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Wind code may boost new home prices
Bulloch builders say new regs will hike cost of average starter homes by $2,500-$3,000
Bulloch County building inspector Sidney Alston inspects a nearly finished home at Burkhalter Plantation. Inspectors will soon have the added responsibility of enforcing new hurricane construction standards. Local builders are gearing up for the statewide change in the building code going into effect July 1 and estimate it will add between $2,500-$3,000 in added cost for average starter homes.

      Local builders are gearing up for a statewide change in the building code going into effect July 1.                       

        Any construction permitted in Bulloch County and the city of Statesboro after June 30 will be subject to construction codes tailored for a new inland hurricane wind standard of 100 miles per hour.

            Prior to this change, Bulloch County builders had to construct buildings that could withstand 90 mile per hour wind gusts of three seconds. According to many builders, the 10 mile per hour increase in building standards will add an additional 3 to 5 percent to the overall cost of construction.

            Statesboro Homebuilders Association president Tim Durden said the increased cost will have the most impact on the "starter" home market.

            "From the price of raw materials to changes in the construction code, the price of building a home is going up across the board," Durden said. "We don't know for sure, but the general estimate is that it will cost $2500 to $3000 more to construct those starter type homes - homes that are in the low to mid one hundred thousand dollar range."

            "It just makes it that much harder for the buyer to afford the house," he said. "Will these homes be stronger? Yes, they will. But the question is, do we need the homes to be that strong given the historical data that we have on wind and weather here. Many would argue that we don't."

            The Georgia Homebuilders Association has been against increasing the wind load standards from the beginning.

            "This inland hurricane standard is a national issue and is a part of the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) - one of the mandatory statewide building codes in Georgia and in most of the country," said Bettie Sleeth, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Home Builders Association of Georgia. "We have fought this change at the national level through our National Association of Home Builders at the International Code Council, the code making body.

            "Although we believe that newer homes built to 2000 IRC and above fared well in recent hurricanes, and that the wind zones are not completely accurate, builders were overwhelmingly defeated in the code hearings," she said. "The push for stricter standards was led by the insurance industry."

            Gregori Anderson, chairman of the State Codes Advisory Committee of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the organization that sets the state building codes, defends the new building requirements. Anderson is also the director of the Chatham County department of building safety and regulatory services.

            "The change that we are seeing in Georgia is that the hurricane zone is being pushed inland," Anderson said. "This comes out of research data from past hurricanes which have shown that the wind and subsequent destruction is not limited to just areas along the coast. It can go much further inland. These changes are the byproduct of research and testing data."

            Anderson said the new wind standards were scheduled to go into effect this past January 1, but lobbying by the building industry resulted in a six month grace period.

            "Builders argued that they needed time to be trained on the new code and to enable suppliers to order the new building components that they would need," he said. "That six month delay was granted, but now the new regulations are here."

            Bulloch County zoning administrator Randy Newman said the new code will add to the number of inspections that an inspector must do on each house.

            "It looks as if we are going to have to perform either two or four additional inspections during construction depending on the type of foundation," Newman said. "These are major changes that will affect the foundation and the framing. When I came here seven years ago, we had two building inspectors, now we have four. This definitely will add a lot more work."

            Local builder John White said the new code levels the playing field.

            "We are all going to have to build to the same standard now," White said. "Some builders were already building to that code. So now, I guess everyone will be."

            White said it isn't the builders that will be paying the price in the end.

            "Eventually, increased costs are paid by the buyer," he said. "As with all of the other costs, the buyer will be paying for it, and I don't know if they will think it is worth it."

            Gary Brannen, owner of Brannen Appraisals in Statesboro, said a stronger house doesn't necessarily translate into a house that is worth more.

            "From a property appraisal standpoint, just because a house is built to a stronger wind load than its neighbor, doesn't mean it will appraise for more money than that neighboring house," Brannen said. "For the immediate future, buyers will be paying for an 'improvement' that will not show up in the property's estimated value."

            "The market will dictate the value of the home," he said. "Historical sales data drives the price and that data is going to be based on the sale of homes that were built to a different standard."
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