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Florida legislature removes Panhandle building code exemption

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Critics worry region’s building market could suffer

Florida lawmakers this month voted to beef up windborne-debris regulations for the Panhandle, upping the codes for the region to equal that of the rest of the state.

The Jan. 20 legislative decision eliminated a 2000 building code exemption for the Panhandle according to a Jan. 20 article in the Tallahassee Democrat. All new homes in the region are now required to feature sufficient protective window elements such as shutters or storm glazing that will withstand storms up to 120 miles per hour.

The toughened codes “will eventually have an effect on glass companies, but not until everyone understands the new codes and they are enforced,” says Max Perilstein, vice president marketing for Arch Aluminum & Glass Co. in Tamarac, Fla. “It will increase the demand for laminated and impact material as a whole.”

The Panhandle’s windborne-debris codes have been subject of a long-standing debate mainly between insurers and home builders, says Gordon Goodin, Santa Rosa County commissioner.

“The changes to the code were inevitable. … As long as the perception exists that the old code was inadequate, the debate could never end,” Goodin says.

In August 2006, the Florida Building Commission instituted new windborne-debris codes for portions of the Panhandle based on an in-depth study by Applied Research Associates of Albuquerque in conjunction with Florida State University, Tallahassee. This month’s legislative action ups the code requirements for the entire Panhandle.

Edie Ousley, public affairs director for the Florida Home Builders Association in Tallahassee, says high property insurance rates prompted the legislative action to remove the exemption.

“There was a fair amount of politics behind the legislation,” Ousley says. “[The legislature] was finding ways to make changes to the insurance to help reduce property insurance rates.”

Homeowners and lawmakers will have to wait and see if insurance premiums actually will decrease in response to the code change, Ousley says. 

The larger concern from the home builders is that the higher price of a home—an estimated increase of $2,500 to $3,000—will lead to a downturn in the area’s homebuilding market, Ousley says.

Goodin agreed. “This type of measure may appease insurance companies and others in Florida, but combined with other rising costs of construction, and rising property taxes, there is always the risk that we ‘kill’ the building industry by creating too much additional overhead to meet compliance,” he says.

Perilstein says he doubts the changes will have an adverse effect on the market. Rather, he says “impact materials are good for the public and the addition of those codes makes sense.”

 

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