Building code shows O.C. takes weather seriously

September 13, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY -- When completed, the two-story, single-family home under construction on Blue Heron Court -- on the city's bay side -- will be able to withstand 90-mph winds.

The still-visible interior of the upscale, brick house shows what Mike Richardson, the city's chief building official, and other experts call a "continuous line of connection."

Metal timber connectors reinforce studs to the foundation, second floor and rafters. In any openings for windows or doors, connectors have been used to reinforce the susceptible area.

"In any building, the weakest points are the connection points," Mr. Richardson said. "These connectors tie points together substantially."

In Ocean City, the Maryland town most vulnerable to the force of hurricanes, the business of building homes and other dwellings to withstand heavy winds is taken seriously, Mr. Richardson and other building officials said.

"I'd be comfortable staying in some of the buildings of Ocean City under [hurricane] conditions," Mr. Richardson said. "I do not live in substantial fear for Ocean City."

Following the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Andrew in Dade County, Fla., and by Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii, beach-goers may wonder how Ocean City with its miles of shoreline condos and beach houses would fare under hurricane conditions.

"Ocean City is well protected," said Robert Purcell, a builder and vice president of the Eastern Shore Builders Association. "They've done a lot of work with the building codes in Ocean City to protect property."

Ocean City began developing its code in the 1970s and strengthened wind-resistant requirements in the 1980s. Most dwellings in the city were built during that time.

Mr. Purcell said older buildings are a concern. During storms, the debris from those dwellings can cause damage elsewhere.

But he noted that as older buildings are renovated or expanded, they are required to upgrade to city code.

"There's always someone piddling with some building," he said.

Inland, neither Worcester County nor Sussex County, Del., has similar building codes in place for single-family homes.

Both Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach, Del., have codes that call for dwellings to endure winds of 90 mph. In contrast, Dade County's code calls for buildings to withstand winds of 120 mph.

Mr. Richardson said Dade County's code would require heavier hurricane straps and connectors. Also, the spacing between nails -- to hang sheathing -- vertically along a stud would be decreased, he said.

To have buildings withstand anything above 120 mph, Mr. Richardson said, would require a special design by an architect or an engineer -- something that is cost-prohibitive.

Ocean City, though, isn't likely to endure winds like Southern Florida's. The city's wind-resistant code is based on wind speeds for this area during coastal storm cycles.

Building-code shortcuts have been blamed for some of the widespread damage in Dade County, which has one of the most stringent codes in the nation.

"If you don't put someone out to police your code, it's ineffective," Mr. Richardson said.

He said single-family homes and other buildings are inspected during various stages of construction to ensure that strappings and other reinforcement measures are being used.

Evidence of Ocean City's stringent building code, Mr. Richardson said, can be seen in the January northeaster that ravaged the coastline.

"Ocean City received no structural damage," said Mr. Richardson.

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