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Navigating the Building Code Maze

Jan 8, 18 • News

Maze

Your new home is supposedly (but not) being built in strict accordance with the versions of the model building codes adopted by your municipality. This is not happening for many reasons which include, but are not limited to, a lack of competence and/or diligence on the part of the municipal building inspectors, the home builders and their subcontractors, and an almost unbelievable lack of understanding of the building codes on the part of all of the aforementioned entities.

All model building codes are linear, sequential and extremely complex. The authors of these tomes assume significant prior knowledge of construction materials and industry practices on the part of the readers. This is often not the case. Even the very people responsible for constructing and overseeing the construction of new homes are unable to follow the map through these multifaceted directives with any appreciable degree of accuracy.

Home buyers are not advised to even try to grapple with an understanding of current building regulations. This is tantamount to somehow miraculously gaining a thorough knowledge of the IRS tax codes or the Affordable Health Care Act. The layperson doesn’t stand a chance. Any such attempt will certainly lead to hours of perusing runes (watching paint dry and peel) and the frustration that accompanies meeting up with technical writing at its worst – face to face.

The purpose of hiring an independent third-party inspector who is code certified is to direct you and those responsible for the construction of your new home in achieving at least a rudimentary comprehension of the codes involved. This is the only way one can possibly hope to approach minimal code compliance on any project – the worst way one can legally build a house.

If I haven’t convinced the hardcore amongst you, I have listed below some publications you can start reading and begin to gain an understanding of the depth of your lack of understanding. He who knows he does not know is in the best position to learn.

(Some of the codes are available to the public, most are not. This is thanks to our system of less-than-open-government. If you feel that this is unfair you may consider supporting activists like Carl Malamud at Public.Resource.Org .)

International Residential Code (IRC), International Code Council
International Building Code (IBC), International Code Council
International Energy Efficiency Code (IECC), International Code Council
National Electrical Code (NEC), National Fire Protection Association
National Fuel Gas Code (NFGC), National Fire Protection Association
Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete ACI 318-14, American Concrete Association
Post-Tensioning Manual, Post-Tensioning Institute
Field Procedures Manual for Unbonded Single Strand Tendons, Post-Tensioning Institute
Standard Practice for Installation of Exterior Windows, Doors and Skylights, ASTM E2112, ASTM International
Technical Notes 1 – 48, Brick Industry Association
Portland Cement Plaster (Stucco) Manual, Portland Cement Association
NRCA Roofing Manuals, National Roofing Contractors Association

Of course, this is the short list. You can also add to these the amendments adopted by your local municipality, all of the referenced standards within each of the standards themselves, all manufacturer’s installation instructions for every material used in the construction process, etc. ad infinitum. Happy reading!

Seller Surveillance

Dec 5, 17 • News

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Sellers read this Surveillance Article from Texas Realtor Magazine before you get into hot water.

New Houses Burn Fast

Nov 27, 17 • News

New Houses burn faster than you might think.

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Investigating Homebuilders

Nov 21, 17 • News

Investigating Home Builders

Transparent Aluminum

Nov 14, 17 • News

Important Information on CSST Gas Piping

Oct 13, 17 • News

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ICC Code Notes on CSST

The Ladder Must Not Be Tall For A Fatal Fall

Sep 12, 17 • News

Construction Defects in the News (Again, and again, and again . . .)

Aug 1, 17 • News

An article in the latest edition of the Journal of Light Construction, the leading trade magazine to the home building industry, discusses just a few of the hundreds of construction defects I encounter every day while inspecting new homes.Construction Defects Article JLC

The 12.5 Minute Inspection

Jul 29, 17 • News

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McKinney, Texas is no small fry. It is one of the largest suburbs in the 4th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It is also among the top 10 fastest growing cities of over 100,000 population in the nation. Of course, this means there is a lot of home building going on in this city in northern Collin County.

 

I have performed many inspections of houses in McKinney over the past 20 years. While in the process of doing research for an inspection I had scheduled at the end of this week I happened upon their website which has a slick professionally-made video singing the praises of their building inspectors. In it the announcer clearly states how last year 12 technicians inspected 60,000 houses. She also adds that this is not a process to be rushed. I guess she never did the math. Additionally, the lady mentioned that this seems to be a daunting task. That is a monumental understatement.

Let’s take a look at the math, shall we?

 

So, 60,000 inspections by 12 technicians means each did 5,000 inspections last year. Impressive. I can barely manage 200 in a very good year.

 

If one figures the average 260-day work year that equals 19.2 inspections per day. Wow! One per day is all I can muster.

 

 If one assumes an 8-hour work day and then subtracts a 10-minute drive between each of these and an hour for lunch one is left with 12.5 minutes on each site. Speedy indeed! My inspection times average 2.25 hours onsite with eyes on the house plus another 2.5 hours report writing. This does not include research time, scheduling, time spent answering client questions both onsite and later via phone or email.

 

This, of course, assumes that the technicians never have to answer the call of nature, get caught in traffic between stops, stop by the convenience store for a coffee, talk on the phone, confer with builders or other inspectors, go to mandatory office meeting, study the building codes, go to seminars, fill out paperwork, nothing. Just hard-nosed, all-work kind of guys. My hat is off to them.

 

Did you know that the average American worker, while eliciting sympathy about how they work 60-hour weeks, actually only works on what they were employed to do for about 3 to 3.5 hours per day, or 17.5 hours per week? But, perhaps I digress. Maybe McKinney has located the crack employees of the universe for roughly $45K in salary per year. Kudos McKinney!

 

Were you aware that in 2014 the Texas Energy Code Compliance Collaborative

2014 Energy Code Adoption Report, after studying code officials and inspectors in the 213 most populous Texas cities that only a little more than half of Texas municipalities required code certification for their inspectors? The study stated in part,

 

“Through our survey of building code officials we identified that there is consensus that the permit offices and staff need to be better supported to take on this important enforcement role. Not unlike the fire department, their enforcement can help to prevent house fires and plumbing leaks that are life threatening and expensive to repair. However they report that they are typically:

 

  • Short on time and/or staff to complete adequate inspections.

 

  • There is a need for education or training, but only half reported that the certification was required for the job, and it is difficult to get time or funding to go to training.

 

  • Salary levels make it difficult to fill the positions as they become avail

 

 

In this survey, building code officials also suggested that these barriers to code enforcement are similar within all the building trades. In the summer months when building industry is at its peak, there is little time to do adequate training, so they rely on the building inspectors to check their contractors’ work, or to let them know if there is an issue in the plan review. This requires the building inspectors and plan reviewers to spend even more time working to educate and inform

builders and contractors regarding standards and codes.”

 

While it is almost certain that the city of McKinney requires code certification from their inspectors, are they really that good? Can they work like madmen under these conditions of extreme work overload for relatively little compensation?

 

Who do you want inspecting your new home that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars? The guy who can spare a mere 12.5 minutes running through the jobsite or the man who literally spends hours meticulously cataloging construction defects in your new home?

 

How is it then that we come to this dilemma? In short, Texas is builder- and big business-friendly to a fault. Through manipulation of every facet of their industry they manage to avoid almost any meaningful oversight of their activities. They are not regulated by the state and require no licenses or  bonds. The contractors working on your home are, for the most part, not licensed either. Only the plumbers, HVAC technicians, and electricians are licensed. The last of those was only required to be state-licensed in 2005.

 

Please, do not think for a minute that this is in any way intended to be disrespectful of the hard workers at the city of McKinney or other DFW cities. They have an impossible job. The intent is to show you only a piece of the puzzle that, when fully assembled, will give you a glimpse into how the corrupt Texas home building industry with its predatory corporate practices is taking advantage of home buyers like you.

 

 

 

 

Folding House

Jul 17, 17 • News