Hurricane Michael may put pressure on Florida to enforce stricter building code

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
November 09, 2018, 10:12:33 AM EST

Following Hurricane Michael's catastrophic damage in the Florida Panhandle, many people are wondering if Florida needs stronger building codes.

One house in Mexico Beach, Florida, was left standing, and it could be because every construction component was designed to exceed building code.

There will be an audit of how building codes held up, but Rusty Payton, chief executive officer of Florida Home Builder Association (FHBA), said his team is hearing that the newer construction fared well.

"We know Mexico Beach had a lot of homes and structures built before the building codes were upgraded with an emphasis on storm resiliency. Mexico Beach hasn't had a lot of buildings since then, so the question is out of the houses and damage we've seen how many of that includes new construction and the audits will tell us," Payton said.

After Hurricane Andrew, Florida looked very closely at strengthening its building codes. Since they have implemented the codes they enforced after Andrew, Irma and Charley, they have learned numerous homes fared very well in recent storms.

"We will have to wait and see what the forensic audit tells us about what happened in the panhandle," Payton said.

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(Image via Matthew 25: Ministries)

Payton said the new codes focused on how they attach roofs and how it deals with pressurization issues.

"I think FHBA will look to wait and see the science before we determine whether something has to be done or not. One thing that will be looked at carefully will be the wind maps that have been used very recently," Payton said.

According to Payton, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) comes up with a wind map that the building commission will study and adhere by.

"What we will be looking at is 'was this a designed event?', meaning did the hurricane reach the strengths that the homes should be designed for and then how did those homes fair," Payton said.

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(Image via Matthew 25: Ministries)

"That will tell us whether or not if we need to make some changes and ASCE will have to go back and say did we get the wind design right or did we undershoot it, did it come in higher than we thought it might and we don't know those answers yet," Payton said.

Payton said usually stricter codes do increase the cost of building a home; however, he added, most people are in favor of building a more hurricane-resistant home.

"When purchasing a waterfront home, many buyers consider how much it will cost to, not only afford the mortgage, but the insurance as well as the maintenance of the exterior and appliances that are exposed to the elements," said Tanner Tillung, a real estate agent who serves Clearwater Beach, Florida.

When an buyer considers a home, the type of construction is a huge consideration.

"Concrete block wins the day over wood frame homes. It is more expensive to build but will be able to withstand severe weather," Tillung said.

Tillung said buying a home on the water can be more complex than some may think.

"Consider the roof, hurricane grade of windows, insurable space on first level, how high the current flood elevation is, how old the sea wall is and how much it will cost to replace when needed, including dock construction. Also check if the AC systems are elevated above the first level," Tillung said.

Payton said most people, particularly those who live on the coast, understand the positives and negatives.

"I think everybody wants to be protected against a hurricane. They have already gotten some calls saying we need to up the building code but we don't even know what happened yet," Payton said.

Payton doesn't know if the homes that are left standing after Hurricane Michael are the ones that were built under recent code or not. He also said he doesn't know if any homes were destroyed that were built under the recent code.

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"The first 48 hours after Irma, everybody said the Keys were flattened and [the state] had to update the building code for the Keys. Once they got people on the ground, they realized that the drones they flew over were seeing a lot of debris, but the houses underneath were in great shape. The ones that were built under the recent code and they came back and said the recent code performed well," Payton said.

However, Payton said he doesn't know if that is the case in Mexico Beach.

"I'm hearing we will probably find something similar. Now there may be some things we need to address, maybe how to put on shingles, but I'm hearing we will feel better about the code than we think," Payton said.

The FHBA makes a new code every three years, so Payton said they are in the process of building a new code and the audit will help them immensely.

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