Changes to the Florida Building Code (FBC) have deeply impacted the building supplier and manufacturer industry. The changes have required the industry to adapt in ways that have affected how they do business while keeping in mind the structural integrity of building structures.

The preface of the FBC states that during the early 1990s, a series of natural disasters, and increasing complexity of building construction, led to a comprehensive review of the state building code system. The study revealed that building code adoption and enforcement was inconsistent throughout the state and local codes thought to be the strongest, proved inadequate when tested by major hurricanes. The consequence of the building code failure was devastation to lives and economies and was the major proponent that led to our current statewide property insurance crisis.

The response was a reform of the state building construction regulatory system that placed emphasis on uniformity and accountability. The FBC supersedes all local building codes developed and maintained by the Florida Building Commission.

The state of Florida first mandated statewide building codes during the 1970s at the beginning of the modern construction boom. The first law required all municipalities and counties to adopt and enforce the “state minimum building codes.”

A cooling tower is a critical component of a building’s A/C system. The only difference is that this particular mechanical equipment must be installed outdoors for proper operation, therefore finding itself exposed to exterior conditions such as hurricane force winds. They are usually installed on roofs of tall buildings and can be found on structures of any height.

One of the latest incorporations to the FBC is “The design of such cooling tower shall be in accordance with the requirements of the Florida Building Code, Building for a structure …” as it reads in Section 908.1 of the Mechanical Volume of the code.

Prior to this recent revision the code read “A cooling tower used in conjunction with an air-conditioning appliance shall be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Section 908.4 reads: Supports for cooling towers, evaporative condensers and fluid coolers shall be designed in accordance with the Florida Building Code, Building.”

Both sections of the code 908.1 and 908.4 refer to the FBC Building Volume.Section 1620 of the FBC Building Volume reads: “Wind velocity (3-second gust) used in structural calculations shall be 140 mph (63 mi/sec) in Broward County and 146 mph (65 mi/sec) in Miami-Dade County.”

What does this all mean? Simply stated, before this change, local code officials had to ensure that cooling towers were anchored properly so hurricane force winds could not move them from their base. After the change, code officials need to also ensure that the cooling towers are designed and built so that the cooling tower structure itself will not collapse under the forces of nature.

An important question is what effect does this have on construction costs? Stronger structures need to be designed and built providing sturdier units, in spite of the potential increase in costs. These necessary additional expenses tie into construction costs, possibly increasing the final expenditure in a facility and affecting overall building budgets, a prerogative if the industry is to keep the interests of the community by reducing the impact of property loss. All this while keeping the bottom line in mind.

Miami’s own Protec Cooling Towers has taken the lead in manufacturing their cooling towers by utilizing extensive structural engineering software analysis to determine the type of structure that can be manufactured most cost effectively without compromising structural integrity.

Having lived in this community most of my life, I believe it is important for us to provide products and services that will keep property loss at a minimum during this time of increased hurricane activity. All this while making sure we keep building costs within budget. How does this affect local government? The liability now lies with the local building officials, in turn affecting the liability exposure to local municipalities. It is the duty for these local building officials to guarantee that a manufacturer is providing a piece of equipment that complies with the FBC.

What needs to be done to not exacerbate the problem? The solution has three parts. First of all, architects need to make sure their engineers select and provide equipment that complies with the FBC. Second, inspectors need to ask for the adequate information confirming the products being installed in any given building meet the strict requirements of the code. Finally, third-party testing providing a structural analysis study by professionals in the field needs to be submitted to the building officials for approval.

It is necessary for manufacturers to comply, for the engineer to select the correct equipment and finally for the building inspector to enforce the code.

We need stronger buildings and building components to withstand hurricane force winds in order to permanently overcome the insurance crisis in Florida. More importantly, though, we need watchdogs to make sure that everyone is offering the correct equipment in every facility in the state of Florida. Only then can the FBC work as it was designed.

Alfredo M. Sotolongo, P.E.
President and CEO
Protec, Inc.