Survey Shows Gaps in Building Codes Put Texas Coastal Residents at Risk

November 4, 2019

More than 7 million Texans live in Texas coastal areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes, according to an insurance industry-backed research and communications organization.

A survey of cities and counties along the Texas coastline conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) following Hurricane Harvey shows that many coastal homeowners may be at risk in the event of severe weather due to jurisdictional gaps in property building codes.

On average, any given 50-mile stretch of Texas coastline will experience a hurricane once every six years, the IBHS says. The IBHS Survey of Texas Coastal Building Codes found that that within the coastal areas surveyed, there are over 264,000 single-family housing units and more than 840,000 residents with no building code protection.

IBHS’ Rating the States report, the most recent of which was published in January 2019, ranks Texas in the bottom 25% of states in terms of statewide code and enforcement activities. The report gave Texas a score of 34 out of 100 points. Of the 18 states most vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes, only three had lower scores.

In Texas, building codes are adopted at the city and county level. Thirty-one jurisdictions participated in the self-reporting survey; 15 jurisdictions declined to participate, including some of the rapidly growing suburbs of Houston. While all 21 cities in the survey have adopted a code, only two of 10 surveyed counties have adopted a code.

More than 840,000 people live in areas outside city limits with no adopted residential building code.

The research organization says a top-performing code provides residents with a system of protections with modern code adoption, strong enforcement, building permit requirements, contractor and roofer licensing, and roof inspections for new roofs and re-roofing projects. The cities of Alvin, Beaumont and San Benito provide this system of protection for their residents.

The Texas legislature adopted the International Residential Code (IRC) and the National Electrical Code (NEC) as the standard building and safety codes for residential construction in Texas in 2001. However, the state does not require counties to adopt the code.

IBHS has noted that some of the deficiencies in unincorporated areas of coastal counties are mitigated by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) code and inspection requirements for those who are not able to insure their property on the open market.

Among other things, the IBHS recommends that local jurisdictions in vulnerable coastal areas adopt a high-wind building code, along with inspection and enforcement of the code’s requirements.

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Insurance Journal West November 4, 2019
November 4, 2019
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