Changes to the building code will require homes in flood-prone areas to be on stilts

Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis said yesterday that his ministry is putting forward a number of recommendations to change the building code to increase resiliency in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

The recommendations he outlined would help to mitigate against both flooding and wind damage, as well as ensure an easy escape route from compromised homes.

However, Lewis emphasized that along with changes to the code, there must also be proper enforcement.

“The results from the professional team’s cursory assessment was rather stunning as the majority of homes destroyed by the wind revealed extensive breaches and lack of enforcement to building codes,” Lewis said in a presentation in the House of Assembly.

“In going forward, such practices will not be tolerated as industry practitioners are in support of convening thematic group sessions to review the building codes with the aim of recommending, where necessary, new approaches to building in conventional areas, and introduce more stringent policies when building in coastal or areas prone to flooding.

“I wish to present this House with a few examples and provide brief explanation on building proposals that my ministry intends to introduce in the coming months to support the view of building for resiliency and invariably a better Bahamas.”

Lewis recommended that buildings in areas prone to flooding be on stilts.

“What happens now is we build on slab-on-grade and the wave action goes directly through the house,” he said,

“[S]o we will recommend that you elevate on stilts, four to six feet. A wave goes under the house and [the] structure remains intact.”

He said it will also be recommended that electrical outlets be at least 36 inches above the floor to prevent electrical fires.

Lewis said that during assessments of Abaco and Grand Bahama, they noticed that homes with minimal roof overhangs fared better in the storm.

“[I]n analyzing in East Grand Bahama and in Abaco and the cays, we took note of the fact [where] the overhang that was six inches or less, the roof remained intact,” he said.

He added, “Typically, an overhang, you have them at two feet. What happens when you have them at two feet [is] the wind has more of an umbrella effect.

“It can get under it better, and it can pull the entire roof off.

“We recommend that we change this from 24 [inches] to 12 or even six inches.”

Lewis said another recommendation will be for homes to have either gable roofs or dormers so that they could easily exit their homes.

“Where we were challenged, because of the flooding, persons were trapped in their homes,” he said.

“They couldn’t get out.

“We will recommend that you put in a gable in-vent that you can kick out or a dormer that you can come out through and have inflatable devices stored in the ceiling.”

He added, “Finally, how do you get up to the ceiling? Most of us have manholes, but we don’t have any way to access the manholes. So, we recommend that you have a pull-down ladder with a string. Pull it down and the ladder steps down and you can climb up into the ceiling and, of course, escape through the gable end or through the dormer.”

The strongest storm to ever make landfall in the region, Hurricane Dorian leveled parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama in September, leaving at least 70 dead and thousands homeless and displaced.

The devastation left behind led many to question whether the Bahamian building code is sufficient, given predictions that stronger hurricanes will become more frequent as a result of climate change.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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