Builders seek code changes after storms


Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 11:30 p.m.

Facts

AT A GLANCE

  • Government building officials have been unable to force builders to fix the damage because the causes of the water seepage currently aren't covered by the state's building code.

  • MAITLAND - Thousands of homes leaked during last year's four hurricanes because of problems in how water drains from exterior walls, a predicament that needs to be addressed in the state's building code, two home builders associations said Wednesday.
    During the hurricanes, water leaked through small cracks in the walls of stucco-covered buildings, a normal occurrence that usually doesn't cause problems.
    But the enormous amounts of rain generated by the August and September storms overwhelmed the walls' ability to expel the penetrating water, according to the report by Joseph Lstiburek, a forensic engineer hired by the Florida Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando to study the problem.
    "It took (Hurricane) Andrew for us to understand structural engineering. It took the Chicago fire, and Mrs. O'Leary's cow, for us to get a fire code in the United States," Lstiburek said. "We're now getting a water management code because of these natural disasters."
    The seepage occurred in homes throughout Florida but was particularly problematic in Central Florida, which was hammered by three of the four hurricanes.
    Many builders have refused to fix the water-damaged homes, claiming they were the results of acts of God. Government building officials have been unable to force builders to fix the damage because the causes of the water seepage currently aren't covered by the state's building code.
    "A lot of these (construction) practices may not have been the greatest practices, but they did the job until they were overwhelmed," Lstiburek said. "Now that they've been overwhelmed, we've all learned."
    It's normal for water to leak through stucco-clad exterior walls. Once in the walls, the water is directed downward by a water-resistant barrier, such as tar paper, or the water is absorbed, redistributed in the wall and then eventually released outside. But many homes were unprepared for handling the amount of water that came with the hurricanes.
    To help deal with large amounts of rain, Lstiburek recommended that ledges be added at the base of masonry wall assemblies to allow excessive water to drain out the walls; that a separation be required between a stucco coating and interior water-resistant barriers to allow a sufficient drainage path; and that builders be allowed to construct unvented roofs.
    He also suggested specifications, ratings and testing methods be developed for water resistant barriers, such as house wraps and tar paper, and that windows and doors be tested for how they handle water.
    The costs of implementing the recommendations should be minimal, the associations said.
    Raul Rodriguez, a Miami architect who is chair of the Florida Building Commission, said he hadn't yet received a copy of the report. Both the Florida Building Commission and the state Legislature can make changes, independently of each other, to the building code.
    "What is important is that, along with other research, this may provide a clue about why it happened," he said.
    The home builder associations planned to encourage its members to implement some of the recommendations made in the report, even before debate takes place on whether they should be incorporated into the state building code.
    "What we want to try to do is get this information to our builders," said Bill Silliman, president of the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando. "Let's sit down and start talking about some of this and let's get some of these things start happening."

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