We have to build back smarter and better

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Jan 2, 2023.

OUR POSITION: Florida needs to take a hard look at what can be done to minimize destruction from the next Hurricane Ian.

Floridians have much to consider after witnessing the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian.

There will be debate about climate change, building codes, building on the coast and so on. But no matter what is decided, there is sure to one day be another, or even stronger, Hurricane Ian.

So, what do we do to build back better and prepare for that next big storm?

We believe there is much that can be done, although some of the proposals will be rejected, debated and ignored. The ideas would include:

  • Stronger building codes.
  • Rezoning to create a buffer against storm surge along the coast.
  • Agreeing to the reality of climate change and taking measures to alleviate its impact.

Whatever is decided, whatever you believe should be done, it’s certain that building back the way it’s been done for years will result in the same multi-billion-dollar losses we just experienced.

John Wiseman, a commercial contractor in Charlotte County and member of the Charlotte DeSoto Building Industry Association, says the state has done a good job of making and enforcing building codes.

“I think when I look around and talk to people about building concerns, our buildings held up well under the codes passed in 2002,” Wiseman said. “Homes built before that did not perform as well.”

Those changes to building codes required impact windows to be installed in coastal zones and more wind mitigation on roofs.

Still, Ian took roofs off thousands of homes and did damage that won’t be repaired until mid-to-late summer.

Jim Weisberg, vice president of Quality Homes of Port Charlotte and former president of the Charlotte DeSoto Building Industry Association, said the big problem is with roofs.

“I’ve been in three hurricanes now,” Weisberg said. “Impact windows being required was something lawyers and insurance companies were big on.

“After Ian I see blue tarps everywhere but no broken windows. The damage came from roofs. The soffit (gets blown away) and that and roofs are where the money needs to go. A metal roof would cut costs.”

Weisberg, who admitted he put a shingle roof on his own home, said the cost of metal roofs — which can reach $60,000 — are a turn off for most new home builders.

“But, it’s like everything else,” he said. “If more people used then, the cost would go down. Very few metal roofs came off during Ian. If they were installed properly there was very little damage.”

We’re sure we’ll hear more about building codes from the Legislature, insurers and lawyers. One thing we probably won’t hear is a program like the one some Northeast states turned to after Hurricane Sandy.

In a News Service of Florida story, Craig Fugate, who was director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management under former Gov. Jeb Bush, said the 2012 hurricane that devastated the East Coast caused a different approach to building along the coast.

Fugate said some property along the coast that was an easy target for wind and storm surge was bought out by local governments. The purchases created buffers that were elevated and even used as parks. And, in property located beyond the buffers but still close to the coast, building codes were toughened.

The debate could take several paths before any useful legislation or new approaches to building homes in Florida are made. And, even if lawmakers embrace the need to address climate change, the changes we need to make won’t have an impact for years.

We know one thing for sure though. Changes in where and how we build need to be made. If not, we’ll continue the build and re-build over and over and insurance premiums will continue to climb, and more lives will be lost.