Sunday, September 10, 2017

A homebuilder's observation of the US hurricane season to date

Being a "weatherholic" I've watched hurricane Harvey and Irma coverage wall-to-wall.  The builder in me quickly picked up on the fact that the buildings on the Texas coast fared much worse than the buildings in Florida, at least those built after the building code changes prompted by hurricane Andrew in 1992.  It just goes to show that we CAN build homes that will stand up well to storms, short of storms of absolutely Biblical proportions, if we'll just embrace building codes as friends and not foes to be stonewalled.

The fact is, the prevalent mindset of most builders (in Texas at least) is to lobby against stricter codes as they cost money, and builders would rather spend money on shiny amenities like granite and stainless steel to entice buyers than on structural integrity.  "Sell the sizzle, not the steak" they say.  They do this because homebuyers are influenced by Pinterest and Houzz and other online sites, and "pretties" are all they care about.

It's increasingly rare to find an informed buyer who understands that if his/her house has a foundation broken in half, or is spread out in pieces over half the county after a storm, having pretty granite and stainless steel are meaningless.  This is how shallow we've become.

And were places like Marco Island, FL, with a population of 18,000 and an elevation of 0, that's ZERO, ever allowed to be developed?  Politics!  With the availability of Federal Flood Insurance there's really little downside to the flooding they're now seeing there with hurricane Irma.  The city/county expanded their tax base dramatically, and developers and builders made bank.  Sure, homeowners will have to deal with the hassle of making claims and doing clean up, but they will eventually be made whole.

You do realize Federal Flood Insurance means the taxpayers are potentially on the hook for this, right?  Older developments already there, and in other coastal cities, sure, they should be extended Federal Flood Insurance, but why should we knowingly approve zoning for new developments, especially high-end luxury developments catering to the wealthy, that we KNOW will flood? It's really pretty easy to foresee using modern hydrological mapping.

My point is, much of the damage we're seeing now is caused by poor planning as much as by Mother Nature.  We should have known better.



  1. IMO New homes should be built inland above sea level. That goes for replacement homes in Texas, Florida and La. Live in a grass shack if you enjoy a sea view.

  2. Any new construction should meet strict codes in order to get insurance. Jersey Shore requires homes built eight feet up with (x'#) pilings into bedrock among other requirements. Windows need to meet standards of 130 MPH winds.

    Homes built to those requirements fared pretty well in Sandy.

    1. They're doing it right in NJ. Maybe we should all be following their lead.

  3. We were one of the lucky ones who didn't have any damage. Our house was built in 2007. I'm all for "big" government telling business what to do (well, as long as it's for the common good of society).

    As far as for tax payers subsidizing the flood insurance program, one of the radio personalities in Orlando half jokingly said a few days ago that the next civil war would be the "inlanders" vs. the "coasties." Insurance rates are already expensive in Florida - they'll go up even more now.

    1. Flood insurance is supposed to be self sustaining, but that's based on X number of claims per year. With 2 massive hurricanes already in 2017, and with 2 1/2 months still left, it could just go in the hole. And I agree, government mandated building codes are not a bad thing. Yes, they cost money, but in the long term they are safer and I'm sure cost effective.