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Newer Building Codes Stood up to Hurricane Ian

School with debris

It’s been a week since Hurricane Ian invaded the western Florida coastline and left behind terrible loss of life and destruction of property in its wake. Just north of Fort Myers is Punta Gorda, where the storm remained for quite some time with torrential rain and wind gusts well over 100 miles per hour. But when the skies cleared and damage was surveyed, some residents were surprised at how many structures weathered the storm quite well. The Washington Post featured an article about this in their newspaper and online.

After the storm

Typical storm damage was seen in the form of flooded streets, fallen trees, and scattered debris, but many homes and buildings suffered minimal or no visible disturbance. The reason is attributed to newer building codes. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992 with dozens of deaths and an estimated $26 billion in damage. Statewide building codes were updated and included some storm-specific requirements that were the strictest in the U.S. at that time.

Charley came knocking

Hurricane Charley swept through Punta Gorda in 2004 and destroyed many older buildings and homes. Punta Gorda resident and owner of a local construction and remodeling business, Joe Schortz, likened Charley to a spring-cleaning event. He said, “Charley destroyed a lot of the older homes with the winds.” Replacement structures featured updated building codes, but in 2007 even more stringent codes were enacted. Schortz said that buildings erected since 2007 appear to have survived Ian with little or no damage.

Charlotte High School, shown above, was rebuilt after Charley and appears to have suffered barely any structural damage from Ian. The wind-blown plaque on the ground pays tribute to the post-Charley rebuild: “This school has risen from the rubble to reawaken as the magnificent, enduring structure you see today. Never again will the winds be feared, never again.”

Unfortunately, the city didn’t completely evade the wrath of Hurricane Ian. Power and water outages were felt throughout much of Punta Gorda, and several structures that survived Charley did receive significant damage.

Building an envelope

Structures that comply with modern building codes have tremendous advantages over their older counterparts when facing severe weather conditions. For example, “structural load continuity” requirements state the roof must be well connected to the walls, and the walls well connected to the foundation of the building. When older structures present even a small failure in this “building envelope,” such as a broken window or door, wind pressure is allowed to enter. In finding a place to escape, the pressure will often forcefully blow a hole in another area of the building and expose it to further destruction.

Click here to read the whole story at The Washington Post. Photo above courtesy of Bradley Brooks/Reuters.

October 5, 2022

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