Despite the fact that the Southeast has experienced more billion-dollar disasters in the past 30 years than the rest of the country combined, a number of coastal states took no action to improve their building code systems since 2012, and a few have weaker systems in place, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).
In its 2015 “Rating the States” report, IBHS graded the 18 most hurricane-prone states located along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast on their building regulations. “Residential building codes are minimum life safety standards used in the design, construction and maintenance of homes,” the report stresses. “The function of building codes is to increase the safety and integrity of homes to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage from a wide range of hazards.”
The report assessed codes through a series of 47 questions concerning code adoption and enforcement; building official training and certification; and licensing requirements for construction trades. Each question was assigned a value reflecting its importance in promoting life safety and reducing property losses, with the sum total of the values adding up to 100 points. In general, then, a higher score on the report is better.
IBHS previously published a “Rating the States” report in 2012. Comparing the two editions, IBHS found that most states with strong buildings codes in 2012 remain committed to building safety. These states have updated their laws to the International Residential Code (IRC), endorsed by the International Code Council, or are in the process or doing so.
Here are the latest findings.
2015 score: 17
2012 score: 17
Areas to improve: Delaware does not have a statewide residential building code, except for a plumbing code. The state has no program to license building officials. General contractors and roofing contractors are not licensed.
2015 score: 26
2012 score: 18
Areas to improve: The state has no program to license building officials, and roofing contractors are not required to hold a license. Alabama bases its building codes on the 2009 IRC, but local jurisdictions are allowed to enforce different editions of residential building codes.
2015 score: 28
2012 score: 4
The state passed landmark legislation in 2014, creating its first state building code law. Prior to enactment of the new law, only seven counties were required to enforce the wind and flood requirements of the 2003 IRC.
Areas to improve: About 50% of the state’s population lives in unincorporated areas, which are not required to adopt the state’s new building code laws. Mississippi has not established a statewide program for licensing or training of building officials, and general contractors are the only trade required to obtain a license.
2015 score: 36
2012 score: 18
Areas to improve: The state is working off of the outdated 2006 IRC, and building codes are enforced by municipality. Texas has no statewide program to license building officials.
2015 score: 48
2012 score: 49
Areas to improve: The state has no program to license building officials. New Hampshire also does not require enforcement of its building codes at the local level.
2015 score: 55
2012 score: 64
Areas to improve: A major weakness in the state regulations (which are based on the 2009 IRC) allows municipalities with fewer than 4,000 people to choose not to have or enforce a building code.
2015 score: 56
2012 score: 60
Areas to improve: With the exception of New York City, the 2010 Residential Code of New York is enforced throughout the state, which is based on the 2006 IRC. The state does not require licensing of general, plumbing, mechanical, electrical or roofing contractors and does not require continuing education courses.
2015 score: 69
2012 score: 66
Areas to improve: The state should make adoption and enforcement of the statewide code by all jurisdictions mandatory. The state also removed the 2012 IRC requirement for automatic residential fire sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings.
2015 score: 78
2012 score: 73
The state improved its scores by enacting two separate laws that prevent local jurisdictions from weakening statewide building code provisions regarding residential fire sprinkler requirements and wind design and windborne debris requirements. Maryland is the only state in the report that adopted the 2009 IRC residential fire sprinkler requirements.
Areas to improve: Maryland does not license inspectors separately for residential construction, or require completion of code training classes prior to certification. It also does not have a system for the public to file complaints against inspectors.
2015 score: 79
2012 score: 87
Areas to improve: The state is still enforcing the 2009 edition of the IRC, without provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers. Massachusetts also passed legislation—related to wind speed and exposure categories—that weakens wind provisions in the IRC. The state also lacks requirements for code-specific training classes for building officials, and continuing education training classes for residential code recertification.
2015 score: 82
2012 score: 73
Areas to improve: The state adopted the 2012 IRC, but without the provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers. Louisiana also approved wind speed maps without following high-wind design requirements. Electrical, mechanical and roofing contractors are not required to take continuing education classes.
2015 score: 84
2012 score: 81
Areas to improve: The state adopted an amended version of the 2009 IRC and renamed it the 2012 North Carolina State Building Code, which does not include provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers. Future adoption of the IRC is also in doubt, as state laws allow for the adoption of model codes every six years, which means North Carolina won’t update codes until 2018, and those would be based on a nine-year-old model.
The state’s building code council also approved weakening of the wall-bracing provisions in coastal hurricane-prone regions, by allowing lower wind speed bracing requirements to be used in higher wind regions than what’s intended in the model code. The council also eliminated permanent anchors installed around glazed openings (windows).
Except for electric contractors, trades are not required to complete continuing education classes to renew licenses and there are no licensing requirements for roofing contractors.
2015 score: 87
2012 score: 78
Areas to improve: The state adopted the 2012 edition of the IRC, without provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers. Rhode Island also allows design of partially enclosed buildings, which makes a structure more secure during a storm, but also increases the likelihood that wind and water can enter a home.
Except for electrical contractors, trade professions are not required to complete continuing education to renew licenses.
2015 score: 88
2012 score: 81
Areas to improve: The state just adopted the 2009 IRC last year, without provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers, with possible adoption of the 2012 IRC this fall. Although Connecticut requires licensing for all construction trades, only electrical and plumbing contractors are required to take continuing education to maintain their licenses.
2015 score: 89
2012 score: 93
Areas to improve: The state is still enforcing 2009 IRC building codes and plans to bypass the 2012 edition, but will possibly adopt 2015 codes without provisions for automatic residential fire sprinklers. The state requires registration for homebuilders, however an exam is not required for obtaining a license and there is no continuing education requirement for renewal. Registered roofing contractors also are not required to take an exam or complete continuing education.
2015 score: 92
2012 score: 84
Areas to improve: The state’s Building Code Council removed requirements for automatic residential fire sprinklers. The state does not mandate continuing education for renewal of licenses in any category
2015 score: 94
2012 score: 95
Areas to improve: The state does not require continuing education for building officials specific to the residential code to maintain certification. Automatic residential fire sprinklers continue to be non-mandatory.
2015 score: 95
2012 score: 95
The state earned the highest score in the 2015 report card, due to its code adoption and enforcement program. Virginia encourages residential sprinklers by providing incentives, such as reduced fire access road requirements and increased fire hydrant spacing to offset costs when residential dwellings are equipped with automatic fire sprinklers.
Areas to improve: General contractors and roofing contractors are not required to complete continuing education to renew licenses. The state also allows the use of the 2009 Virginia Uniform Statewide Construction Code (instead of the 2012 version) until July 15.