Oklahoma Department of Insurance Commissioner John Doak is on a mission; a mission to strengthen homes and save lives by tightening Oklahoma building codes.
Doak has partnered with the Institute for Business and Home Safety, a pro-insurance industry group, to push for stronger and stricter building codes sturdy enough to withstand an EF-2 tornado or winds up to 135 mph.
“If we were able to strengthen building codes in Oklahoma and fortify them over a long-term basis, then we know that Oklahoma consumers would not have as great amount of losses as we've seen over the last five years,” Doak said. He added it was simply the right thing to do.
Doak said the problems with building codes is really a regional issue expanding past the state of Oklahoma and into neighboring states in the central portion of the U.S.
He wants to model the codes after those on the hurricane battered gulf coast, where building codes have been made more stringent and more reliant on weather and damage science for more than a decade following Hurricane Katrina.
The commissioner also included building codes from the western portion of the country where work on making buildings “earthquake proof” has been happening for more than a century.
Oklahoma was recently named the top state for earthquake activity according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s new hazard maps. More than 7 million people were at risk for damage from earthquakes generally linked to the disposal of waste water produced during the extraction of natural gas.
Doak said he would also be looking to the city of Moore. Moore adopted stricter codes after the 2013 tornado, becoming an example for the rest of the state on how to build in the heart of tornado alley.
“We felt it was necessary just to help our citizens make a safer place to live,” Moore Assistant City Manager Stan Drake said. “We've got stronger roof members, we have stronger wall sections, it's just from the ground floor to the peak of the house.”
“It will cost a little bit more to build the homes to these standards, but long term we think it'll pay off for consumers and for Oklahomans,” Doak said.
The changes aren't free. Home builders say the cost of a house in Moore went up $1.50 per square foot. Marvin Haward of Marvin Haward Homes Inc. said the changes may hurt the housing market.
“If [the standards] were to go statewide, they would hurt potential homebuyers,” he said. “If the American dream is owning your own home, and I think it is, it could take away their American dream.”
Haward, however, acknowledged that stricter standards do improve home safety. He said his own home was hit by a minor tornado in recent years and said he would have had less damage under the stronger codes.
Normally, a large-scale change to building codes can take up to a decade; something Doak said was a challenge. He also said he and his office are planning on expediting the process by convincing city and county leaders to adopt changes sooner so they may already be in place should the state adopt the codes.