Monday, February 09, 2009

DANG (21) - Building Code

The modern government establishes a Building Code that sets the standard for all buildings. There are four reasons why building codes do not work.

  1. The government does not know enough to set a code that will cover materials in all situations. New Zealand has thousands of “leaky homes” that complied with the building code when they were built. The building code has been modified to prevent this problem occurring. This has dramatically increased cost of complying, but it will not prevent the next problem from occurring.
  2. Builders, engineers and architects focus on complying with the code and stop thinking about quality the buildings they construct. They are the ones who determine the quality of a building, so the owner really wants them to be thinking about quality, and not just doing the minimum to comply with the building code.
  3. Manufactures of building materials can void warranty on new materials once they get approval by the building code. They focus on complying with the code, rather than taking responsibility for the quality of their products.
  4. The owner of a building is given a false sense of security. They will end up being liable for most problems with a building, despite the building code. If they were more aware of this responsibility, they would be more careful about buying or constructing a building. They would protect themselves by paying an expert to check out the building before taking on a liability. They would make sure they have good documentation about the quality of the building for when they want to sell it.
In most aspects of life, liability and authority go together. The building code splits these apart. The government takes authority and tells people what they must do, but it refuses to pay if things go wrong. Building owners are liable for any problems, so they should be given authority to make decisions about the quality of their buildings.

This full series can be found at Dang.


Steve Scott said...


There are many more reasons than four. I've been an architect in California for 20 years, and dealing with the building code directly is part of my job description. Calif just adopted a brand new code last year, and it changed everything we do.

5. Codes are so complex and cumbersome that it is humanly impossible to comply with them. Owners are then legally on the hook for the buildings that others design and build, leaving themselves open to lawsuit. This prompts them to shift money from building safety and quality to defense attorneys and liability insurance.

6. Codes are so complex that they are self-contradictory. Thousands of experts meet in hundreds of seminars all the time, yet cannot come to a consensus as to what the code even means.

7. Codes are not mostly written by politicians who think they know how to tell others how to do their jobs (although some of this does occur), but they are written by professional trade organizations that bribe politicians to force their own self-preservation into law to govern others. There's no better way to prevent competition than to get the government to force things your way.

8. Codes are so complex and change so often that keeping up with them is extremely expensive and all this cost is passed on to the builders (and ultimately to the consumer). People can dedicate their entire careers to understanding and applying the codes, yet still not master the task. People wonder why building is so expensive.

9., 10., 11.... Ron, if I continue, the internet will explode.

Steve Scott said...

9. Codes are written by private organizations that profit HEAVILY from having their work published. Imagine writing a several thousand page book (that will be updated every few months) and having the government enforce the publishing of it by law. At least one copy of it needs to be bought by every architect, engineer, library, city hall, builder, inspector, subcontractor/trade, etc., all at many hundreds or thousands of dollars per copy. Cash cow, cash cow, cash cow.

Ron McK said...

Thanks Steve. You are right.

The worst thing is that the home owner has to pay for all this stuff, but liability for problems remains with the owner.