Florida building code challenges architects

January 24, 2002 |

Barring a last minute delay, it appears that the Florida Building Code will finally become the governing code in the State of Florida effective March 1, 2002. With last-minute legislative action at the end of the year, the effective date of the code was postponed from Jan. 1 to March 1. The legislation provides that projects designed in anticipation of the Jan. 1, 2002, date may be permitted under the Florida Building Code prior to March 1 if desired.

Almost 10 years in the making, the new Florida Building Code unifies the Standard Building Code and the South Florida Building Code into one complete document. While the new code does not actually provide for a completely unified building code as originally planned, the multivolume document does provide a single source for the state's building regulations. While most of the code is similar to the codes upon which it was modeled, there is one truly significant change, according to John W. Knezevich, P.E., vice president of LZA Technology in Fort Lauderdale.

'The dramatic difference for most architects and builders is that glazed openings throughout the state must be resistant to windborne debris from hurricanes, or structures will have to be designed for higher wind pressures,' said Knezevich. 'Those who work regularly in Southeast Florida are familiar with provisions for hurricane-damage mitigation in construction, and the design and construction of new buildings or significant rehabilitations in these counties will not be significantly impacted by the new code. But those who work in counties on the West Coast or north of Martin County on the East Coast face a whole new challenge when it comes to designing new buildings.'

First, architects will need to master the new code and the effect it will have on the design of glazed openings. They must now meet specific and rigorous guidelines for their ability to withstand wind-borne debris. Next, architects will have to familiarize themselves with the types of building materials and products that are code compliant - or face causing serious delays and cost overruns. Since all glazed materials used in coastal regions of Florida must now be tested for impact resistance or be shuttered, design of glazed expanses must be considered in tandem with the availability of existing code-compliant glazing or shutter systems.

'Architects must design buildings with code-compliant product in mind, or else face discouraging prospects,' said Knezevich. 'Custom glazing schemes must be fabricated, tested and certified - resulting in time delays and added costs. Designs that call for specific code-complaint product must consider compatibility with the actual field condition or the same results are almost certain.'

As a specialist in the design, evaluation and implementation of building products to comply with specified code requirements, LZA Technology's Fort Lauderdale office has worked with a number of architects and developers around the nation who have struggled with the codes in Florida's southernmost counties. Recently they helped an out-of-state architect struggling to bring his client's standard ground-floor storefront of 6-by-12-ft. glass sections to a Broward County outdoor mall.

'The hard reality is that no such product exists in the county - at least not one that is code compliant,' said Knezevich. 'We are helping the architect identify code-compliant product that will serve his client and work within his design guidelines. Now that such windborne debris-resistant requirements are statewide, we expect many architects and their clients to grapple with similar challenges until the new code is well established.'

The good news is that the new Florida Building Code will help Florida's citizens climb out of the state's insurance nightmare. Knezevich projects that construction costs will increase by only 3 percent to 5 percent as a direct result of compliance with the new code. However, savings, as a result of insurance rebates for protection from potential hurricane damage, will far outweigh these costs.

In the wake of Hurricane Andrew, adoption of the new code is validation for the insurance industry that architects, engineers, contractors and developers can build properties that are resistant to windborne debris from hurricanes. As insurance premiums rise, developers will welcome the discounts that the new hurricane-damage-resistant codes deliver.

'For architects, especially those who look to glazed openings for their most dramatic design features, the new codes in hurricane-prone regions may be limiting at first. But new product is being designed, tested, certified and distributed every day,' said Knezevich. 'In the end, an immediate focus on the new building code and a steady eye on code-compliant glazing options will enable Florida's architects to continue to create outstanding - and withstanding - design.'

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