“Unfortunately, this whole process has made me very skeptical. The thrust of their impact is to make construction cheaper so they can make more money out of it,’’ he said. “Unless we get a hurricane in Tallahassee, I don’t think it’s ever going to change.’’
Alvarez, the Miami building consultant and former deputy director of Florida International University’s hurricane research center, called builders’ bottom-line concerns shortsighted, arguing that beefier construction pays for itself in lower property losses when storms inevitably come.
“This whole argument that you can’t build stronger because it is too expensive is really not an issue,’’ Alvarez said.
As one small example, he pointed to a cheap upgrade called the “ring shank” nail, a hybrid of nail and screw. As an FIU researcher, Alvarez led a team that found that simply shifting from 8D common to 8D ring shank nails more than doubled the holding power of plywood roof sheathing — at about $15 more for a typical house.
Miami-Dade and Broward made ring shanks a requirement in 2005. But they didn’t make it into the latest statewide code, though more roofers outside South Florida have begun using them as a suggested option.
Despite the concerns, there is general consensus that Florida’s code has improved the safety of housing and public buildings since Andrew. New homes are stronger. To a lesser degree, so are many older homes that have been retrofitted, renovated or re-roofed.
In a survey of coastal states by the Institute for Business and Home Safety earlier this year, Florida’s hurricane codes and building inspections scored the highest marks.
“Florida has been the leader,’’ Reinhold said. “From a structural standpoint, it’s been a huge win wherever it’s in place.’’
The code has addressed major flaws exposed by Andrew and the storms that followed. In hurricane zones, there is more concrete and steel to anchor tie-beams that cracked and collapsed. Nails have replaced roof staples, which failed widely in Andrew but remain in common use in other Gulf Coast states. After roof tiles failed and air-conditioners busted loose during the string of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, the building commission mandated stronger connections for both.
Manufacturers, resistant in the immediate aftermath of Andrew, also have dramatically upgraded products. Window standards established by Miami-Dade — surviving a strike from a nine-pound two-by-four fired at 34 mph — spawned an impact glass industry. Asphalt shingles, which once broke lose at 60 mph, now come rated to hold off winds as high as 150 mph.
Most experts agree the rules that Miami-Dade adopted two years after Andrew and has tweaked in the 20 years since remain the state’s gold standard. The rules, which Broward largely follows, are preserved in a special section of the statewide code designated as the state’s “high velocity wind zone.’’
Charles Danger, who oversees Miami-Dade’s permitting and environmental departments, said the county has had to fight pressure from “everybody and their brother’’ in the building industry to ease requirements.
Tom Lampert, Homestead’s building official, said oversight also sets Miami-Dade apart. The county is the only one in the state with structural engineers routinely checking and certifying building plans, he said.