all new residential construction, the strongest standard in the state.

There is a consensus in the engineering community that a home is more likely to survive 120 mph or higher winds if the windows and doors remain intact. This can be achieved through storm shutters or impact-resistant glass, reinforced garage doors and other enhancements protecting a structure from flying debris, including lumber, roofing tiles and concrete blocks. The structure is less likely to sustain major damage and will be much safer if residents are forced to ride out the storm at home.

During the June 19 commission meeting members approved a middle-ground expansion of the current one-mile Panhandle windborne debris regions, to areas susceptible to 130 mph or greater winds. Do Kim, Tampa, insurance community representative on the Florida Building Commission, said windborne debris regions would be expanded to about half of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties and to four to five miles from the coast in Bay, Walton and closer to the coast in other west Florida counties.

While much better than the one-mile wide windborne debris zones, it is not the broad protection recommended by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which proposes shutter/impact-resistant glass requirements in 120 mph or greater zones. This would encompass most of Escambia and Walton counties and a zone in other west Florida coastal counties much broader than the 130 mph wind zone.

Northwest Florida homebuilders contended during the Destin hearing, as they have for years, that landfall by a major hurricane in west Florida is not likely and then if it does take place, the region’s special topography reduces winds dramatically as the storm moves inland. The homebuilders won support from ARA, that has worked as a consultant for the building commission for several years in windborne debris construction standards and shutter and impact-resistant glass requirements.

ARA concluded that the Panhandle is a “special case” due to its heavy tree cover and that hurricane winds would be reduced 30 percent to 40 percent after a major hurricane moved inland. ARA recommended that Franklin through Escambia windborne debris regions be established as 130 mph wind zones, not 120 mph zones as recommended by ASCE.

Source: Florida Insurance Council

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.