AS FLORIDA REGULATORS SEARCH FOR middle ground on regional hurricane standards, builders and insurers remain at odds. This year's storm season brought with it a renewed bluster over the so-called “panhandle carve-out,” which holds certain Northwest counties to less stringent wind borne debris protection standards.

At issue is the degree of protection mandated for glass windows and doors. Throughout most of the state, storm shutters or impact-resistant glass are required where the design wind speed is set at or above 120 mph. In some parts of the panhandle, however, the building code sets a slightly higher mark, at 130 mph—the rationale being that the area's pervasive tree cover and hilly topography provide natural barriers that mitigate wind damage.

The Florida Building Commission earlier this year extended its wind bourne debris rules to a territory larger than the original carve-out established following Hurricane Andrew. As a result, impact-resistant glass is now required across a wider swath of the panhandle. Members of the Florida Insurance Council called the revised map a “dramatic improvement,” but were displeased in August when the Commission voted 11-9 against repealing the carve-out in its entirety.

Critics have expressed concerns that the continuing double standard could prompt insurers to drop homeowners in the panhandle, and dissuade reinsurers from doing business in the state.

Home builders contend that a blanket adoption of the 120 mph guidelines, without regard for geographic variables, would unnecessarily raise the cost of housing in a part of the state that is heavily populated by first-time home buyers. “Impact-resistant windows can increase the price of a house by $10,000 to $20,000,” says Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for the Florida HBA. “The whole impetus for the [panhandle] exemption years ago was that the Florida legislature was trying to keep the cost of homes down.”