Volume 9, Issue 10 - November 2008

Will Texas Codes and
Their Enforcement,
Be Strengthened?

by Tara Taffera

There has been tremendous upscale building along the Texas Gulf Coast for several years, and those products have had to meet rigorous upgraded codes and standards. So, Hurricane Ike will be the first test to those new products. Should be interesting to see how that unfolds.”

This was a statement made by David Toney from Adams and Reese LLP in Houston, a law firm which represents several door and window manufacturers. His statement couldn’t ring more true. At press time, it hadn’t even been a month since Hurricane Ike bared down on Texas, and it will take months, if not years, to assess the damage. Many will be looking at how products fared, and if the codes in place did their job.

The Role of Codes and Enforcement Some say the codes in place are sufficient. “I don’t think we’ll see the codes get stronger,” says Mark Conde, Coastal Products manager for Simonton Windows. “We have international residential codes in place.”

Ben Gonzales, public information officer for the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), whose job it is to regulate the insurance industry, affirms that yes, Texas follows the 2006 International Residential Code and the International Building Code. He also points out that Texas has also made revisions to these codes that are specific to the area.

But although codes are in place, some, like Conde, say the codes aren’t always enforced, but that this may start to change as a result of Ike. Texas code officials may want to look at Florida as an example regarding code enforcement.

“Florida is, without a doubt, the most vigorous at enforcing codes in this country,” he says. Conde adds that the reason for that is fairly obvious due to Florida’s location on a peninsula.

“But the second state [in terms of code enforcement] is Texas, which has also done a good job—but factually, they don’t enforce the codes as well as Florida does,” Conde adds.

The reason for a possible change is due to the amount of hurricanes that have come through Texas in recent years.

“Insurance companies drive the enforcement of codes and I see them getting stronger in this area [Texas] as well,” Conde adds. “Having two hurricanes in Texas in one season will cause them to throw more resources at this issue.” In fact, a press release issued by the Insurance Information Institute predicts that Hurricane Ike will be the fourth costliest hurricane in U.S. history at $9.8 billion in claims predicted.

Freddie Cole, national sales manager for General Aluminum, based in Houston, agrees, saying he foresees changes in the Texas market, including Houston and the coastal areas.

“Whether Texas will change [in terms of codes and enforcement] is too soon to tell,” says Gonzalez. “We think we do a good job at enforcing the codes. I’m not sure how we would get stronger.”

He does add, however, that the amount of storms that have hit Texas in recent years “will cause everyone to take a hard look at how to minimize losses.” Along with regulation it is also the job of TDI to approve products for use in wind storm areas along the coast.

“TDI does a very good job at product approval,” says Cole. “TDI has inspectors—the problem is you only need inspectors if you have insurance on your house.”

But sometimes, it’s not about the codes or their enforcement, or lack thereof. It comes down to many factors such as when the building was constructed, materials used and a whole host of factors.

“You may have homes that were built years ago when the codes weren’t in place,” says Conde. “The building materials of 25 years ago are not as strong as those available today.”

Of course location plays a huge role as well, as it did in the case of homes located along the coastline in Galveston.

“In some areas it might not even be that the codes weren’t enforced, it’s just that there is only so much you can do,” says Conde. “There is no guarantee that any amount of protection will prevent damage. This storm was gargantuan—it was as big as the state of Texas.”

Dealing with Water Intrusion
Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations from homeowners whose houses do survive, concerning how the windows should perform in a hurricane. Some think the damage shouldn’t be bad as it was “only a category one or two.”

Cole knows a lot about this issue. Following a hurricane, many consumers call to complain about “window leakage.” To help educate the consumer, the company started an effort in 2004 to educate homeowners about this issue. He admits, though, that he’s not sure if it’s helped yet, as he is still getting calls following Ike.

According to Cole, homeowners have to understand the difference between a leak and water intrusion.

“Water is going to come into the house,” Cole says. “Then people say, ‘But, this is a hurricane window?’”

To assuage these fears from homeowners, the company gives information to its dealers and builders regarding intrusion including a white paper on this issue produced by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association.

Cole adds that it’s an uphill battle trying to educate the homeowner in cases like this.

“They think it’s the evil manufacturers taking advantage of the little guy,” he says, and makes some comparisons between Texas and Florida.

“In Texas less than two percent of dealers do installations so there is a lot of finger-pointing,” he says. “Florida has gotten away from that.”

Hopefully, if the finger pointing does start, the window industry won’t be the target.

“I don’t expect there will be a flood of warranty and other similar claims,” says Toney. “As we saw after Katrina and Rita, there were not a lot of direct claims versus window manufacturers and dealers. Practically, most owners will solely look to insurance and don’t have the energy or finances to go to war over warranty claims.”

IBHS “Fortifies” Homes in Texas
The Institute for Business and Home Safety’s chief engineer and senior vice president Dr. Tim Reinhold decided not to deploy its Post Disaster Investigation Team after spending two days conducting preliminary damage assessments in Galveston, Texas, Houston and the surrounding areas. The majority of damage was limited to roof coverings, rather than sheathing, and a widespread investigation was not warranted, according to the group’s website.

In the Bolivar Peninsula, IBHS designated 17 Fortified for safer living® homes in Gilchrist, Texas. All but three of the homes survived, and those three were damaged when neighboring houses became flying debris and literally pushed the Fortified homes off of their foundations, according to the IBHS.

According to the criteria, “You have to keep high wind out of your house, so it doesn’t blow the house up trying to get out. If hurricanes are a threat where you live, you can choose to protect the openings with laminated glass, approved screening or a shutter system that will withstand the onslaught of flying debris. If your area experiences tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, higher pressurerated windows and doors are required.”

Visit disastersafety.org to learn more about the efforts of IBHS, the Fortified criteria and reports and to view photos from Hurricane Ike.


DWM

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