regulations and planning strategies: overview » introduction » improve residential building codes
Developing building code requirement that mandate certain mitigation measures and enforcing these requirements can ensure that both new and upgraded existing homes meet construction standards and include features that can protect homeowners and lessen damages from natural disasters. Improved residential building codes require "smarter and safer" building and rehabilitation practices - incorporating such measures as reinforced roofs, windows resistant to high winds and flying debris, elevated home appliances and foundations - and other measures that improve resistance to the impacts of hurricanes and other severe storms.

Statewide building codes can be particularly effective in guiding and requiring localities to develop building codes that create disaster-resistant housing. Although the extent to which natural hazards affect different localities within a state may vary greatly, state governments can still ensure that localities are at least meeting minimum requirements to improve safety by enacting these statewide codes. South Carolina and Florida enacted statewide model building codes in 1998 and 2002, respectively, in response to an array of hurricanes that hit the Gulf and southeast Atlantic coasts in the early- and mid-1990s.

Enhanced Statewide Standards for Hurricane-Resistant Home Construction and Increased Resilience

In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Florida initiated a comprehensive effort to reevaluate its building code standards and methods of enforcement. The main result of this effort was the adoption of the Standard for Hurricane Resistant Construction of the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI). [1] Local governments in coastal areas of Florida first began to adopt this standard, developing building codes that required the construction of homes that were more resistant to high winds. The state government followed shortly after, moving to incorporate these standards in the development of the first statewide building code that was completed in 2001 and adopted in 2002.

Homes constructed to these new standards were soon put to the test as Hurricane Charley hit many parts of Florida in 2004. A study conducted by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) revealed that enforcement of the new codes had a significant impact. For homes built to the new standards, the frequency of damage claims from the hurricane were reduced by about 60 percent and on average individual claims were around 42 percent less severe when a loss did occur. In addition, most of the homes built to the new standards resulted in a decrease in the frequency and severity of damage to various building components. The IBHS study also concluded that the new building code requirements allowed homeowners to return to their homes more quickly, reducing the disruption of their daily lives. [2]

The recent standard for state and local residential building codes is the International Code Council's 2006 International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC prescribes the minimum regulations across all areas of residential construction, which includes specific guidelines for disaster-resistant practices.

However, several states encourage localities to adopt more stringent requirements to ensure safer homes in the face a greater natural hazard risks. South Carolina, for instance, implemented the IRC in 2007, but has persuaded jurisdictions to adopt more rigorous codes in order to protect residents in areas more prone to natural disasters. [3]

Localities may adopt and enforce more stringent building codes and regulations whether or not the respective state provides guidance or specific requirements to do so. The city of Mandeville, Louisiana is a small community located directly across Lake Ponchatrain from New Orleans. The city has been a member of the National Flood Insurance Program since 1979, and has instituted strict residential building codes.

For instance, when a homeowner located in the 100-year floodplain wishes to make improvements to their building, and the cost of that improvement is more than 50 percent of the current value of the structure, the homeowner is required to comply with the building code as though constructing a new building. Mandeville and other cities in the New Orleans area, like Houma, also provide financial support for those who have suffered substantial flood damage and, as a result, are required to elevate their homes (see Solutions in Action box).
Solutions in Action

Elevated home in Houma LA -- Photo courtesy of FEMA

Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC)
coverage is part of the standard flood insurance policy for residents of Houma, Louisiana. Through ICC coverage, a homeowner can qualify to receive up to $30,000 in addition to their regular flood insurance claim to help bring their home into compliance with building codes.

Many of the homes in Houma that were not elevated suffered substantial damage during Hurricane Rita in 2005. As a result, many residents with flood insurance depended on ICC coverage to enhance the disaster resistance of their home through elevation and other mitigation methods. [4]

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[1] The SBCCI was a regional code development organizations that joined with two other code development organizations to form the International Code Council (ICC) in 1994. The ICC now develops and maintains standard building codes that are used across the United States.
[2] The Benefits of Modern Wind Resistant Building Codes on Hurricane Claim Frequency. [PDF] 2004. Tampa, FL: Institute for Business & Home Safety.
[3] Interview with Ann Roberson, Manager, SC Safe Home Program. November 5, 2009.
[4] FEMA Mitigation Best Practices Portfolio website