History of South Florida Building Code

March 9, 1996, marked the 20th anniversary of the public referendum in which the people of Broward County approved the special act making the South Florida Building Code, Broward County Edition, a county-wide standard.

This act, incorporated into the County charter, set a standard of excellence which is to this day unequaled in the State of Florida.

Starting in the 1950s when several devastating hurricanes had made it obvious that strong Building Code provisions were needed in South Florida, a panel of experts, including architects, engineers, builders and industry representatives began a search for a code relevant to South Florida needs.

It immediately became apparent that none of the existing codes of the day would be acceptable.

Other codes addressed such problems as snow loading (the weight of snow falling and remaining on tope of a building), seismic (earthquake) forces, and soil frost lines (the depth below the surface to which the soil is expected to freeze), not one code addressed wind loading or resistance to hurricane force winds.

Snow loading is not a problem in South Florida. Very few people even remember the day it snowed in Broward County (January 7, 1977.) There was certainly not enough of it to cause any excess weight to South Florida buildings. In fact, there was hardly enough to make a good size snow ball or a bowl of snow ice cream.

Seismic forces also are not relevant, since there is no known earthquake activity anywhere in South Florida.

And, last but not least, while the frost line in some of the northern states may go as deep as six feet below grade, our frost line is somewhere north of Orlando. There is no record of it ever having gotten cold enough in Broward County for the soil to freeze.

Hurricanes, however, are another story. The number of hurricanes hitting South Florida in the past has been enormous.

The panel working on designing a code reflecting local conditions started with the Uniform Building Code (used in almost every state west of the Mississippi River and a few others besides) as a model.

From there, they worked with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and other research groups to devise wind-loading design. A formula for calculating anticipated loading from hurricane force winds, taking into account both the wind speed and the height above ground, was derived.

Remember: This was in the days of the slide rule, 20 years before the popularity of computers and yet, with the limited tools at their disposal, these researchers created a mathematical model which remained the state-of-the-art until 1988, when ASCE 7-88 was adopted. This model was based on the latest and most sophisticated data and computer analysis available at the time.

While Miami-Dade County was the first to adopt the South Florida Building Code on December 31, 1957, Broward County was close behind, adopting a slightly modified version of the South Florida Building Code, Dade County Edition, applicable to the unincorporated portions of the county.

It was not until 1976, however, that the SFBC was adopted as a mandatory standard for all municipalities in Broward County.

When the South Florida Building Code was first written, it was designed as a model that could be adopted by any municipality or by the unincorporated section of a county.

Each jurisdiction could then establish its own Board of Rules & Appeals and could edit, amend and interpret the SFBC independently from any other jurisdiction.

Since these board members were appointed solely by the locally elected officials, there was a potential for political pressure to exert a greater influence on code decisions than public health, safety and welfare.

Organization of the Boards was what unique, in that each of the major disciplines (architects, engineers, contractors, etc.) had one representative and an alternate, who each shared a single vote. If either attended a meeting, they got one vote. If both attended, they got one-half vote each.

This method made it difficult to always have a quorum of Board members and made vote counting a complex endeavor.

After a Grand Jury investigation in the early 1970s, the voters of Broward County opted for a single, countywide Board, with County Commissioners appointing some Board members, and the League of Cities appointing the majority.

By 1972, the size of the Board had reached 26 members, with 8 appointed by the Commissioners and 18 appointed by the League of Cities.

As the complexity of issues before the Board has increased, it has been necessary to develop a large number of committees, each of which is headed by a Board member, responsible for preliminary eval uation of appeals and proposed code changes which directly affect their areas of expertise.

The time donated to the public good by these Board members, along with volunteers who serve on their committees, is staggering, representing literally thousands of hours each year.

The first major change in the makeup of the Board of Rules and Appeals in a number of years came about in January 1997, as a result of a public referendum approved by Broward County voters in 1996.

This controversial referendum called for all Board member terms to expire simultaneously, creating the potential for a lack of continuity in handling on-going problems before the Board.

It also resulted in splitting the Board makeup into two groups, 13 voting members and nine non- voting alternates, while at the same time deleting one position (a consumer advocate), and adding two (one roofing contractor as a voting member and another as a non-voting alternate.)

The Broward County Commission was given the authority to appoint six of the 13 voting members and four of the non-voting alternates.

The Broward County League of Cities appoints the remaining seven voting members and five non-voting alternates.

A quorum of the Board is established at 11 persons, however the Board has adopted a policy of trying to seat thirteen members for every meeting, seating alternate members to replace any voting members who may be absent.

When possible, an alternate from the same profession as the absent member will be appointed, however when this is impossible, the Board Chairman will select a replacement from any alternates attending the meeting.​​