Hurricanes and Mega-storms in the Northeast: Is it time to take a new look at the building codes?

Hurricane Sandy was the ninth such devastating storm to hit the Northeast in the last five years, and it raises the question “Will the impacts of climate change only make such storms worse.”

That region has had hurricanes and Halloween snowstorms.  So the questions must be raised–Are these coincidence or is climate disruption affecting this region and other parts of the country? And what do government, the insurance industry and private sector developers have to do to protect against future devastation?Sea Girt NJ During Hurricane Sandy

More than a decade ago in the wake of destruction of Hurricane Andrew, Southeastern elected officials, state, county and municipal engineers,  building department officials and the insurance industry finally bit the bullet and imposed stringent building requirements to thwart the impact of future storms.  The Florida Building Department and Miami-Dade County launched stringent building codes to ensure new construction could survive the high winds bred by hurricanes and tropical storms.  Other states and their counties and municipalities throughout the region began adopting the provisions of those codes as well. The result has been a significant reduction in damage in high wind situations.The question seems obvious—must we do the same in the Northeast if we are to be spared future devastation brought by storms that are the result of climate change?

Should we be seeing the same kind of stringent wind uplift requirements in the Northeast that we have seen employed in the Southeastern states?  New Jersey and particularly its shoreline was the area hardest hit by Sandy. I visited that area last week, working my way in and around debris and devastation to get a firsthand look at how Englert standing seam metal roofs had fared throughout the storm.  We did pretty well. The huge waves of the storm were the primary culprits, demolishing  shoreline structures. But even inland–where the water did not reach–homes and businesses with blown roofs and sheared off  shingles dotted the landscape.

Metal roof holding up against Sandy's wrath. Sea Girt, NJ.Two days after my visit—in early November–a Nor’easter slammed the coastline, dumping a foot of snow in some places. Coincidence or climate change? Regardless,  the damage has been done. It’s probably time we started re-evaluating the old  building codes that have clearly failed to meet the wrath of these storms. It is time for building officials, the building community and the insurance industry to take a page from the South and begin to restructure the codes so we don’t have to face the same kind of massive devastation ever again. And even beyond the implementation of similar codes we should—in the case of metal roofing—consider requiring an American Society of Consulting Engineers (ASCE)  analysis to specify the most storm proof construction, a weather tightness warranty from the roofing material manufacturer with onsite installation inspections and the services of a certified installation contractor who will properly install the roof and supervision by an architect with experience in metal roof installation.

It’s time we started to think about these considerations—and act.

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