Florida Panhandle Exemption Nearly Gone

January 1, 2007

With just a final nod from newly-elected Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Florida “Panhandle exemption” from the building code will be eliminated, putting the entire state on equal footing. On January 22, the Legislature approved an insurance bill that includes the stricter codes for Northwest Florida, from Franklin County to the Alabama border.

The proposed law would have the Panhandle area of the state meeting the same requirements as the rest of the state—that new homes are built to withstand 120 mph winds. Lawmakers achieved the “exemption” from the rules for the Panhandle in 2000, enabling homes farther than one mile from the shore to be built to lesser standards. While officials inched up the area’s requirements last year, it still was not to the same level as the rest of the state.

Having across-the-board requirements, officials say, will allow homeowners to qualify for reductions in insurance premiums, having taken measures to protect their homes against storms.

The Governor has a month to sign or veto the bill, but having initiated the special legislative session to address ways to cut rates on hurricane coverage, officials expect he will approve the measure shortly.

If approved, the Florida Building Commission must adopt the change with the exception of the tougher requirements in the High Velocity Hurricane Zone. Timing for the enforcement, however, has not yet been determined.

“This legislation is important to making hurricane and windstorm coverage more affordable and more widely available to homeowners to help lessen the financial impact of repairing property that is damaged by hurricane windows and windborne debris,” says Jim Juetten, government affairs manager for DuPont Glass Laminating Solutions. “We applaud the efforts of the Florida government to work together to protect citizens throughout the state.”

The insurance issue legislation also calls for the Florida Building Commission to develop voluntary “Code Plus” guidelines for increasing the hurricane resistance of buildings. The guidelines may be modeled on the requirements for the High Velocity Hurricane Zone, and must identify products, systems and methods of construction that the commission anticipates could result in stronger construction. Windows and sliding glass doors with higher design pressures, as well as impact-resistant laminated glass products, will see increased demand with these changes, according to Dick Wilhelm, executive director of the Fenestration Manufacturers Association. “The recently passed legislation has leveled the playing field for window and door sales in the Panhandle region of Florida,” he notes. “This is a high growth environment that will soon require opening protection in windborne debris regions for wind speed zones designated in ASCE 7, and not by the Florida Legislature.”