Better building inspections urged over tougher codes

October 04, 1992|By James M. Woodard | James M. Woodard,Copley News Service

Are building codes strict enough to make new homes and other structures effectively resistant to damage from devastating storms and earthquakes?

That question has been asked with increasing frequency since Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki swept their paths of destruction across portions of the United States. Those natural disasters revealed gaping inadequacies in current building codes and enforcement methods, according to some reports.

This has fueled worries about potential devastation caused by other forms of natural fury at points throughout the country.

Most local codes are tied to the Uniform Building Codes used by many cities and counties. The codes are designed to produce new buildings that are reasonably resistant to major storm damage. They have been substantially updated and strengthened several times during the past two decades.

Each change in code editions has put more muscle into structures, making them more capable of resisting potential ravages of tremors or storms.

Minor changes in the code are made each year during the annual Code Development Conference, held by the International Conference of Building Officials. Each participating jurisdiction has a vote in establishing or revising elements in the code.

The increased concern about codes may be unwarranted. Some of the reports about code inadequacies in the wake of Andrew and Iniki may be blown out of proportion. Some building experts now say, after studying the damaged structures, that new building codes are not needed as much as more diligent inspection and enforcement practices.

Those infamous "acts of God" did indeed have a tremendous impact on those real estate markets. Homes were blown out of existence. Many buildings were badly damaged. Property values those regions, and all high-risk areas, could be adversely affected.

However, overhauling building codes to protect new structures from future storms may not be the answer. Here is the candid comment of Ken Ford, program manager for civil engineering for the National Association of Home Builders:

"Existing building codes are, for the most part, very adequate. Buildings in the path of a 'Category 4' hurricane, with sustained winds over 135 miles per hour, are going to suffer damage regardless of codes. However, better inspections and enforcement methods are needed."

Mr. Ford expressed that view after studying many properties in devastated areas south of Miami soon after Andrew swept through the region.

"In a few cases, minor modifications could effectively improve the capability of future buildings to withstand the giant winds," he said. "For example, on roofs the use of six nails instead of four in each shingle will help."

Construction-defect lawsuits are being filed against builders and developers in Dade County, Fla., because of the damage done by Hurricane Andrew. And that's concerning

builders, developers and government leaders throughout the country, feeding the cry for more stringent building codes.

Since California is vulnerable to earthquakes, there is special concern in that state. But the increasing number of calls to city and county building department offices in California expressing concern about building codes and practices is consistent with the national trend.

*

Q. Are land prices in the Midwest farm belt still increasing?

A. Yes, but prices are leveling off compared to a few years ago. The average value of cropland in Iowa, for example, is up about 47 percent over values in the fall of 1986. The last three years show an increase of 6 percent. And during the past six months, there was a 1.1 percent increase in values.

These figures were revealed in a recent survey conducted by the Iowa Farm and Land Chapter of the Realtors Land Institute.

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