By YOURI KEMP
The Bahamian Contractors Association's (BCA) president yesterday called for the country's building codes to be "immediately revamped" as Dorian had shown they are "no longer adequate".
Michael Pratt told Tribune Business that despite The Bahamas having "perhaps the strongest codes in the region" it could never have predicted it would face the ferocity of a storm such as Dorian.
"Our building codes need to be immediately revamped," the BCA chief argued. "They are clearly no longer adequate, considering the strength of the storms we have been experiencing over the course of the last several years.
"We know we have good building codes for our region, and perhaps the strongest codes in the region, but we never anticipated a storm like Dorian. We need to revamp our codes from the bottom up, and also try to lower the overall cost of our homes at the same time from a financial point of view, and also from the overall cost of our properties."
The Bahamas Building Code was last changed in 1997 to require properties to be able to withstand 150 mile per hour winds, up from the previous 120 mile per hour stipulation. However, Dorian's sustained category five winds were pegged at 185 miles per hour, with gusts to 220 mile per hour, far in excess of the code's protections.
"Our habits with regard to land costs, and also with additional insurance charges on mortgages, make building strong homes too expensive," Mr Pratt said. "It's mandatory for persons to have insurance on our homes when they have mortgages, but the cost of insurance for homes is too high so many persons opt-out when - and if - they can.
"We also need to look at how we build our home foundations. Do we need to make it mandatory to add piles under homes, and if some homes in Abaco and Grand Bahama did have them, how deep exactly were the piles?"
Mr Pratt continued: "We also need to examine the materials we're using for homes. For example, should we make it mandatory to add shear walls for these homes? In addition to that, add solid walls designed with concrete and rebar, or what we call reinforcement steel, in order to sustain higher winds?
"Should we also consider adding standing seam roofs, or metal roofs? Also, [should we] make it mandatory for homes to have high impact windows, and should we encourage a national re-examination on whether or not those that currently have high impact windows have them installed properly? Persons not having their high impact windows installed properly came up as a recurring issue in previous assessments post-hurricane."
Mr Pratt said he felt the whole construction industry should be re-taught how to add materials such as piles. "Looking forward to the restoration and repair efforts of homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, we should also be considering if there is anything that would cause mold infestation and other things that can weaken the structure of homes," the BCA chief added.
"We need a complete education of our construction workforce, as well as homeowners along with banks, so people could get the best homes possible. We need to step up the game and design smart homes so we can withstand the forces of a hurricane.
"Of course all of this would incur costs, but we should encourage consumers to think rationally. Instead of building a 3,000 square foot house without adequate protection, build a 2,000 square foot home with the proper hurricane and catastrophic protection. Cost is a factor, but we have to change our mentality towards this."
Mr Pratt said the Bahamian construction industry also needed to be properly regulated. Asked about the status of the Construction Contractors Act, he added: "The Contractors Board mandated in the Act has not been set up, and the Bill is not being enforced at all. This storm could be a chance to ultimately improve the standards of the services we give our industry."