With hurricane season underway and a major revision of the Florida Building Code on the horizon, the Door and Hardware Institute hosted a webinar on Wednesday to remind members of the fenestration industry about the importance of these coastal construction regulations.

hurricane_1-275x200Jim Bell, the windstorm coordinator for ASSA ABLOY, said it’s not easy to decipher all the state and local building requirements. “It’s confusing even if you’ve worked in it a long time,” he said during the “Hurricane Code 101” webinar. “It’s an ever-changing code.”

Bell began with an overview of testing requirements for door openings and a graphic illustration of why a properly tested door assembly can help a building survive destructive winds.

“It’s important that everything used has a test to back it up — a test report or a certification,” he said.

Bell said code requirements now test for design pressure, not resistance to wind speed. Design pressure is the force applied to a unit area of the surface of a building or component. It’s calculated from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, Vol.  7, and it’s expressed in positive and negative pressures in pounds per square foot.

To illustrate the destructive power of design pressure and the safety importance of door hardware, Bell presented a dramatic video that showed two identical-looking houses subjected to 86-mph winds at a testing facility. One building had an inswing door and wasn’t constructed to meet impact codes. The wind quickly blew the door open, and within seconds the house disintegrated because of the huge pressure increase inside the structure.

Bell said that’s why hardware is critical for protecting life and property during a hurricane.

“The door itself is rarely the cause of failure,” he said. “Where we see failure is at the door-hardware connection,” with 99 percent of failures coming at the latch point. “Without the hardware, the door is just a tripping hazard.”

Next, Bell went through some specifics of state and local codes.

The influential Florida Building Code 5th Edition (2014) takes effect June 30.  “Every opening in Florida has to meet the hurricane code,” Bell said. “Even if you build a dog house, it has to meet the hurricane code.”

One big change in Florida removes ANSI A250.13 – Testing and Rating of Severe Windstorm Resistant Components for Swinging Door Assemblies.

Dade and Broward counties, which are in the high-velocity hurricane zone, require TAS 201, 202 and 203 testing and impact testing on all doors. The rest of the state requires ASTM E330 (pressure testing), 1886 (cycle testing) and 1996 (impact testing).

Most locations outside of Florida follow the International Building Code.

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) has designated catastrophe areas along the Gulf coast. There is a 130-mph wind zone, a 120-mph wind zone and a 110-mph wind zone. The 130-mph and 120-mph zones require impact testing; the 110-mph zone only needs pressure testing.

Georgia’s building code now has an appendix adding specific language for hurricane codes as well as for tornadoes. Each county would have to adopt the appendix before it would apply in that jurisdiction, and Bell said only a few have done so. The testing is based on ASTM E330, 1886 and 1996 requirements.

North Carolina is one state with codes that Bell thinks could be stronger. He says the state declared that only structures within 1,500 feet of the shore – the 140-mph wind zone — need impact-tested products. He says that meets the basic requirements of the International Building Code, which leaves it up to the individual states to determine where impact zones are located, but he thinks North Carolina should extend it farther inland.

“I told them ‘do you know what windborne debris is?’ ” he said. “There is no windborne debris coming off the ocean. Probably within the first five miles (of the shore) there is a lot of impact debris. It only takes a 67-mph wind to pick up a 3/4-inch ball bearing and make it airborne.”