A June 6 USGNN.com™ story caught my eye since it discusses something that’s almost as much of a reach as ASHRAE proposing to limit glass in buildings. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) is asking Congress to reauthorize the “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.” The primary focus is to update building practices to make structures more resistant to windstorms. Living in Tornado Alley, I can’t possibly find a reason to oppose this.
On the surface, the IBHS proposal makes sense. New construction, no brainer; that’s easily done.
Can anyone tell me, though, how existing buildings catch up? I’ll bet a lot of owners are asking how they can upgrade their buildings. I live in Kansas City, and short of tearing the house down to the foundation and starting over, I don’t know if my two-story castle can be upgraded, seeing as it was built long before all of these latest episodes occurred.
An article in the local paper showcased storm shelters that can be anchored to a floor slab in the garage to withstand most tornadoes. I showed my wife Vicki the article, and the associated costs (starting at $5,000). She was willing to take her chances going in the basement rather than shelling out the bucks. Maybe I’ll buy my kids storm shelters for Christmas.
Now, we’re not just talking about homes, but all other building types, as well: stores, restaurants, the Quickie Mart down the street, etc. The debate goes even deeper for school protection. But, how far back in the building inventory would we have to go to ensure adequate wind protection? Think of it this way: My Prius with its 40+ mpg isn’t doing a whole lot to drop the national gas consumption if the old guzzlers keep chugging. Granted, cars don’t have the life expectancy of buildings, but that’s the point. How long will we have to carry on the books those old buildings that don’t get updated for newer wind, thermal, seismic or other codes?
On the seismic front, I know California takes an active role in requiring upgrades as part of building refurbishments. I don’t know if it was state or local codes, but one project I was involved in upgraded the exterior skin to correct water penetration and mold issues. When the project managers went to the city for remodeling permits, the code required seismic upgrades. So, to correct for the mold, the owner also had to pay to have the seismic upgrades.
Or consider, Orlando saw four hurricanes in 2005, one of which was the massive Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast. Many of the structures built with the newer codes came through those four storms quite well. The older ones without the upgrades, not so good. It made the case for the newer codes working, but still begged the question, what about the old stuff?
More recently, the monster tornado in Oklahoma generated what must be a record: 2 ½ miles wide and packing 295 mph winds. I thought the only speedometers that went that high came with wings and jet engines. To put that in a perspective that might mean more to our industry, that wind speed equates to a 222.78 psf wind load. I don’t know of many buildings of any type that can resist that loading, at least none above ground – hence the destruction in Moore, Okla.
We’ve dug a deep hole. None of the existing stock is going to be very easy to upgrade for thermal, seismic, or whatever other new standard you want to move to or revise. In the meantime, what about the IBHS guys? Obviously, they’re trying to lower mortality and property damage, and control costs. Is their only recourse to raise premiums?
Ah, the age-old battle: do I want to pay more for insurance which spreads costs out over time, or pay for a large, one-time charge for upgrades? What’s the risk? Do I need the government telling me that, or am I smart enough to protect myself from me?
We can only go so far in the degree of protection. We can’t make 110-story buildings or five-story Pentagons plane-proof. It’s unlikely we can make curtainwalls atomic bomb-proof. We do the best we can, learn anything we can, try to level out the risk, and go on. Hopefully it will be enough, until the next time some crazy picks up a gun or Mother Nature has her way.
Maybe we ought to build buildings to be as disposable as cars. At least that way it would be cheaper to upgrade to all the latest/greatest gadgets and whiz-bangers. No, wait, that won’t work either; building them cheap doesn’t solve anything in the short term. So where’s the middle ground we can all afford and live with?