The 2021 hurricane season began this past Tuesday on June 1st. Normally, you might stock up on generators, flashlights, canned goods and bottled water. But one thing you’ll need that you probably didn’t know about? Homes built using the Florida Building Code. In other words, any home built in 2002 or later.
People who move to South Florida are always torn between the sunny weather and hurricanes. In 2017, it seemed like all of Miami-Dade and Broward counties had tried to high tail it up North. People were so scared of the devastation that Irma left in its wake after it made landfall in Puerto Rico, that South Floridians were stocking up on gas, water, and emergency supplies. And for those that couldn’t get enough fuel for the slow, grueling drive up North—they simply set out on foot once their gas tanks were empty.
I know this because I was one of those people on the highway. I saw all of those parked, empty cars sitting on the grassy shoulder of the road. While Miami has incredible luck when it comes to escaping the full wrath of hurricanes (knock on wood), we’ve been hit pretty hard in the past. It’s fundamentally affected our housing.
Even if you didn’t live through it, everyone remembers hurricane Andrew. In 1992, it destroyed and damaged about 12.5% of Miami-Dade housing.
Because of this, the Florida Building Commission introduced the Florida Building Code in 2002. This is an updated building code that’s amended every three years. It was created by taking bits and pieces from several building codes. This includes the International Building Code (compiled by the International Code Council or ICC) and other state building codes.
In 2017, the Florida legislature voted to step away from basing its code on ICC releases. Instead, the state is now free to pick and choose whatever code revisions it likes, whenever it likes, without changes being triggered by ICC code changes.
This initiative was championed by the Florida Home Builders Association. They received plenty of backlash for their stance at the time. This is because by picking and choosing the building codes they’d like to work with, builders are keeping building codes inconsistent statewide. That means that when an emergency strikes, your home might not be as well protected as you might like. Still, since the introduction of the Florida Building Code in 2002, home building has become much more efficient.
Hurricane Andrew caused a statewide insurance crisis. It forced the state of Florida to take a hard look at its building codes. The problem wasn’t that building codes were lax. In fact, the South Florida Building Code was seen as the most comprehensive building code in the country. It was the only building code to date that addressed wind loading and resistance to hurricane force winds. The issue, it turns out, wasn’t the code, but its enforcement.
Not surprisingly, building codes are much more relaxed in northern Florida. Until hurricane Michael hit Panama City in 2018, hurricane season didn’t even register for North Floridians. The two halves of the state experienced hurricanes very differently despite Florida being located at sea level and being a peninsula.
However, now with climate change in full swing, we have stronger hurricane seasons. Every storm has consistently climbed higher and higher along the Eastern seaboard or within the Gulf of Mexico, and it has seriously tested the fabric of Southern US housing.
Even though I pointed the finger at North Florida, I already mentioned how South Florida has suffered from poor building code enforcement too. When Andrew hit Homestead in 1992, it opened the city’s eyes to the consequences of bad building. Roofs that had been stapled instead of nailed flew off houses. Low grade plywood that had been used in construction had about as much protective power as a blade of grass. Houses were shaken to their very foundation, to the dismay of their owners. The Country Walk neighborhood in Homestead was especially devastated.
Partially, the fault lay at the feet of poorly enforced building codes. Yet the other part of the problem is that city growth in South Florida outpaces building capacity three to one. Many of the poorly built homes in Homestead were rushed. They were built in the ‘70s and ‘80s during a time when construction in Miami was at an all-time high.
Fort Lauderdale has the same problem. As an up and coming city that continues to grow year over year, Fort Lauderdale’s piping infrastructure has issues keeping up with the rate of population growth. It buckles under this pressure constantly. It’s one of the reasons that city maintenance has a hard time keeping up—people just keep moving there.
In the end, what mostly defines how sound a structure is depends on how well the Florida Building Code was enforced. But there is one other key factor. A study conducted by the University of Florida revealed that the year a structure was built was one of the most influential factors when it came to how well homes in Panama City were able to withstand hurricane Michael.
In Palm Bay county, where Panama City is located, about 30% of the homes were built in 2002 or after. Homes built pre-2002 Florida Building Code had, on average, at least four times the amount of roof sheathing and structure damage than homes built up to code.
Likewise, homes built pre-2002 were also twice as likely to have wall cladding damage. Homes built post-Florida Building Code were three times as likely to have zero damage when compared to pre-2002 homes.
Hurricane Michael made it clear that not only the year, but the building material and fenestration of a home all impacted the possibility of wind and water damage. Fenestration refers to the placement and design of windows in a home, which matters a lot when you’re dealing with winds above 140 mph. Upgrades in glazing systems and windows have provided greater wind and water resistance, ensuring that windows reinforce a structure rather than weakening it.
When It came to building materials, homes built from brick and vinyl suffered the most damage, regardless of building code.
Keep in mind that 30% of the homes built in Panama City were built up to Florida Building Code. Meanwhile, in Miami-Dade and Broward counties combined, only 17.5% of homes were built in 2002 or after.
That means you've got limited options if you’re shopping for homes. My team and I have found close to 6,000 listings for homes up to Florida Building Code in Miami-Dade, and another 1,700 home listings in Broward. So if you’re shopping for a home this summer, know that the year a structure was built is important! Although you can (and should) install shutters to get a better insurance quote, the year a home was built will most likely determine how well it can withstand a hurricane, which directly impacts you and your family’s safety.