Inconsistent building codes leave some states vulnerable to hurricane damage

Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety

2021 edition of Rating the States scores building codes along the hurricane coastline.

Richburg, S.C. – A strong building code is critical to reducing the damage and destruction caused by hurricanes each year. On the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) today released the 2021 edition of Rating the States, its signature report evaluating building codes and the administration of code provisions along the hurricane coastline from Texas to Maine.   

Now in its fourth edition, Rating the States is released every three years following the building code update cycle of the International Code Council (ICC). The report scores the 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states vulnerable to hurricanes based on a set of questions related to statewide building code adoption, administration and enforcement and contractor licensing requirements in the adopted building code. It also provides a roadmap each state can follow to improve residential building regulations and reduce the cycle of repeated losses resulting from hurricanes and other severe weather events.

“Building science has advanced significantly over the last decade, providing cost effective strategies to reduce the impact of Mother Nature. Modern building codes are core to addressing the known risks of high winds and heavy rain that invariably come with these systems,” says Dr. Anne Cope, chief engineer at IBHS. “Strong adopted and administered codes apply the latest science and engineering knowledge to protect homes and families from the catastrophic damage hurricanes bring and make our coastal communities more resilient for the future.”

As the science advances, code updates put research to work in communities. The latest edition of the International Residential Code, as well as the Florida Building Code, integrate key research from IBHS and now include a sealed roof deck in high wind zones. The sealed roof deck provides an extra line of defense against costly water intrusion and has shown in lab testing to keep out up to 95 percent of water even when the primary roof cover is damaged.

In the 2021 Rating the States rankings, Florida again takes the top spot for strongest building code with Virginia following one point behind on the 100-point scale. Florida and Virginia have jostled for the top two spots in all four editions of Rating the States. Notably, in this edition IBHS researchers identify South Carolina as the state to watch after significant positive code advances between 2012 and 2015. The Palmetto State now comes in at third place. Rounding out the top five are New Jersey and Connecticut. Meanwhile, neighboring North Carolina rates as most improved in the 2021 edition, gaining five points over its 2018 rating.  

Massachusetts saw the largest decline of any state coming in three points lower than in the 2018 edition because the state removed the wind-borne debris requirements for coastal areas. Of the 18 states ranked, eight are categorized as ‘Poor’ receiving less than 70 points. Those states, including Georgia, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Delaware, lack a mandatory statewide building code.

Local jurisdictions and homeowners whose states come up short on statewide building codes can use the FORTIFIED Home™ construction standard to make their homes more resilient. The standard is based on years of research at IBHS’s state-of-the-art Research Center and post-event damage investigations. It outlines the steps to achieve one of three progressive levels of protection starting with the roof, which is any home’s first line of defense against severe weather.

For example, in Alabama, Mobile and Baldwin counties have championed the FORTIFIED Home standard by putting it into their local codes to enhance resilience in the absence of a mandatory statewide building code. In fact, more than 20,000 homes in Alabama’s two coastal counties carry a FORTIFIED designation.

“Following Hurricane Sally’s landfall last September in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the impact of FORTIFIED was clear. Resilient building saved countless families from the disruption and displacement their neighbors suffered through and demonstrated why we need stronger codes all along the hurricane coastline,” adds Cope.

Homeowners who would like to learn more about building codes in their area can use the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)’s Inspect 2 Protect tool to understand building codes at the local level. The new consumer resource includes building code lookup to help determine which code the builder followed to construct a home. The site provides current code and code history for communities and offers a risk profile, disaster history, and suggested renovations, retrofits and upgrades that can make your home safer and stronger against natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires.

Explore the full 2021 Rating the States report on to see where coastal states rank and how each state can improve.

Additional Perspectives on Rating the States:

Leslie Chapman-Henderson, President and CEO of FLASH: “Rating the States is an essential tool as it can support leaders as they work to protect citizens and ensure communities survive and bounce back swiftly from disasters. As these events become increasingly deadly, costly, and disruptive, the report offers invaluable, fact-based insights into how built environments will perform in the future.”

Sara Yerkes, Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the International Code Council: “Community resilience is something we should all care about – it is not only about protecting people and homes, it is also important to the economic health of our towns, cities and counties. The faster a community can recover from a natural disaster, the faster life returns to normal. The 2021 IBHS Rating the States report is a great advocacy tool for state disaster mitigation plans that incorporate the adoption of current codes, strong administration of those building regulations, and the importance of licensing and training for all building industry professionals.”

Robert Gordon, Senior Vice President of Policy, Research, and International at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA): “Research has shown that hurricanes are growing stronger and more intense, which is why it is critically important for government leaders to prioritize pre-disaster mitigation strategies like adopting and enforcing strong building codes. Strong building codes can save lives, significantly reduce structural losses or damage, and create more resilient communities in the face of increasingly destructive storms.”

Jimi Grande, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC): “Taking key steps like implementing or updating building codes not only reduces the risk of future storm impacts, but also increases community resiliency and livability. That’s why for more than a decade NAMIC has led the BuildStrong Coalition’s efforts to enact a transformational shift in the way the federal government approaches catastrophes by making more money available to states and communities to undertake risk-mitigating activities – including those relating to modern building codes – before a natural disaster strikes. Rating the States will be an invaluable tool for those policymakers who are accessing the newly available funds in FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Grant Program.”

Sean Kevelighan, CEO of the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I): “2021’s Rating the States report is essential reading for anyone who resides in a hurricane-prone state and wants a definitive assessment of its building codes. We created our Resilience Accelerator because history has proven virtually every community along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have faced the wrath of what is a hurricane’s catastrophic damage. And now with more Americans living in harm’s way, it is even more critical for residents and communities to have the information they need to take action.”

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