New building codes on Florida coastlines are an expensive, but good idea

by Matthew Glans on March 15, 2012

Property owners in South Florida are preparing for a new series of building codes designed to better prepare new and reconstructed homes from wind and water damage after major coastal storms. Some builders and homeowners are concerned that the new codes will lead to higher home construction costs and higher insurance rates.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The cost of constructing or renovating homes and buildings may jump in some of South Florida’s beachfront and low-lying areas, as a result of new statewide building codes.

In addition, the new code taking effect March 15 may end up driving up the cost of flood insurance in some neighborhoods over the next few years.

“The main goal is to make the area safer” in a hurricane or flood, said Rebecca Caldwell, building director in Palm Beach County. “It may make a person’s costs go higher.”

South Florida planning officials and building experts said they are still studying the new codes and don’t yet know exactly how it will affect construction. They also don’t know for sure which neighborhoods would be affected the most.

The new codes will require buildings to be built to withstand more floodwater in low-lying and flood-prone areas near the coast. For example, buildings in some areas would have to be built atop dirt one to three feet higher than now required, or be built off the ground. Some will need stronger devices tying buildings to foundations.

While the additional expense of the new statewide building codes may make new home construction or renovation more expensive, the changes were a strong step toward preparing the homes along the coast for a major storm.

From the Miami Herald:

Home construction in those “Coastal A Zones,’’ as the new high-hazard areas would be known, would also be affected, though to a lesser extent than commercial buildings.

Home builders would have to sink pilings into the ground to support the structure and swimming pools, and the first habitable floor of new homes in those low-lying areas would have to be elevated a foot or more higher than current rules require. Foundations and ground-floor walls would also have to be designed for resistance to “hydrodynamic forces’’ — the pressure generated by wave action and rising waters due to storm surge, building officials say.

That represents a significant beefing up over building standards that now apply in most coastal zones along South Florida, with a concomitant increase in the cost of construction, they say. The stricter rules apply to new construction as well as extensive renovations that comprise more than 50 percent of a structure’s value.

Mitigation is the first and most important line of defense when it comes to disaster preparedness. First responders, insurance interests, and consumer groups—basically, everyone who deals with catastrophe issues—agree it’s best to harden homes before a serious event such as a hurricane occurs. The creation of stronger building codes would encourage and in many cases require homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand high winds and flood waters.

Real reforms that reinvigorate the private market and encourage mitigation will benefit consumers and insurers alike. The efforts by insurance regulators, legislators, and Governor Scott to improve the state’s mitigation efforts are a welcome change and a step in the right direction.

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