A strong building code is critical to reducing the damage and destruction caused by hurricanes each year. On the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety released the 2021 edition of Rating the States, its signature report evaluation building codes along the hurricane vulnerable coasts from Texas to Maine.
Texas ranked as fourth from the bottom among the 18 states with Gulf and Atlantic hurricane exposure for the building code guidance it provides its residents.
Now in its fourth edition, Rating the States is released every three years following the building code update cycle of the International Code Council. The report scores the 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states vulnerable to hurricanes based on statewide building code adoption, administration and enforcement, and contractor licensing requirements.
It also provides a roadmap each state can follow to improve residential building regulations and reduce the cycle of repeated losses resulting from hurricanes and other severe weather events.
Texas ranked 15th, for the fourth consecutive rating survey, most recently with a score of 34 out of a possible 100 points. The Lone Star State was trailed only by Alabama, Mississippi and Delaware with scores of 30, 29, and 17 respectively.
Texas received 19 of 50 possible points for code adoption, 15 of 25 possible points for contractor licensing and training and zero of 25 possible points for code enforcement and administration.
Texas’s neighbor Louisiana ranked eighth, with a score of 82 out of 100 points, garnered 46 points for code adoption, 22 points for contractor licensing and training, and 14 points for code enforcement and administration.
IBHS’s explanation of its evaluation of Texas building codes pointed out that the 2001 Texas legislature adopted the 2000 IRC as the standard for residential construction, but the state does not make it mandatory throughout the state. Generally, said IBHS, all incorporated cities have a building code, with a large percentage adopting more recent editions of IRC than the one included in the state law. Unincorporated areas are where the building code gap is evident.
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association has mitigated some of the deficiencies in the unincorporated areas of coastal counties by its code and inspection requirements, said IBHS. A 2017 state law requires builders in unincorporated areas of certain counties to provide an inspection report to the county, showing their construction complies with the state building code. Failure to provide such documentation could result in prosecution of the builder.
Texas has no statewide program to license, certify or require education for building officials. According to IBHS the state licenses plumbing, mechanical, electrical and general contractors, and requires them to take continuing education for license renewal.
To raise its 15th place finish, IBHS recommends that Texas adopt a mandatory statewide building code system with adequate uniform code enforcement. IBHS wants Texas to give communities a high degree of building safety through application of modern building codes.
Building science has advanced significantly over the last decade, providing cost effective strategies to reduce the impact of Mother Nature. Modern building codes are core to addressing the known risks of high winds and heavy rain that invariably come with these systems,” said Dr. Anne Cope, chief engineer at IBHS. “Strong adopted and administered codes apply the latest science and engineering knowledge to protect homes and families from the catastrophic damage hurricanes bring and make our coastal communities more resilient for the future.”
As the science advances, code updates put research to work in communities. The latest edition of the International Residential Code, as well as the Florida Building Code, integrate key research from IBHS and now include a sealed roof deck in high wind zones. The sealed roof deck provides an extra line of defense against costly water intrusion and has shown in lab testing that it keeps out up to 95 percent of water even when the primary roof cover is damaged.
In the 2021 Rating the States rankings, Florida again takes the top spot for strongest building code with Virginia following one point behind on the 100-point scale. Florida and Virginia have jostled for the top two spots in all four editions of Rating the States.
Notably, in this edition IBHS researchers identify South Carolina as the state to watch after significant positive code advances between 2012 and 2015. The Palmetto State now comes in at third place. Rounding out the top five are New Jersey and Connecticut. Meanwhile, neighboring North Carolina rates as most improved in the 2021 edition, gaining five points over its 2018 rating.
Massachusetts saw the largest decline of any state coming in three points lower than in the 2018 edition because the state removed the wind-borne debris requirements for coastal areas. Of the 18 states ranked, eight are categorized as Poor receiving fewer than 70 points. In addition to Texas, those states are Georgia, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Alabama, Mississippi and Delaware, all of which lack a mandatory statewide building code.
Local jurisdictions and homeowners whose states come up short on statewide building codes can use the FORTIFIED Home construction standard to make their homes more resilient. The standard is based on years of research at IBHS’s state-of-the-art Research Center and post-event damage investigations. It outlines the steps to achieve one of three progressive levels of protection starting with the roof, which is any home’s first line of defense against severe weather.
For example, in Alabama, Mobile and Baldwin counties have championed the FORTIFIED Home standard by putting it into their local codes to enhance resilience in the absence of a mandatory statewide building code. In fact, more than 20,000 homes in Alabama’s two coastal counties carry a FORTIFIED designation.
“Following Hurricane Sally’s landfall last September in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the impact of FORTIFIED was clear. Resilient building saved countless families from the disruption and displacement their neighbors suffered through and demonstrated why we need stronger codes all along the hurricane coastline,” added Cope.
Homeowners who would like to learn more about building codes in their area can use the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)’s Inspect 2 Protect tool to understand building codes at the local level. The new consumer resource includes building code lookup to help determine which code the builder followed to construct a home. The site provides current code and code history for communities and offers a risk profile, disaster history, and suggested renovations, retrofits and upgrades that can make a home safer and stronger against natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires.