New building codes made a difference

Published April 17, 2005

Tougher state building codes adopted after Hurricane Andrew got their first real test last year when Hurricane Charley tore through Florida.

Buildings constructed after the new codes went into effect in 2002 made it through Charley surprisingly well, according to the preliminary findings of a team of scientists and engineers presented at a symposium in Tampa in early February.

The stricter standards, the experts said, saved lives and millions of dollars worth of insurance claims, though shoddy construction wreaked havoc on many roofs.

"The new codes are working," said Scott Tezak, a structural engineer who led an investigative team of architects, engineers and scientists for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The gloom and doom makes the news, but it's misleading when all you're seeing is damage. Roof covering damage was widespread, but most structures performed well."

The experts at the symposium focused mostly on hurricanes Charley and Ivan, the most powerful and destructive of the four storms.

When the final studies are completed this spring, the International Code Council, a nonprofit organization of building officials and code administrators, will use the information to enhance construction standards.

Officials said the information will also be considered when the Florida Building Commission updates the state's building code.

The experts reported significant damage to older mobile homes, roofs, carports and screened enclosures.

But newer manufactured homes and newer roofs held up well, they said.

Since Charley hit Aug. 13, one of the dominant features of the Florida landscape has been blue plastic roofs, and workers are still scrambling to make repairs.

David Roodvoets, technical director for the Single Ply Roofing Industry, inspected 100 roofs and observed nearly 400 others damaged by Charley. He found a pattern of missing asphalt shingles that ran in lines up and down roofs of many homes.

That was shoddy installation, he said.

"A nail is missing or staples are in at the wrong angle," Roodvoets said. "It's not the product, but a method of installation that is common in Florida."

He found fasteners where they shouldn't be. "And if they're not where they belong," he said, "they can't do their job."

Roodvoets found that tile roofs performed well, except for ridges and hips, and that metal roofs installed after Hurricane Andrew performed better than older ones.

Kurt Gurley, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Florida, is studying houses built between 1994 and 2002, and those built after 2002.

So far, they have inspected 77 homes, about two-thirds of them built before the new code.

"The new code homes fared better," Gurley said. He estimated the insurance losses for homes built after 2002 were 40 percent less than older homes, a projected savings of about $15-million.

But determining how well buildings can withstand a hurricane, the experts said, depends on accurate wind measurements. And that is a work in progress.

Peter Vickery, an engineer who works with FEMA, said Ivan did far more damage than a 120-mph hurricane should have. "And we still don't know why."