Louisiana ‘Good,’ Texas ‘Poor’ in IBHS Building Code Rankings

July 19, 2021

Texas has a long way to go but despite getting hit by four hurricanes and one tropical storm in 2020, Louisiana still ranks as one of the top 10 states for resilience based on its statewide building codes.

The Rating the States: 2021 report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety explores conditions in the 18 U.S. states with hurricane vulnerability, evaluating both building codes and the administration of code provisions.

The first Rating the States report came out in 2012 and IBHS produces it every three years. The report scores the 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states vulnerable to hurricanes based on a set of questions related to statewide building code adoption, administration and enforcement and contractor licensing requirements in the adopted building code.

The report notes that in 2020, tropical cyclones and severe convective storms resulted in combined economic losses of $89 billion in the U.S., and that a strong building code is critical to reducing the damage and destruction generated by such storms.

In the 2021 edition, Florida retains the top spot for the strongest building codes with Virginia coming in second. Louisiana — in the “good” category — ranks eighth and Texas took the number 15 spot — in the “poor” category — topping only Alabama, Mississippi and Delaware.

Florida and Virginia have vied for the top two spots in all four editions of Rating the States.

States are ranked on a scale from 1 to 100; no state achieved a perfect rating. Florida rated 95 points and Virginia rated 94 points. Louisiana scored 82 points while Texas came in at 34 points, nearly doubling its 2012 score of 18 points.

The report provides states with suggestions for improving residential building regulations and reducing the cycle of repeated losses from hurricanes and other severe weather events.

“Building science has advanced significantly over the last decade, providing cost effective strategies to reduce the impact of Mother Nature. Modern building codes are core to addressing the known risks of high winds and heavy rain that invariably come with these systems,” says Dr. Anne Cope, chief engineer at IBHS. “Strong adopted and administered codes apply the latest science and engineering knowledge to protect homes and families from the catastrophic damage hurricanes bring and make our coastal communities more resilient for the future.”

Citing the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2019 Report, the IBHS noted that when it comes to recovery from natural disasters, the adoption of model building codes saves $11 per $1 spent on recovery.

Building Code

Louisiana operates under the 2015 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC). Because large parts of coastal Louisiana are within the zone where wind speeds can exceed 130 mph, the wind design requirements of the IRC are largely mandated in those areas, the IBHS said.

Building Official Certification, Education

Louisiana requires building officials statewide to be certified, but mandatory code education classes are not included in the certification process.

Contractor Licensing

General, plumbing, mechanical, electrical and roofing contractors are required to be licensed in Louisiana. General and plumbing contractors must participate in continuing education classes for license renewal, but electrical, mechanical and roofing contractors have no such mandate in order to renew their licenses.

Recommendations for Improvement

The IBHS report recommends that electrical and mechanical contractors be required to take continuing education classes for license renewal.

In a 2019 survey of Texas coastal building codes, the IBHS found that many coastal homeowners may be at risk in the event of severe weather due to jurisdictional gaps in property building codes. It noted that on average, any given 50-mile stretch of the Texas coastline will experience a hurricane once every six years. The 2019 IBHS Survey of Texas Coastal Building Codes found that within the coastal areas surveyed, there were more than 264,000 single-family housing units and more than 840,000 residents with no building code protection.

Building Code

While the Texas legislature in 2001 adopted the 2000 IRC as the standard for residential construction, there is no mandatory, statewide adoption and enforcement of its residential building code. The IBHS recognized in its 2021 report, however, that some incorporated cities in Texas have building codes in place, with many adopting more recent editions of the IRC than mandated by the state law, which IBHS says is outdated. Building code deficiencies in coastal counties served by the state’s insurer of last resort for wind and hail in those counties — the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) — may be mitigated by the code and inspection requirements for TWIA policyholders, IBHS observed.

Building Official Certification, Education

No statewide program exists in Texas to license building officials.

Contractor Licensing

Licensing is required for plumbing, mechanical and electrical contractors and they must take continuing education classes for license renewal.

Recommendations for Improvement

Because unincorporated and vulnerable coastal communities of Texas are not uniformly protected by high wind design standards and building codes, IBHS recommends that Texas adopt a mandatory statewide code system, as well as adequate uniform code enforcement.