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Maryland: Middle of the Pack in Building Codes

January 11, 2012

Maryland’s building codes, enforcement officials, and contractor licensing system ranks in the middle of the pack among states subject to hurricanes, according to a study released this week by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a Florida-based insurance industry-funded organization.

Looking at the building codes, training and certification of building officials, and licensing of contractors in the 18 states along the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern seaboard, the institute ranked Maryland ninth, tied with Louisiana, with 73 points out of a possible 100.

“Maryland does very well because they adopt the latest model code,” says Wanda Edwards, director of code development for the IBHS and an author of the report. “The rub for Maryland is they allow local jurisdictions to make amendments.”

That patchwork of code requirements can allow weaker standards in some area, while complicating life for contractors, who then need to know the nuances of many different jurisdictional building codes.

“Maryland also has significant deficiencies in its inspector certification and training system,” the report says. “For example, the state does not have an inspector designation for residential inspectors, does not require code class prior to certification, and does not have a mechanism for consumers to file complaints against inspectors. Continuing education requirements are 15 hours every three years.”

Maryland also lost points for not requiring licensed contractors to take continuing education classes, for not requiring any licensing for roofing contractors, and for licensing general contractors without requiring an examination (a claim that may be in error—MHIC licenses “home improvement contractors” via a $54 open-book test).

States that have a state-wide building code ranked higher. Florida, for example, adopted much stricter uniform building regulations in the wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the lower third of the state and cost more than $26 billion in property damage. Florida and Virginia tied for first with 95 points on the ranking.

The lowest-scoring states were Texas (18 points), Delaware (17 points), and Mississippi (4 points), none of which have any statewide residential building code—though Delaware electricians are required to get continuing education.

Here’s a video of the IBHS’s new “blow yer house down” testing facility, with Mississippi standards illustrated on left:

Highlights of Research Center Inaugural Test Demonstrations, Fall 2010 from IBHS on Vimeo.

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