Group says La. weakened high-wind building codes

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Louisiana building codes took a step backward this year when the state adopted only part of the recommendations for high-wind design for construction put forth by an international building code council, an insurance-related organization says in a report.

In an update this week of a January 2012 report, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety reviewed the progress toward strengthening building codes in 18 most hurricane-prone states along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Louisiana’s codes were rated about midway among the 18 states, but was one of two states cited for taking negative action since January 2012.

Louisiana adopted new wind-speed maps, but didn’t properly place the line marking where the risk areas for high-speed winds should begin, said Tim Reinhold, senior engineer and senior vice president of research at the institute.

“So suddenly you could go very close to the coast before you would end up triggering having to go to the high-wind design,” Reinhold said.

In effect, Louisiana weakened the statewide building code adopted after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he said — an assertion that was rejected by a state home builders association official.

The code requires the use of straps and clips to connect a home’s roof to the walls and the walls to the foundation in areas closer to the coast.

Reinhold said it doesn’t cost a lot to build a home that meets the high-wind design requirements. Using hurricane clips and straps in building a home adds about 2 percent to construction costs; for example, $6,000 to a $300,000 house.

Billy Ward, president of the Louisiana Home Builders Association, disagreed with the institute’s report.

Start with the fact that wind isn’t the cause of most hurricane damage to houses, he said. Trees falling on houses and flood damage are the major problems. A U.S. Department of Commerce report issued after the 2005 storms came to the same conclusion.

Homes in Louisiana are better-engineered and built much stronger now as a result of the statewide building code, Ward said.

“The insurance companies — I’d like to know how many of them actually reduce deductibles, reduce policy rates,” Ward said. “In fact the opposite is happening.”

While the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers useful tips for building fortified homes, Ward noted the group’s members are insurance and reinsurance companies with their own bias when it comes to construction. The institute’s saying Louisiana took a step backward is not accurate at all, he said.

The institute’s midterm update reviews the progress made in the 18 most hurricane-prone coastal states since the group’s first report in 2012. Another report will be issued in 2015.

Louisiana and North Carolina were the only states that weakened their building codes since 2012, according to the report. Nine states strengthened their regulations: Florida, Virginia, South Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Georgia, New York and Alabama. Seven took no action: New Jersey; Massachusetts; Maine; New Hampshire; Texas; Delaware; and Mississippi.

Still, Reinhold said Louisiana remains in the upper part of the pack by ranking higher than eight of the 18 hurricane-prone states on a 100-point scale. Louisiana scored 73 points. Florida and Virginia ranked best with scores of 95. Mississippi was the worst with only 4 points.

The International Code Council’s International Building Code and International Residential Code are the model building and residential codes used throughout most of the country. New editions are issued every three years, most recently in 2012. Louisiana uses the 2009 editions of the codes but the 2006 provisions for when the high-wind designs are triggered.

Reinhold said Louisiana tried to pick and choose between standards, which led to the problem with its rating.