Effective July 1, 2015, Florida imposed new building codes that are meant to improve the safety, energy efficiency and construction of new residential homes and remodels. They also increased the cost of building — again. Many affordable housing advocates argue that the nanny government in Tallahassee, by mandating excessive building rules to guard against every “what if” situation, has created a housing crisis in Florida and the new codes are not needed. You can drive throughout Central Florida and see scores of well-built homes that were built before the building code frenzy began in 2001 and they are still standing.
Building code advocates will typically pull out the insurance card stating these new codes are saving homeowners money on insurance rates. If that's true, why are so many companies refusing to write homeowner’s policies in Florida and when is the last time you got a reduction in your insurance premium?
Under the Florida Building Code, the three methods of compliance are prescriptive, work area, and performance. Prescriptive is following the code through specific provisions of compliance as written in the code books. Work area is following general provisions of compliance but in a very limited area that falls under the threshold for bringing the entire property up to code. The performance code method evaluates the entire structure by maintaining and increasing safety without specific requirements and the project must be evaluated by a Florida Registered Design Professional.
To help you understand, let me give you an example of each method as it relates to windows. Under the new prescriptive energy codes, regular aluminum windows do not meet code. For a full house window replacement job, the contractor will likely be required to replace aluminum windows with vinyl windows or some wood/aluminum clad window because regular aluminum windows do not meet the energy requirements.
Under the work area code, if a homeowner needs to replace one aluminum window that is less than 15 square feet, the contractor should be able to replace just that window. Each code jurisdiction can be different, but many have stated that remodels that affect less than 25% of the house will probably fall under this work area code method. Please check with your local code official before finalizing remodel plans.
Under the performance code method, a homeowner can have an energy calculation completed by a registered Florida Design Professional and if they are able to achieve an energy rating in the home through improved insulation, air conditioning, or solar boards, they could still use aluminum windows. For example, there are builders who are upgrading their roof sheathing materials to one-sided foil backed solar boards and are upgrading the air conditioning so they can continue to use aluminum windows because they question the longevity of vinyl based windows.
As you can see, the codes are very confusing and, frankly, it become more complicated when local building inspectors vary in their interpretations. In addition to windows, the Code has other big changes that include:
- Self-closing doors between the garage and home;
- Sprinkler systems or fire retardant soffits for homes within 5 feet;
- Requirements to train homeowners to cut and re-install screens when winds are expected to exceed 75 mph for aluminum screen cages;
- Landings for egress doors no matter the number of steps;
- Upgrading all smoke alarms to dual source energy sources or ten year batteries, even in remodels;
- New finishing requirement for walls and open floor systems;
- Upgraded felt rules that push roofers to synthetic felt instead of black felt;
- Increased rules for attic ventilation;
- Specific stucco installation that will likely require more inspections; and
- Pages of other new codes.
For the average size home in Lake County, these new codes could add 2-3 percent in extra costs, and this would be on top of typical yearly inflation. New homebuyers or remodelers who have not permitted their project should understand these upgraded codes are now in force and older construction plans must be changed prior to permitting. Please check with your local code official and get your checkbook out to pay more.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Radio Show heard every Monday at noon on My790AM WLBE in Leesburg.