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New Codes, Old Problems

Posted by Ron Jones

Aug 16, 2017 12:50:47 PM

Creating codes for resilient buildings proves complicated, as usual.

ANOTHER BATTLEFRONT is taking shape on the already-crowded fields of conflict that define the relationship between the regulatory sector and the homebuilding industry. However, I don’t intend to suggest the ongoing battles around energy codes, proposed fire sprinkler mandates, stormwater management, wetlands designations, silica rules, endangered species, updated overtime compensation requirements and a host of others conflicts have been resolved—or even quieted significantly. The call for more resilient buildings is simply another brewing fight to add to the list.

 Building Codes

Following a White House conference this spring on how to pass building codes that provide more resilience, the response from a National Association of Home Builders’ representative echoed a familiar refrain: Codes essentially have been hijacked by the product manufacturers, so the poor, beleaguered homebuilder will be forced to purchase their latest products to comply.

Soon after, the organization’s message to its members on the topic appeared benign enough, simply reporting the White House event had taken place, and predictably assuring members’ interests would be looked after by vigilant monitoring of the situation.

An Historic Situation

I am reminded of a project along the upper Rio Grande some years ago on the lands of one of the Native American pueblos, a few miles north of Albuquerque. The pueblo committed to build a new church, requiring it to be engineered and built to last “a minimum of five hundred years.”

Sure, the pueblo’s governing council was concerned about upfront costs, along with a vast number of aesthetic, structural, historic and cultural considerations. But their insistence on constructing a building that would endure for generations speaks volumes about their values as a society.

The coming battles over resilient houses and buildings are little more than reruns of the age-old struggles between those who search for ways to maximize short-term profits over choosing to deliver lasting value.

The homebuilding industry is quick to recognize and happy to benefit from the complexity of the resiliency issue, and this promises to be a long fight. This is especially true given the wide array of potential environmental disasters, from extreme weather events, seismic issues and wildfires to seasonal flooding, ground subsidence, erosion and rising sea levels. These factors are already challenging enough without mixing in the myriad of stakeholders, public and private, and special interests that must find ways to address the growing need for more resilient building solutions. It is a safe bet that resolutions to these expensive and devastating events will be slow to emerge.

In the meantime, it will remain easier and more expedient to blame those devious product manufacturers, the White House, FEMA, the insurance industry, Mother Nature, Lady Luck or, heck, even the weatherman, rather than share the responsibility and try to be part of the solution. 

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