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Stricter Building Codes Make South Carolina Builders Safer > Columbia Business Report

Images of destroyed, damaged and flooded homes and businesses have been all too common in the weeks following Hurricane Ian which tore through Florida’s southwest coast and then caused damage and flooding on along the SC coast.

Most of the storm damage in these counties is due to Ian’s strong storm surge, and the worst destruction came in the form of washed out sand dunes, ripped beach access and broken fishing piers or completely demolished.

Many homes suffered flooding, roofs and other components damaged, but fortunately the state’s coast did not see the massive and complete destruction of homes and businesses that hit places such as Fort Myers and Sanibel Island in Florida.

However, repairs to affected homes will likely take months, and this latest natural disaster reminds South Carolina homeowners, builders and architects that the state’s volatile weather is something that needs to be on the radar when designing and construction. new homes and commercial buildings.

One thing that should satisfy many homeowners’ concerns is the fact that state structures have had to be built to conform to much stricter codes over the past 30 years, said Homebuilders executive director Mark Nix. Association of South Carolina.

“When you look at storm damage these days, the worst you’ll see is usually homes built before the 1990s,” Nix said. “Since Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, the new codes that have been enacted have mitigated a lot of loss and damage, especially on the coast.”

Nix said South Carolina officials decided in the 1990s to replace all of the state’s building codes with what were called Southern codes. The state now adheres to building codes established by the International Code Council. These are reviewed and updated every three years to respond to new construction innovations as well as weather and other concerns, and the latest codes were enacted Jan. 1, Nix said.

Those with property issues along the coast should also be pleased with the results of a 2021 Insurance Institute study that placed South Carolina as having the third-best set of building codes among coastal states. of the country, Nix said.

While hurricanes might be the disaster most on everyone’s radar right now, another potential hazard has been increasingly on the minds of Midlands residents this year – but this one comes from the underworld. deep ground.

Since December 27, 2021, 47 earthquakes have occurred in the towns of Lugoff and Elgin in Kershaw County, with the highest magnitude of 3.6 occurring on June 29, according to statistics from the SC Emergency Management Division. There were also several earthquakes upstate and in the Charleston area, but nothing like the activity near Elgin.

State and nationwide geologists have called the unusual tremors Elgin’s “earthquake swarm” and say it’s just normal seismic activity along one of many lines State fault and unrelated to human activity such as mining or construction. Still, the earthquakes made many residents nervous and left them wondering how their homes would withstand larger earthquakes.

Nix said seismic measures are already built into existing codes. “We constantly respond to this concern,” he said. “The SC Building Code Council studies local and regional maps, and two of the main concerns addressed in the codes are seismology and high winds.”

The benefits of the stricter building codes of the past few decades are very clear to Mark Hood, president of Hood Construction at Columbia. “We’re starting to see the long-term effects of many years of better building codes and better building construction,” Hood said. “Sometimes when you look at pictures of an area that has been hit by a hurricane, you see three houses completely destroyed, and then more still standing right next to them. These are the ones built with the new codes. The improvements that have been made over the past 30 years are really helping to save homes. Do they completely eliminate the damage? No, but they prevent houses from exploding and disintegrating in the wind.

Hood said a few key changes to the way homes are built have made all the difference. Over 30 years ago, for example, most houses were held together by nails. Today, entire homes are tied together from the roof to the foundation to help preserve the integrity of the entire structure in the event of high winds.

Along the coast, codes require windows to be built to withstand winds of 110 mph or more, which technically means a window should be able to withstand something like a 2×4 launched at that speed of wind, Hood said. This requirement reduces the broken glass that remains to be cleaned when windows are struck by flying debris.

These hurricane protection techniques aren’t just implemented in coastal counties either. “We basically take the same precautions statewide because in a hurricane zone like South Carolina, the coast could be impacted, but a big powerful storm will eventually affect the whole state,” said Hood. “We saw that in 1989 with Hugo when Sumter, Columbia and places as far inland as Rock Hill and Charlotte suffered severe damage.”

More clients are expressing concerns about building homes that can withstand severe storms and other natural disasters and are looking for proactive ways to protect their homes, said Ben Ward, project manager for McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, which has offices in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Spartanburg.

“We’re seeing more disaster concerns across the state,” Ward said. “Of course most of it is on the coast, but that is changing as we get more discerning customers who understand changing weather conditions and therefore are interested in what can be done to mitigate a disaster.”

Ward said the word “resilience” has become essential in planning the design of new homes and buildings, especially along the coast. “Resilience has taken on great importance in the South Carolina architectural community,” he said. “Many states are more focused on building durable structures, but these are states that might not be as disaster prone as South Carolina. Here we have to combine resilience and sustainability.

Ward said he recommends homeowners consider a series of protocols called Fortified, a program run by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety and offered by many building contractors. There are three levels of hardened security plans available for residential and commercial structures.

“We strongly encourage customers to consider options that go beyond codes,” Ward said. “If you build a house to a fortified standard, you are much better prepared for natural disasters. The cost increases, but it is a minor initial investment, which saves money on insurance premiums and can help you react more quickly after a disaster.

Ward said the fortified programs include additions such as additional wood blocks placed in the walls, roof construction built to a higher wind load standard than most building codes, and non-combustible exteriors to protect buildings. houses against forest fires. He noted that many coastal communities have raised base flood elevation requirements for new buildings to combat storm surges and river flooding.

South Carolina has placed more emphasis on resilience in construction and infrastructure, Ward said. In 2019, the state established the South Carolina Office of Resilience, focused on increasing disaster resilience in communities, reducing or eliminating the risk of long-term loss, and mitigating the impact of future disasters.

“As a member of the American Institute of Architects, we have provided assistance to this office at the request of the state,” Ward said. “It’s great that they are focusing on this issue.”

Contact Christina Lee Knauss at 803-753-4327.