Florida building officials and insurers face off over new Panhandle wind codes

August 29, 2006
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Aug. 22, the Florida Building Commission instituted windborne-debris building codes in the Panhandle that require shutters or storm glazing in areas predicted to sustain winds of 130 miles per hour during a hurricane.

While the codes call for wind protection slightly further inland than previous requirements, insurers and many state officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are still not strong enough.

“The commission should adopt a broader standard until the evidence for implementing the stronger building codes only in a more narrowly defined area is more convincing,” Keith Lessner, vice president of loss control for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said in an Aug. 22 statement. “Given the conflicting science regarding how broadly the code requirements should be extended and the likelihood of strong hurricanes in the Gulf, prudence dictates emphasizing caution.”

The FBC based its decision on an in-depth study by Applied Research Associates of Albuquerque in conjunction with Florida State University, Tallahassee, of windborne debris damage from Hurricanes Charley and Ivan, as reported in the July 12 edition of e-glass weekly.

The study performed a risk assessment of the Panhandle areas, along with a cost-benefit analysis of using protective measures, explains Richard Dixon, executive director of the FBC.

“ARA recommended as an interim measure that the windborne debris region be designated as areas where wind speeds are 130 miles per hour or greater, and the commission decided to adopt that recommendation,” Dixon says. “Previously, the criteria for windborne-debris protection requirements were based on judgment, not data. Now we have that data, and we should go with that science.”

Panhandle building officials support the FBC decision, says Gordon Goodin, Santa Rosa county commissioner.

“The codes implemented since the mid 90s have been adequate to protect properties,” Goodin says, adding that most wind damage occurred in older homes that did not meet code. “Moving the wind line further really bears no fruit.”

Opponents of the decision, however, say insurance costs could balloon in all parts of the state, even where tougher building codes exist, or worse, insurers could leave the state entirely.

In a statement to the Associated Press last week, Bush called the FBC’s plan “very shortsighted.”

“The net result is there are going to be fewer homes built,” Bush told the AP.

Max Perilstein, vice president of marketing for Arch Aluminum & Glass Co. of Tamarac, Fla., says he supports toughened codes for the Panhandle, because “the more stringent codes have benefited the end user. The buildings with hurricane impact material have come through the last several hurricanes in great shape."

Perilstein, however, says it’s too early to determine whether the code change will influence the price of storm glazing.