Safety + Affordability: Builders Must Speak Out on Codes

Filed in Codes and Standards by on March 25, 2015 3 Comments

Some builders look at the process of developing building codes the way they look at drywall. They’d really rather not have to spend a lot of time worrying about either one. “We want somebody else to hang the drywall. We just want to get that out of the way so we can start the trim,” said builder David Sowders of Bowling Green, Ky.

“Codes are very much like that,” he said. “Most people know there are codes out there, but they’re not really sure how that works. They know they have to abide by them, but they want people who actually know about codes to deal with them. It’s someone else’s job.”

boxBut it’s time to pay attention. “There are proposals from special-interest groups that affect our ability to deliver an affordable, safe product for our customers, and if we are interested in providing that, we have to take a little bit of responsibility for how that process works,” Sowders said.

“These proposals may make the home more energy efficient or storm resistant, but at what price? These changes are not always being made by groups with the best interests of the health, safety and welfare of the people that are going to occupy the house, because they aren’t sensitive to the cost of what these code changes will require. This problem isn’t going away. It’s not going to change,” he said.

Builders don’t need to memorize the code proposals or beat down the doors of big-budget product manufacturers with proprietary interest in seeing change. But by cultivating a relationship with the people who make decisions about which proposals end up in the code, builders can help ensure that home buyers aren’t stuck with big price tags and little hope of a reasonable payback.

And really, it’s not so tough.

At Sowders’ HBA, the Builders Association of South Central Kentucky, a group of builders has just launched a series of regular lunches with county and city code inspectors and other local officials. “If we break bread and talk to these guys, we can begin to understand the code officials’ frustration, and they understand our frustrations and the hoops we jump through,” and even see eye to eye on some of the interpretations of the codes, he said.

“That’s how we begin to build a relationship long term, and then we can start seeking ways to improve the process. We have had two meetings so far. The first one went really well, and we have had another one since,” adding staff from the public works department to talk about storm water management and enforcement, which is another big hurdle for builders and inspectors. “We’re trying to find ways to help each other.”

“That’s what I challenge builders to work on – a positive, problem-solving manner. If a builder wants to have a say in the process that affects how and where he will build, if he wants a voice in the codes he will be building with in the next 30 years, it’s probably better that he not put his head in the sand and say what’s going to happen will happen,” Sowders said.

“That’s not going to guide the destiny of this industry in way that will provide affordable housing for his clients. I don’t want to compromise on safety, but I do want us to build in a way that allows it to be as affordable as it can be and still be safe for our clients.”

For help working with your code officials, contact Neil Burning, vice president of construction, codes and standards for NAHB, at 800-368-5242 x8564.


Comments (3)

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  1. Dan Tingen says:

    This article is making a really important point that builders should pay attention too. Manufacturers have learned that it is much easier to get building codes to REQUIRE their better mousetrap than to have to try to convince the marketplace to buy their better mousetrap; simply put, it’s just too hard to earn your business.

  2. rick roper says:

    I’ve been an entry-level builder for 40 years and am astounded by the multitude of code changes that have made it impossible to build an affordable home in Massachusetts. Most of these changes are to the energy code, and are so onerous that we can’t keep pace with the unintended consequences: i.e., radon increase and condensation so bad a 24/7 fan must be used.
    What about the confusion of changing National code from State code… haha now all the stupid amendments… DA… Try taking the stupid Construction license exam… what a joke…and of course there was no recourse because it was subbed out to for-profit organization…I testified at the hearing when fire chiefs tried to take over the code writing, insisting on fire sprinklers in single -amily homes , with their ridiculous estimates of the costs….Be glad to discuss or testify… but these people never invite someone representative of the industry..

  3. Timothy J. Droney says:

    Having been in the industry for 35+ years and having to adjust to the code updates every three years, I thought I was used to the codes being tightened. And some of the revisions do make sense, but when the building inspectors can’t keep up I know things are getting out of hand.
    The new CalGreen code that recently went into effect in California is a big jump in requirements and pretty complicated technically. I am surprised when I read that the code change estimate will raise the cost of a new home by about $2,000 or so. It is an absurd number to anyone who actually has to comply with these changes. Just hiring the technical expert to generate the paperwork required is more than that, not to mention the actual hard cost to install.
    Beyond the work involved in satisfying the code requirements to the building jurisdiction there is the unhappy job of explaining all this to the clients, who can’t understand why the costs to build have gone up so much and why it takes so long to get plans approved. I just tell them that we live in a highly regulated society and that is the price we must pay if we are to do business here.
    It would be good if there was a realistic fully-burdened cost attached to each of the changes in the codes so that could be considered before adoption.

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