It’s a random concrete-block home under construction in a humble Miami neighborhood, but it captures an important legacy of Hurricane Andrew:
They don’t build them like they used to. And thank goodness for that.
In the two decades since Andrew splintered subdivisions from West Kendall to Homestead, beefed-up building codes have raised the odds homes will remain intact after the next major hurricane, but also raised their cost.
The changes go beyond impact windows and shutters. From roof decking to re-bar, the bones of the little box going up in Northwest Miami are thicker, stronger and “far superior” to flimsy homes that folded during Andrew, said Flavio Gomez, director of Miami-Dade County’s building department.
“I’d feel safe here in a hurricane,’’ Gomez said during a roofing inspection last week.
But for all the improvement, some engineers and disaster experts worry that builders and buyers now place too much faith in Florida’s vaunted hurricane codes. They also question a building code rollback outside of South Florida quietly approved last year.
“Built to code,” they stress, does not mean hurricane-proof — not even in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, which maintain the nation’s strongest wind standards.
“The building code is the minimum requirement. You have no choice but to meet that by law but it doesn’t mean it’s the best or strongest design,” said Ricardo Alvarez, a Miami-based expert on structural vulnerabilities. “We should be building code-plus.’’
Yet the Florida Building Commission — a 26-member board of building industry representatives, architects, engineers and code officials appointed by the governor — signed off last year on a revised statewide building code that reduces wind standards for inland areas and the northern half of the state.
State’s southern tip
at higher risk
The latest version of the statewide code, which is updated every five years and took effect in March, shifts the state’s “wind-borne debris region” where shutters or impact windows are required. It adds a wide belt across inland South Florida, reflecting higher risks, but drops most of the Panhandle, the Big Bend region and the Jacksonville coast, which just weathered Tropical Storm Beryl.
The new code also recalculates “wind loads,” a critical measure of the wind pressure buildings are supposed to withstand, dropping them an average of 20 percent across much of the state. In inland Jacksonville, the pressure ratings fell 35 percent.
They rose slightly in only one place: coastal Miami-Dade and Broward.
Jack Glenn, director of technical services for the Florida Home Builders Association, defended the changes, saying they reflect standards set by the American Society of Civil Engineers based on an array of new research, product testing and risk modeling.
“Pressures have been lowered but we have done it because the science says we should,’’ said Glenn, who serves on the building commission’s hurricane research advisory council.
The data, Glenn said, suggest only the southern tip of the state is at high risk of a strike from another storm like Andrew, a 165 mph wrecking ball that killed dozens and racked up $25 billion in damage when it hit South Miami-Dade on Aug. 24, 1992. The highest wind ever recorded in Jacksonville, he said, was 80mph.