published Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Inside Insurance: Georgia, other Southern states show wide disparities in assessment of residential building code, enforcement systems

A first of its kind state-by-state rating of building code and enforcement systems that govern the design and construction of residential buildings shows a significant difference among Southern coastal states. These are the most vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) developed a wide-ranging analysis, evaluation, and comparison of regulations and processes governing residential building construction in the 18 states along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

IBHS reports, “Because of differences in building code adoption and enforcement across all states, or even across all jurisdictions within many states, building codes do not provide a uniform level of protection. The lack of uniformity results in real consequences for the people who live or own residential property in harm’s way.”

On a scale of up to 100 points, Georgia received a 66 as compared to Florida, rated at 95.

Georgia has a mandatory statewide code (2006 International Residential Code), but the report points out it is up to local jurisdictions to decide whether they will enforce the code. Georgia does not allow weakening amendments at the local level and has adopted a plumbing and electrical code.

Georgia has passed a law that prohibits the requirement of residential sprinklers.

While Georgia has a program for certification of code officials the state does not require code classes prior to certification. The program requires continuing education, but there is no mechanism for disciplinary action against an inspector by the state.

General contractors, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical contractors are required to be licensed in Georgia. They are all required to take an exam prior to licensing and are required to take continuing education. Each licensing body has a mechanism for disciplining contractors.

Here’s the detail of the report’s scoring of Georgia:

Code adoption and enforcement - 31

Code official certification and training - 15

Contractor licensing - 20

Total - 66

Georgia’s score compared to: Alabama’s 18 and Mississippi’s 4. North Carolina 81 and South Carolina 84. Louisiana, even after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is rated 73.

Why is this report so significant? It provides a roadmap as to how states can take specific steps to improve their building code processes in order to better protect their citizens. Equally important is it demonstrates how citizens can understand the need for and, hopefully, demand stronger building codes. By examining the detailed rating elements, policymakers and other interested parties can find a clear direction to strengthening their residential building code system and improve their standing in this report.

Ultimately, building integrity under the stress of severe weather and other calamities as well as human life are at the center of building codes and enforcement systems. Hurricane damage from Andrew in Florida could have been, according to reports, reduced by nearly one-half had today’s Florida building codes been in place. Other positive benefits to stronger codes include homeowner insurance rates and more consistency in construction prices.

Find the full report on the IBHS website: http://64.16.194.32/content/data/file/ibhs-rating-the-states.pdf.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at

(770) 565-3806 or by email at dcolmans@giis.org.

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