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Will new process for adopting building codes help, hurt Florida?

On July 1, 2017, a new law went into effect in Florida. This new law has several components, one of which changed the process for updating building codes.

From the time the law was proposed to implementation, it has been met with mixed reviews. With the destructive power of hurricanes fresh on nearly everyone's minds, the concerns that were raised previously have not gone away.

A little history of Florida building codes

Everyone in Florida knows that tropical storms come and go, and that they will come again. Some of these are worse than others. Hurricane Andrew was one of these devastating systems with winds that rose up to 145 mph. These winds and other factors damaged 101,241 homes and left another 25,524 beyond repair. Damage estimates totaled approximately $24.5 billion.

In the aftermath of Andrew, lawmakers took action. They made serious changes to the mandatory building code that became effective in 2002. These codes were strict, and builders were required to get approval from inspectors at all phases - including the plans themselves.

According to Julie Rochman, CEO and president of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, "The codes proved themselves out beautifully," with 60% fewer claims for homes built with the new standards.

While the numbers showed improvement, heralded by some, The Florida Building Commission was one group that claimed that the new codes were burdensome in cost and overly strict in some instances.

How does Florida 'decide' its building codes?

The International Code Council (ICC) sets standards for building codes by taking into consideration factors such as new technology. Every three years the council makes updates to its code.

In the past, Florida has taken these codes and adopted them in their entirety. Once the codes were adopted, the Florida Building Commission would then review them and remove anything that would be inapplicable for buildings in the state and add anything required for Florida's unique factors.

  • A common example of deletions: codes that set requirements related to snow accumulation.
  • A common example of additions: codes that set stricter high-wind requirements.

This process, said many, was backwards, leaving little control for home builders.

What did the new law change?

Rather than adopting the entire set of codes from the ICC automatically, the new law allows for review first. According to some, like Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon), reversing the process allows officials to better tailor the codes to Florida. This flexibility would help reduce costs for builders and eliminate more of those "unnecessary" clauses.

Representative Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) said that builders are not the only ones who shoulder the cost-burden. He admits that the cost of construction is a "real problem in our state," but that it is the consumer who ends up paying for it.

On the other side of the coin are people such as Senator Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola), who is worried that the change could weaken what is a strong building code. He admits that some codes may be "unnecessary," but that the code "certainly has protected the consumer."

What do you think?

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