Obama Seeks Building Code Changes Amid More Extreme Weather

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Skyscrapers and residential buildings line the beach April 4, 2016, in Miami.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • White House convenes meeting on resilience after disasters
  • Tighter rules sought for commercial, residential projects

President Barack Obama is asking the private sector to tighten building standards to reduce losses from natural disasters after studies linked an increase in extreme weather to climate change.

The administration will announce Tuesday the start of work by the organizations that set standards for residential and commercial buildings in an effort to improve safety during and after events such as fires, floods and earthquakes.

“We’re building for 50 to 100 years and if we don’t take into account what is to come, our investments are at risk of being washed away,” Alice Hill, White House National Security Council senior director for resilience, said in an interview.

Stronger buildings and infrastructure come at a cost, but the White House points to a 2005 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences that found every $1 spent mitigating potential hazards leads to an average of $4 in future benefits. Because the building code work is just beginning, there’s no cost estimate yet for how much stricter codes would add to construction costs, Hill said.

With scientists predicting more extreme weather and rising sea levels in the U.S. due to climate change, the administration says buildings need to be constructed differently. Obama often talks about resiliency when he visits storm-struck areas of the U.S., urging communities to rebuild stronger than they were before the tornado, hurricane or flood roared through.

“It’s a sound economic investment if you know that these impacts are coming so you’re not paying on the back end,” Hill said.

There aren’t national building codes in the U.S. States and localities generally adopt common standards set by organizations that are part of the International Code Council.

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