MIAMI, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- As Saturday's 10th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew approaches, new sets of building codes are in place, bringing applause from hurricane experts and residents throughout Florida and elsewhere.
But some experts caution the codes don't go far enough and don't cover houses already built.
"Although significant changes have occurred in building codes since Hurricane Andrew, many of which should tend to reduce hurricane damage, major changes are still needed," said Mark Levitan, director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center.
"Wind damage typically begins with the roof," Levitan told a conference at Florida International University. "However, code provisions, test standards and roofing products have not enjoyed the same post-Andrew renaissance that opening (window) protection standards and products have."
Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami when Andrew devastated south Miami-Dade County with $26.5 billion in damages, defends the emphasis on windows. Broken windows are what allows the wind to get inside a house and blow the roof off.
"Structurally, the houses were there (where they had to be)," he said. "The failure points were windows and doors. So we said, protect those windows and doors."
Sheets said nearly all of the houses in the area that was struck were concrete block structures. Though they suffered serious damage or were destroyed when the wind got in through windows or doors, homes of wood-frame construction suffered "catastrophic failure."
Herminio Gonzalez, director of the Miami-Dade County Building Code Compliance Office, said the power of Andrew was the biggest problem, but there were others.
"We did have some designs that had faults," he said. "We had inadequate supervision of construction personnel. There was inadequate training in all levels of wind-resistant design, lack of inspection and lack of public awareness."
Miami-Dade County toughened its building code within months. Before Andrew the codes required new roofs to withstand winds of 65 mph. That was increased to 110 mph.
Structural engineers now review all building plans, nails must be used instead of staples, thicker plywood must be used and particle wood is banned. Wood-frame structures are banned unless they are reinforced, shutters are required, yearly education for inspectors is required and roofs must be inspected for number of nails.
The state of Florida implemented a new set of codes March 1 that require new houses built near the coast to be able to withstand 120-mph winds.
To comply with the code, a house must be built with impact-resistant glass or hurricane shutters. Failing that, it must be designed to sustain additional internal pressure resulting from a broken window.
One way to do that is to install stronger hurricane connectors -- straps in the attic to help hold the house together.
Housing officials say the new codes will increase the cost of a house by 3 percent. A $150,000 house would then cost $4,500 more.
Insurance officials say compliant houses could result in reducing the cost of insurance policies.
Sheets said with enthusiasm that one of the positives generated by Andrew was that, "We got state building codes."
He said loss reduction from protecting windows from tree limbs and other debris can range from 25 percent to 33 percent.
In nearly all cases, the 25,524 homes that were destroyed and 101,241 that were damaged by Andrew were rebuilt or repaired to be sturdier than the originals.
"There's no question a lot of homes were rebuilt better than before; you still hear people say, 'That's the bathroom that Andrew built,'" said Betty Hearn Morrow, director of social and behavioral research at Florida International.
Some people say there have been backward steps, however. A new state law goes into effect in October under which contractors will be allowed to hire private examiners to approve plans and construction. That will bypass public building departments, removing a safeguard.
A similar measure went into effect in Miami-Dade County earlier this year, but so far no builders have hired their own people.
This summer, The Miami Herald conducted spot checks of homes under construction in Miami-Dade County and Broward, the adjacent county to the north.
An engineering analysis showed that houses in the $300,000 range at one subdivision in southwest Broward County could be damaged or destroyed by winds that don't even reach the hurricane minimum of 74 mph.
Two contractors are involved. One is disputing most of the Herald's findings and both say repairs will be made if they find flaws.
(This is the third story of a five-part series on the 10th anniversary Saturday of Hurricane Andrew.)