South Florida has been undergoing significant changes to its building recertification program that property owners, HOAs, and property managers should be aware of. As a direct response to the devastating 2021 Champlain Towers building collapse, Miami-Dade and Broward County implemented new, strict building codes and subsequent amendments to existing ordinances to keep their communities safe. Today, South Florida is in a new era of building regulations and requirements, leading to a rising demand for skilled structural engineers. These professionals are leading the charge toward a safer, more resilient architectural future and are busier than ever before. Let’s explore the details and implications of these changes and how they are affecting the building landscape in South Florida.
Understanding Building Recertifications
Building recertifications were first introduced in 2005 by Miami-Dade County as the ‘40-Year Recertification Program’ and quickly replicated in Broward County as the ‘Building Inspection Program.’ These programs originated as a response to the inherent challenges of aging infrastructure in the region. In Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, buildings were mandated to undergo recertification when reaching the age of 40 years from their original Certification of Occupancy and again every 10 years after that. The goal was clear: to assess and ensure the ongoing safety of these structures, given the wear and tear over time. These programs marked a proactive approach to preventing structural failures and potential disasters. This crucial initiative ensured the structural, electrical, and mechanical safety of buildings as they age.
It is important to note that Miami-Dade and Broward County each have their own distinct set of rules and regulations. While the basics are the same, both counties require recertification when a building turns 40 years old, there are also county-specific requirements that differ from each other.
Building Size Matters
- In Miami-Dade, regulations apply to commercial buildings over 2,000 sf.
- In Broward, regulations apply to commercial buildings over 3,500 sf.
- Miami-Dade requires 2 additional components for its building recertification process: an illumination study & a guardrail inspection. Broward County does not. For more information about these additional requirements, click here.
Changes to the Program
The tragic Surfside building collapse in June of 2021 was a significant turning point for the building recertification process. A building designed to stand for decades had crumbled, claiming lives and highlighting the need for stricter regulations and requirements. In response, crucial changes were introduced to the recertification program, reshaping its scope and focus.
Changing the Cycle: From 40 to 30 Years
The first significant update is the adjustment to the recertification timeline. Previously, buildings reached 40 years before undergoing the mandatory inspection. Now, the requirement is triggered when a building is 30 years old. This modification allows for more frequent assessments, facilitating timely identification and rectification of potential issues.
Buildings within three miles of the coastline face an even more accelerated timeline undergoing recertification 25 years after construction and every 10 years after that. This acknowledgment of the unique stresses of coastal environments reflects a more nuanced approach to building safety.
These shifts are a testament to Florida’s commitment to proactive safety measures and preventative maintenance.
*Both Miami-Dade and Broward County follow this new rule.
Rethinking the Program: Changes for a Safer Future
The revised program also received a significant update concerning electrical safety assessments and includes provisions for electrical disconnection if a building is deemed unsafe. One of the most notable changes is the addition of the Infrared Thermography Inspection, performed by certified Level II Thermographers. Buildings operating electrical systems exceeding 400 amps or greater are now subject to this specialized thermal inspection. The objective is to identify thermal anomalies that might not be visible through traditional inspections, helping to pinpoint potential risks to structural integrity.
*Both Miami-Dade and Broward County follow this new rule.
Covering More Bases: Additional Players Now Required
Before the collapse, a structural and electrical engineer were the only two parties involved in the inspection process. Now, the size of the building and the electrical system in place will dictate if other professionals are needed.
- As mentioned above, if a building operates an electrical system with 400 amps or greater, you will need a certified Level II Thermographer to conduct an inspection.
- If your building is considered a threshold building, then a Licensed Special Inspector needs to be involved. What is considered a threshold building?
- If a building is greater than 3 stories
- If a building is greater than 50 feet in height
- If a building has an assembly occupancy greater than 5,000 square feet AND there is a room that holds more than 500 people (think college campuses, stadiums, and auditoriums, etc.)
Benefits of the Program
Building recertification isn’t merely about adherence to regulations. Regular inspections help identify potential issues before they escalate into critical problems, reducing maintenance costs and enhancing the longevity of buildings. By mandating recertifications, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are promoting a culture of preventative maintenance, resulting in safer, more sustainable structures. Moreover, recertification from a qualified engineering firm enables owners and property managers to understand, prevent, and plan for current and future repair and maintenance expenses.
Implications for Structural Engineers
The transformation of the building recertification program has ushered in significant implications for structural engineers across the region. The surge in demand for their expertise is palpable, driven by the urgency of complying with the new, more frequent inspection cycles. As many buildings approach their impending recertification deadlines, structural engineers find themselves amidst an abundance of work. The accelerated shift from a 40-year cycle to a 30-year cycle has compressed timelines, necessitating a rapid response from engineers. This increasing workload underscores the vital role these professionals play in ensuring building safety and stability. With the incorporation of Level II Thermography Inspections, structural engineers must rapidly adapt their skill sets to become proficient in utilizing this advanced technology. In this dynamic environment, Florida’s structural engineers are tasked not only with safeguarding their communities but also with recalibrating their skills to align with the evolving demands of enhanced building safety protocols.
Implications for South Florida Building Owners
For South Florida building owners, the evolution of the building recertification program brings about significant implications that span financial, logistical, and safety considerations. The transition from a 40-year cycle to a 30-year recertification cycle has accelerated the need for compliance, placing a heightened demand on their resources. Building owners now face the urgency of ensuring that their properties undergo more frequent inspections, which entails both a financial commitment and allocation of time and resources. With the introduction of Level II Thermography Inspections and Threshold Inspections, they are forced to engage with additional professionals to assess their property, adding a layer of complexity to their responsibilities. In addition, building owners in South Florida may experience slower response times or increased costs for recertification assessments. Obtaining recertification within the specified timeframe is crucial to avoid enforcement cases and potential penalties
However, this reevaluation of the recertification program underscores building owners’ commitment to the safety of their occupants and the broader community. By diligently adhering to the new requirements, South Florida building owners not only uphold essential safety standards but also actively contribute to the overall resilience of the region’s infrastructure.
Navigating the Future: Anticipating Further Changes
The new recertification process demonstrates Florida’s tireless commitment to building safety. However, it’s important to recognize that these changes will not be the final chapter. In response to evolving needs and lessons learned, the program will most likely continue to evolve, introducing new measures that better address the complexities of building integrity.
As the program adapts and improves, it serves as a beacon of proactive governance, striving to prevent disasters before they occur.
Staying informed about evolving legislation is crucial, as compliance isn’t just a legal requirement but a moral obligation to create a safer built environment. As South Florida’s skyline evolves, these changes are a testament to the region’s commitment to resilience and proactive adaptation, fostering a safer environment for future generations.