Virginia Overtakes Florida as Top-Rated State in Building Code Hurricane Resilience

CLM Virginia risk managers weigh in on ranking

May 03, 2024 Photo

Virginia has overtaken Florida as the top-rated state for protection against hurricanes, according to the fifth edition of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) “Rating the States” report. “Rating the States,” which is published every three years, “evaluates the 18 states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts based on residential building code adoption, enforcement, training, education, and contractor licensing” when it comes to resilience to hurricanes and windstorms.

Ranking the States

Virginia is followed by Florida in spot number two; South Carolina in spot number three; New Jersey in spot number four; and Louisiana in spot number five. Meanwhile, Delaware at number 18; Alabama is number 17; Texas is number 16; Mississippi is number 15; and Maine is number 14.

“The landfall of Hurricane Ian in 2022 was the latest test of the Florida Building Code’s (FBC) system of protections, which has been rated either [number one] or [number two] in every edition of [‘Rating the States’],” the report explains. “IBHS assessed the performance of over 3,000 single family homes in the area affected by Hurricane Ian (2022); 455 of those homes were built under the modern FBC and none had structural damage. IBHS estimated that the protections of the modern FBC were successful in saving between $1 billion and $3 billion in damage to since-family homes alone in southwest Florida.”

Meanwhile, “Louisiana gained [nine] points and moved to [number five] in this edition of [‘Rating the States’],” the report notes. “Louisiana substantially improved its code official training programs through mandatory training and updated its adopted code to the 2021 International Residential Code, closing a gap in code adoption that had been growing since its adoption of the 2015 IRC in 2018. In 2023, Louisiana also complemented building code improvements by launching a grant program to help homeowners obtain a FORTIFIED Roof, following the successful model developed and implemented in Alabama.”

Although Mississippi remains in the bottom one third of the rankings, “the state took a large step forward and gained 15 points by requiring the licensure of mechanical, plumbing, and electrical contractors; however, roofing contractors were not included in the new requirements.”

The report adds, “In the 2021 edition of [‘Rating the States’], North Carolina was the most improved state. However, in the 2024 edition, the state has taken a significant step backward. The state legislature passed moratorium on code adoption through 2031 through a veto-override. The state lost three points in the 2024 edition and will continue to lose points if the adoption moratorium is not removed. The state is already [six] years behind the latest code cycle (operating on the 2015 IRC).”

Behind Virginia’s Rating

Virginia ranked with a total score of 96 out of 100, “the highest score of any state in [‘Rating the States’] program history,” says the report. “Virginia has been a top performer throughout the history of ‘Rating the States’ and has maintained one of the strongest code enforcement programs of the states analyzed.”

CLM fellows David B. Johnson, CHCM, CSP, director, risk management and chief risk officer; and Ron Clements, county building official, Chesterfield County, Virginia, note, “There are many facets to what makes the Commonwealth of Virginia one of the best states for resilience to severe weather and keeps us on top. Having a uniform statewide building code mandated in state law since 1973 is the foundation for the strength of the codes in Virginia. We don’t have local adoption or amendments, which makes for a strong consistent statewide code for designers, builders, and localities. The training and certification requirements are strong and supported by a 2% levy collected from all building permit fees, which goes to support the Virginia Building Code Academy (VBCA). The VBCA provides a long list of courses for training Virginia’s code enforcement personnel, which are comprehensive in nature. All code enforcement staff statewide must be specifically trained and certified for each discipline that he or she is responsible for.”

Johnson and Clements continue, “Specific to weather and natural event resiliency, Virginia does experience significant threats from Hurricanes, tropical storms, straight-line wind events, and tornadoes. In addition, though many people are not as aware, Virginia is subject to seismic activity with a significant seismic zone centered in the state and three very strong seismic zones within the Southeastern United States. All of these damaging events have directly impacted Chesterfield County and Virginia in the recent past. Strong up to date building codes enforced by well trained and certified professionals is the key to mitigate[ing] the risks and damage from these events. In addition to existing wind and seismic code provisions, the codes have been updated and strengthen each code cycle…the 2021 codes have additional provisions added this code cycle for mitigation of tornado threats as this is becoming a larger risk in our area due to climate changes.

“We will summarize that we follow the ‘Virginia way’, which is a philosophy we teach and promote at all Virginia Building Code Academy courses. The Virginia way is the approach to code enforcement promoted statewide to view our role not as an “enforcer” but as a partner in the construction process that facilitates code compliant, safe construction. We emphasis how to say yes, this is the path forward to accomplish the goal of building safety, as partners in the process instead of the traditional view of government regulators that simply say no and create barriers to accomplishing goals such as safe construction,” Johnson and Clements conclude.

About The Authors
Angela Sabarese

Angela Sabarese, Associate Editor of CLM.

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