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NAHB Critiques FEMA Study on Resiliency

Codes + Standards

NAHB Critiques FEMA Study on Resiliency

December 31, 2020
Rubble of house destroyed by natural disaster

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is taking issue with a new study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that quantified the economic losses avoided from reduced damage to buildings caused by earthquakes, storms, and floods. The study estimates that the annual savings in communities that have adopted the latest editions of the building codes at $1.6 billion. 

However, the NAHB contended that adopting recent editions of the codes in areas that are less prone to natural disasters is not cost-effective and would negatively impact housing affordability.

Although the study focuses on adoption of the 2015 and 2018 codes, the findings support field observations by FEMA, NIST and other structural engineers suggesting buildings constructed to any edition of the IBC and IRC suffer much less damage in earthquakes, floods and hurricanes than those constructed to legacy codes or no codes at all. An NAHB study of damage observations from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma quantified these long-standing observations.

In fact, many of the most significant improvements in home resilience in the IRC — such as increased wall bracing for wind, roof uplift connection requirements, wind-borne debris protection, freeboard in coastal flood hazard areas, and stronger foundations in high-seismic regions — are associated with the 2003-2012 editions of the codes.

Although the most recent editions (since 2015) of the International Residential Code and International Builder Code retain these natural hazard-resistant provisions, they contain other requirements that negatively impact housing affordability. Additionally, the natural hazard resilience provisions are not cost-effective in areas that are less prone to natural disasters. Adopting the latest model codes in these areas without significant amendments could lead to significantly higher costs to build without the monetary benefits of increased resilience touted in the FEMA study.

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