Do You Really Need Hurricane Grade Construction at the Delaware Beaches?

The first Delaware jurisdiction has recently adopted the 2012 International Building Code, which has all sorts of changes, mostly minor and things most owners don’t really care about (except the sprinkler requirements, which most towns and counties seem to be opting out of in the state.) But the big kahuna around here is the new wind maps. Long story very short, Delaware is no longer considered at risk for a hurricane strike and the requirements for new construction have dropped dramatically. Many people are finding that prefabricated buildings may be just what they need, as one example.

Now, many people will tell that is a good thing as no hurricane has ever really struck Delaware and it was driving up costs for no real benefit, and while I agree with most of that, there are some reasons I would recommend keeping some of the no longer required options. The first is that while Delaware had never had a direct strike, it has had some nasty glancing blows and close calls. Sandy was only a few miles from doing to Delaware what it did to New Jersey. There are also wind storms and Noreasters and many of the beach communities still have a lot of trees that love to fall on buildings when the soil gets wet and the wind rages. There are also security and insurance purposes to these requirements that may be worth remembering.

The impact resistant windows have many advantages that come with their substantially higher price tags. They are sound resistant and so difficult to get through that Fire Fighters I’ve talked to hate them. When they go to smash it out (and since they look like a regular window until you smash it, they have no idea if it will break clean or not) the ax will often bounce back at them. That will usually deter most burglars or home invaders to go try the next house they CAN break into.

The straps may be a bit of overkill and many of the shear wall connectors definitely were if the building were built correctly, but overlaping sheathing panels across the joists is a very low cost option to make sure your house doesn’t pull apart at a seam (we’ve all seen news footage of a house torn into two halves at a floor level.) It’s also a good idea, in my mind, to keep the upgraded foundation walls with the extra steel reinforcing. All that extra steel keeps the foundation more continuous and less likely to settle unevenly and it doesn’t cost a lot for that peice of mind and is impossible to upgrade after the fact. One contractor did have me remove the steel the day after the new code became law from a house they were building and said it would save them around 5,000 dollars. I have no idea if that’s an accurate number or just something he pulled out of his head, but if it were, it’s between .5-2% of the cost of construction of most houses (depends on the number of floors and finish selections) which is cheap insurance against long term sag and settlement failures, not to mention wind storms and the like.

Speaking of insurance, proper construction adhearing to the old standards may still get you an insurance discount. You’ll obviously have to discuss that with your insurance agent, but they’ve been skittish about insuring beach adjacent properties ever since Katrina cost them so much money and so it’s possible that they may offer a discount for construction that is supposed to survive most hurricanes.

As always, discuss your options with a design or construction professional and balance the usage, budget, and location of the building with which options you choose to keep on doing, even though no one is making you.