TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Thirty years ago, a Category 5 hurricane named Andrew slammed into southeast Florida. For many long-time Floridians, that’s how they mark time: “before Andrew” and “after Andrew.”
Nowhere is the distinction more apparent than with building codes. Changes to the state’s building codes came quickly after that storm and continue to improve to keep homes safe from the hurricanes we know will come in the future.
“A lot of the improvements in the structural side of homes after Andrew came in basically what we call the continuous load path,” explained Dr. Ian Giammanco with the Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety. “Essentially tying the roof to the walls and the walls all the way to the foundation.”
The connection works to keep the roof on even in the strongest of winds.
“The load path is one of the big things that came from the destruction in the area where we thought we had good building codes before Andrew. Andrew really showed where we had some things lacking,” Giammanco said.
The Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety now considers Florida’s building codes to be the model for the nation.
Tampa contractor Tim Jones agrees. He has seen building code improvements in the years since Andrew, and he knows he could get a contract license in any state based on having the qualifications to build in Florida.
Jones is currently renovating his own older home and retrofitting it to full Florida building code. If an older home renovation exceeds 50% of what the structure is worth, the home must be brought up to current code, and the most important aspect is the load path.
“We attach this post to that beam up to the trusses,” Jones said as he pointed to the top of his home. “It’s actually attached down here at the bottom, and there’s bolts that go down inside the concrete that go down about three feet,” he said as he pointed to the base of the house.
The Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety has a wind lab where researchers can put an entire house inside a warehouse. They blow wind at the house to test different aspects and how they hold up to conditions. By their calculations, a home built to Florida code should withstand wind from most hurricanes -meaning the house would remain standing.
Now, they focus on lessening the impact by finding ways to keep shingles on the home and better seals around windows and doors. In fact, Florida’s code was changed in 2021 to include a sealed roof deck under the shingles. This seal will keep even more water out even if the shingles come off.
Building codes in Florida are changed on a three-year cycle, and it can take up to six years to adopt a change.
While these homes built to code will hold up to the wind, rising water remains the enemy.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do. You can elevate, or you can leave,” said Dr. Giammanco.
Jones said when it comes to flooding, “you can’t control the force.” The water pressure can either crush the home or take it off its foundation.
He has, however, seen a few counter-intuitive methods that may help.
“What they’ve done is put in new mechanisms that help with hydrostatic pressures, so that the walls, like on your home and your garage, allow water into the garage, so that it doesn’t actually crush the house,” Jones explained.
The house would need to be gutted afterwards, but the home might still be standing.
It all goes back to the phrase, “hide from the wind and run from the water.” Most people do not need to evacuate for high winds, but evacuation orders are given for those at risk of storm surge and other flooding areas.
Andrew continues to impact how we build our homes and how we prepare for storms each year.