Insurance Group Says NC Weakened Building Codes


According to the Carteret County News-Times, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety announced recently the state “substantially weakened” its system of building code adoption and enforcement. But area homebuilders disagree with the group’s assessment.

IBHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization says it works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks on residential and commercial property by conducting building science research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparedness practices.

The announcement was part of the IBHS’ recently released midterm update to its January 2012 Rating the States Report, which reviews the progress that the 18 most hurricane-prone coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico and the AtlanticCoast have made in strengthening their residential building codes. Nine of the 18 states in the report have acted to improve their codes and seven have taken no action.

North Carolina was one of two states, the other being Louisiana, that acted to weaken their code systems and gone “backward,” according to IBHS.

But a Carteret County Home Builders Association official disagreed.  “We have not gone backwards,” Teri Edwards said. “What we have done is go back to what is in the codebook.”

Building codes are intended to increase the safety and integrity of structures, thereby reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from hurricanes and a wide range of other hazards. Since publication of the original Rating the States Report, North Carolina has amended and adopted the 2009 edition of the International Code Council’s codes and named it the 2012 N.C. State Building Code. But adoption of the revised codes is in doubt, according to IBHS, due to state legislation enacted this year that changes the adoption cycle for ICC codes from every three years to every six years. The same legislation also sets a limit on the categories of inspections conducted by local jurisdictions.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 120, a priority issue for the N.C. Home Builders Association, which prevents local building code departments from requiring any inspections not authorized under the building code, extends the code revision cycle from three to six years and makes written and electronic code interpretations and all appeal decisions made by the Building Code Council available on the Building Code Council’s website.

HB 120 was supposed to ensure that the required types of inspections are uniform statewide. But IBHS said the legislation fails to identify the main categories of inspections in the construction process, thus risking that a key area in the construction process could be left out.  “The result is a substantially weakened system of code adoption and enforcement in the state,” according to IBHS.

But Ms. Edwards said local jurisdiction had added permitting processes that were not in the codebook. That’s why limits were included in the state legislation.  “Towns were using the added permit processes as a way of adding revenues,” Ms. Edwards said.

The HBA said the measure neither limits the type nor number of voluntary inspections that a local jurisdiction may provide or that a builder may request. The latter category of so-called “courtesy inspections” is in no way affected by HB 120, according to the association.

The law limits inspections to footings; under-slabs, as appropriate; foundations for wood-frame construction; rough-ins; building framing; insulation and final inspections.  The latest ICC codes were also likely to substantially increase the costs of homes by calling for fire-protection inspections, Ms. Edwards said.

Ms. Edwards said the 2012 International Residential Code includes fire sprinkler provisions for private, single-family residences but such systems have not been proven effective, she said.  “The jury is still out on the fire sprinkler codes,” Ms. Edwards said.

She said the IRC code would have required all residential homes to have sprinklers, which would add about $4,800 to the cost of a home, not counting costs of required annual fire department inspections and system flushing every two years.

IBHS says North Carolina also weakened the technical standards in its state building code through adoption by the N.C. Building Code Council revised procedures to simplify wall-bracing provisions contained in the 2009 edition of the IRC.  IBHS said the code for coastal hurricane-prone regions calls for bracing methods that are intended for regions with wind speeds of 110 mph or less, which it says are inadequate.

In addition, the N.C. Building Code Council has proposed eliminating permanent anchors for fastening wood structural panels for windborne debris protection. If approved, this change will make it less likely that opening protection is adequately anchored in windborne debris regions of the state, according to IBHS.

“As we approach the anniversaries of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, two of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S., we are reminded of the importance of strong, uniform state building codes and the role they play in protecting lives and homes,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO.

But Ms. Edwards said North Carolina had to take action because the most recent IRC codes were “vague” and subject to wildly different interpretations.  “Twenty engineers came up with 20 different answers. We had to simplify,” Ms. Edwards said. “We had to make it so a builder on the jobsite can figure it out.”  Ms. Edwards said the state’s 20 coastal counties do have the latest and most restrictive wind codes, especially when compared to neighboring states.  “Georgia and South Carolina don’t have the wind codes we do and they have had massive storms,” she said.

CCHBA has a link to the state’s 2012 codes posted on its home page at  BHS’ original Rating the States Report was a first of its kind, state-by-state assessment of individual state performance in developing and promulgating a residential building code system, which uses modern building codes, coupled with strong enforcement-related activities to enhance the protection of homes and families. A new IBHS rating is set for 2015 release.  The full IBHS report is available online at under the “Public Policy” heading.  Read More.