December 7, 2005
On November 29 Louisiana Governor Kathleen
Blanco signed legislation for the state to adopt the International
Building Code, a uniform code put out by the Virginia-based
International Code Council, that will replace a patchwork
of municipal controls that range from strict to none. The
legislation, which was passed by the state Senate on November
22, not only requires that new construction adhere to the
code, but that the it be applied to home repairs if costs
are more than 50% of pre-storm valuation.
Once the bill is signed the 11 parishes
hardest hit by this seasons storms will have 30 days
to start applying the code. Those that dont have enforcement
officials will have 90 days. The code will take effect statewide
on Jan. 1, 2007.
While many applaud the adoption of a
statewide standard for new construction, the issues raised
for home repairs are raising concerns. Industry experts say
the adoption of the IBC will increase the spread between insurance
pay-outs and repair costs so much that it may become too expensive
for many homeowners to rebuild. In the New Orleans suburb
of Kenner alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says
in excess of 500 houses meet the 50% test. Phil Hoffman, president
of Hoffman Custom Built Homes, LaPlace, La., says for the
cost to bring those homes up to code, "they might just
as well bring in the bulldozers and knock it all down."
Louisiana Parishes without existing codes
will see the sharpest cost increase, says Ronnie Kyle, president
of Louisiana Homebuilders Association. "In Baton Rouge,
were probably looking at only a 2 to 3% increase in
cost, but places like Cameron, that had no code, will have
a 17 to 20% increase," he says. "Most of Orleans
[Parish] was under at least a 1995 code and some the 2000
code, so theyre probably looking at an 8 to 12% increase."
To make things even more difficult for
homeowners, Hoffman says the code is "basically a wind
code" addressing roofs, wind anchors, bracing, siding
and glazing, while most of the damage is from storm surge
or flood. "Having to bring some of these damaged homes
up to code will be a real task and insurance companies arent
going to pay for that," he says. "They will only
pay for the [flood] damaged areas of the house."
However, the insurance industry, building
associations and contractors say code uniformity for new construction
is needed to woo back insurers and secure federal funding.
"It will motivate our insurance companies to come back,"
says John Marlow, assistant vice president for the Southwest
Region of the American Insurance Association, a trade group.
"This is not really about rates going down as much as
it is about coverage being available. [Insurance] companies
have been taking a really hard look about whether they want
to do business in Louisiana anymore."
The codes appeal is uniformity
and insulation from ever-changing political influences, says
Derrell Cohoon, executive director of Louisiana Associated
General Contractors. "It will bring investors back and
send a huge message that its not business as usual in
Louisiana," Cohoon says.
Although increased costs will surely be a by-product of the
new standards, "if you cant buy insurance, it doesnt
do you any good to rebuild," says Kyle. "At some
point, youve got to say the cost is what the cost is."
He also says a provision for third-party inspectors may help
speed permitting and construction.
Under the law, the governor will name a 19-member code council
to review the code every three years. Legislators have already
planned the first review for March, which should give time
for kinks to surface, Hoffman says.
Elsewhere in the region, Texass June adoption of the
IBC for municipalities goes into effect Jan 1. Mississippi
building groups are lobbying a statewide adoption of the IBC,
but the legislature is not in session until Jan. 3. In Alabama,
AGC Executive Vice President Henry Hagood says there is "no
concerted effort" to adopt a uniform statewide code now,
but if Mississippi and Florida do, "Alabama would probably
be looking at it too."