It's not a mystery. We know how to build and remodel
houses that can resist the extreme wind and surge forces brought on
by the worst hurricanes. That was the take-home message I carried
away from a recent conference in Tampa, which addressed what we
learned in the aftermath of the 2004 hurricane season. Each
presentation at the Hurricane Symposium cosponsored by the
International Code Council (ICC) and the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) reinforced the same general point: Older
housing suffered the worst damage, while most of the homes brought
into compliance with new building codes — those codes revised
after Hurricane Andrew tore through southern Florida in 1992
— withstood the four new storms relatively unscathed.
Sure, there are still a few building rules that need some work.
Soffits overwhelmingly seemed to allow in far too much wind-driven
rain (see "Roof Ventilation for Coastal Homes," this issue).
Beachfront piling foundations would have benefited from an extra
freeboard height to raise them past Ivan's surge, and strong
arguments persist for V-zone foundations throughout Coastal A zones
(see "Piling It On," Fall 2004; available at www.coastalcontractor.net). But for the most part,
none of the damage wrought in 2004 was that surprising. We know how
to do this. Yet the question remains: How do we avoid the
devastating losses to coastal homes that persist each hurricane
In the debate of the symposium's closing panel discussion, the
answer boiled down to two "E" words: Education and Enforcement. If
we know how to do it, but it's not being done, the responsibility
falls first to the builders to learn what to do, and second to the
inspectors to insist that it gets done. I happen to hate the
enforcement argument. It sounds much too controlling for my taste.
I prefer to think that builders and remodelers want to do the right
thing, and that they will if they know what to do. That makes room
for the education part. But it would be naive to think that was
enough. Strong codes — codes that are actually followed by
everyone — ultimately serve the interests of the best
builders and remodelers.
Clayton DeKorne, Editor