Identifying which building codes to follow requires a host of considerations: safety, liability and cost, among other factors. When determining the correct code as it relates to life-safety products such as railing systems, there is an understandable tendency to build to the highest standard. This is especially true when it comes to high-impact areas including those prone to hurricanes.
As hurricanes in recent years have devastated the East Coast, and as glass use continues to grow in design, codes have evolved. This can be seen through the International Building Code and in local code adaptations that are intended to ensure glass is safe for use. For hurricane impact, there have since been a lot of references made to one local code adaptation in particular—Miami-Dade.
Amid the current peak hurricane season, many glaziers may have specific questions about the impact of Miami-Dade. This article provides answers to those questions, as a guide to understanding the code, as well as its intended use and application.
What Does Miami-Dade Govern?
Due to its level of life-safety stringency, Miami-Dade has become widely used as the reference point throughout Florida and beyond with its requirements that are by and large seen as the “gold standard”. However, contrary to popular understanding, the Miami-Dade Notice of Acceptance is not approved as a statewide product approval.
Florida statutes govern local and state approval of building products, which are directly related to the structural wind resistance of buildings. The law establishes specific methods for manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with the Florida Building Code and gives the manufacturer the option of obtaining either local or state approval. In Florida, state approval of products for use in the High-Velocity Hurricane Zone is most commonly, but not totally, based on a Miami-Dade NOA.
What Testing Standards are Required for Compliance?
From a life-safety standpoint, the demonstration of product compliance for use in the High-Velocity Hurricane Zone is critical. Additionally, the assurance that the product has the ability to perform under the adverse conditions of the area is necessary.
Testing for compliance includes impact testing in accordance with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—ANSI Z97.1, static wind load test as per Testing Application Standards TAS 202. In the case of installations where vertical posts are replaced with glass, the test TAS 202 is invoked. This requires the installation to continue supporting the top rail and all applicable loads: concentrated, distributed and wind. (Additional information can be found by referencing Florida Building Code 1618.4.6).
Should Systems be Specified to the Highest Standard?
The Florida Building Code, and more importantly the specifics relating to the requirements of Miami-Dade, stem back to the devastating effects of Hurricane Andrew—a Category 5 storm that hit the coast of Florida in 1992. The requirements have since migrated to places such as Hawaii, the Caribbean Islands, the Pacific Islands, Japan and parts of South America, as jurisdictions aim for the highest standard attainable.
As weather patterns change and there is an increase in the number of more powerful storms, the specifying community as well as the insurance industry are demanding higher product performance, which ultimately raises the bar for everyone. The caveat to this is that not all areas need to meet the stringent requirements of Miami-Dade. In fact, Miami-Dade only pertains to a three-county area, not broadly to Florida nor the East Coast of the United States. Yet, a specifier may find it a tough sell to tell the client he or she specified to a lower standard, irrespective of where he is located.
Which Code Should Be Followed?
Determining the most reasonable code to go by for virtually any given glass railing project requires bearing in mind safety, liability, expenses and a variety of additional factors. Localized factors, such as geography, topography, building design and building use ought to be considered to ensure the product performs as needed, and that the code followed meets compliance. Ultimately, specifying to the highest standard may be in the specifier’s interest, but understanding the requirements among other factors can help paint a clearer picture of the process. The best advice is to consult the Authority Having Jurisdiction and expert resources, which in the end will help provide the clarity and direction needed.