This March, Moore, Oklahoma became the first city in the nation to adopt a tornado-specific building code. City officials wanted homes to be able to withstand an EF-2 or EF-3 tornado.
But six months after the new regulations took effect, it turns out not all new homes built in the tornado’s path will have these upgrades.
Last week, on a block near Moore’s rebuilt Plaza Towers Elementary School, city official Shane Speegle walked through one house that had just been framed to check the progress.
“This is the portal frame opening, AKA the garage door,” he said. “The garage door is rated at 135 mph, but if that goes, the next thing to go is the portal frame.”
The City of Moore issued the permit for this home after it adopted its new building codes, so the contractor had to take more precautions like using nails instead of staples and installing a more durable garage door.
Not everyone was using the same rule book, though, says Moore’s community development director Elizabeth Jones.
“In an ideal situation, you would be able to have the time directly after the event to come up with all of these things so everyone can be build back stronger and safer,” Jones said.
Several residents whose houses were destroyed hired contractors to start rebuilding within a week after the storm, before the stricter codes were enacted. But instead of rushing to draft the new regulations, the city took its time to research all possible options.
“We don't want to make codes just for the sake of making codes,” Jones said. “We want to be able to address real problems that exist out there and try to make them better.”
And Marvin Haworth of Haworth Homes says the cost of these additional measures adds up.
“By my calculations, I think it's about $1.50/square foot for everything that is under a roof, including the garage, porches, patios, everything.”
Most new homes on the market in Moore right now don't have that added expense, though.
Since last year’s tornadoes, the city has issued more than 600 building permits for houses in the storm-damaged area, and most of those went out before the new code took effect. So far, only 152 homes in the city are being built to the stricter, wind-resistant standard.
“These other 400 or 500 homes, they're still built to the old style. And they're going to last 50, 60, 80 years or until the next tornado comes along,” said Tim Marshall, meteorologist and civil engineer for Haag Engineering in Dallas.
He’s watched Moore rebuild itself after past tornadoes and sees the new code as an important step to building better. But he thinks that even residents who took all the proper precautions have reason to be worried.
“The thing about this is you yourself as a homeowner can say, ‘Alright, I want all of these things done,’” he said.
“But if your neighbor doesn't do it, then your house is really only as strong as your neighbor's because your neighbor's house is going to fall apart. And you’re going to get hit with it, and then all bets are off basically.”
Marvin Haworth from Haworth Homes understands that. Despite the added expense, he says building to stronger codes is the responsible thing to do, even if it’s not a requirement.
“In California, they build homes to withstand earthquakes, and in Florida, they build homes to withstand hurricanes. So in Moore, Oklahoma, we need to build homes to withstand the natural phenomenon that we have here, which is tornadoes,” Haworth said.
But as much as he likes the idea of a stronger code, it’s not an easy sell with everyone. Some homeowners, he says, are reluctant to spend more time and money on a house with the same sized footprint it had before the storm.