Why Do Storms Destroy Some Homes and Not Others?


Strong storms have been a big influence on the speed of changes to the Florida building code – and the state didn’t even have a building code until 1974.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida has always had hurricanes, just like it’s always had beaches and palm trees and a summer sun all year round. After Hurricane Ian hit the state, some buildings fared better than others, and some were just destroyed by pounding winds, rain, and flooding.

Older homes are simply built differently than newer ones. Strong storms have been a big influence on how quickly changes to state building code are made. Florida didn’t even have a building code until 1974, when the legislature adopted a minimum building code.

It wasn’t until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida as a Category 5 storm and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, damaging others along the way, that the state updated what was required to build a home, and other structures.

According to Florida Housing Finance Corporation documents, Hurricane Andrew “revealed the deficiencies of the state’s existing building code compliance and enforcement processes.” When the storm “broke all records for insurance losses” and caused “Florida’s worst insurance crisis in history,” state lawmakers ordered a Florida Building Code Study Commission to review the system and recommend changes to modernize it.

That commission began in 1996. The FHFC says they found “a complex and confusing patchwork system of codes and regulations, developed, amended, administered and enforced differently by more than 400 local jurisdictions and state agencies with building code responsibilities.”

In other words, nothing that was uniform. In 1998, the Florida Legislature adopted recommendations from the study commission, creating a single minimum standard building code. As of 2002, the FBC, which is “developed and maintained by the Florida Building Commission” takes precedence over any local building codes across Florida.

Every three years, Florida’s building code is updated, though at times it can take up to six years for changes to be adopted, according to reports by WFLA Meteorologist Leigh Spann. Changes made in 2021 added new methods for keeping water out of homes, including a sealed roof deck required for using shingles.

However, older buildings aren’t always updated to meet new building codes.

Florida, as a state, does not require homes to be modified or retrofitted to comply with new version of building safety code, only that new structures or add-ons comply with new rules. That’s why in some areas, where communities expand over time, some homes blow away and others stand through strong storms.

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