Untangling Codes in Michigan

Filed in Codes and Standards by on October 14, 2016 1 Comment

tangleLee Schwartz is helping the members of the HBA of Michigan build safer, smarter and more efficiently – and not spend an arm and a leg in the process.

His secret? Building codes.

His mission? Making sure that building code officials – the inspectors and others who visit jobsites and have a vested interest in ensuring that homes stay affordable, so people can buy them and contribute to their community’s tax base – have a bigger say in the building and energy codes that govern home building.

Schwartz and the HBA of Michigan, where he is executive vice president for government relations, led a statewide effort this year to make sure more building officials can vote when the International Code Council begins its public hearings the week of Oct. 17.

“We are partners in creating safe and affordable homes for families, and the code is a better code when you have building officials involved,” Schwartz said.

After crisscrossing the state and after dozens of HBA volunteers knocked on city hall doors and mailed or dropped off hundreds of information packets on how the voting process works, who is eligible and what the issues are, members of the HBA of Michigan have reaped their just rewards: 231 building officials are eligible to vote in the hearings or later in the online voting process that takes place in November. That’s up from 57 officials in 2015.

“Everywhere we went, and I stress everywhere, the code officials expressed the same sentiments: ‘The code has gotten out of control, it’s too complex, it’s been taken over by manufacturers and special interests, we need to be involved,’ ” and most importantly, “‘Thank you for having this meeting and telling us about this.’

“During and after the downturn in residential construction – code officials and inspectors couldn’t go to the code hearings because they didn’t have the resources to go. Their place was taken by fire services personnel and energy offices and sustainability councils. Their role is important too, but they don’t have the overall knowledge and understanding that the code officials bring to this process,” he said.

code graphic

The cost of construction has increased in Michigan with each successive edition of the building codes.

“Every addition to the code just piles up the cost of affordable housing, and that’s one of the things that Michigan fights to protect at the state level and NAHB at the national level,” Schwartz said. “We probably spend as much time and money on codes advocacy as we do anything else” at the HBA, he said.

“The results are important to the members and they are important to Michigan families. It’s not good for these families and it’s not good for the state when we price new homes so far out of range for people that they can’t afford to buy and have to remain in houses that are less safe. It’s something we pay a lot of attention to here in in Michigan.”

NAHB’s Codes Advocacy Kit highlights those changes that, because of extraordinary expense on the negative side or better building practices on the positive side, that are the most important to the home building industry and to home buyers, whose interests we represent.

It’s important that home builders, remodelers and their trade partners share this document with their local building officials so they are prepared to vote at the ICC Public Comment Hearings Oct. 19-25 in Kansas City. For more information, contact Neil Burning at 800-266-8564.


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  1. Boyd Buchanan says:

    Our undying gratitude to Lee Schwartz for his longstanding understanding of the cost impact of codes and his dogged determination to help assure reasonable codes that result in safe housing that people can actually afford.

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