Building codes are getting ridiculous. The people who write, or perhaps more correctly edit, the codes every three years have gone over the edge.

In the 1980’s the building code we used in Galveston was a rather small three ring binder.  Seems like it was about 200 or so pages printed on both sides.

Today the library of International Codes fills an entire bookshelf.

Everything from how many air changes per hour there will be in a Nail Salon to tamperproof, arc fault protected electrical outlets is specified.  The Code Council keeps pushing for fire sprinklers in every building.  In Texas, the legislature pushed back by prohibiting cities and counties from requiring them in residential construction. Fire sprinklers are not the last word in protecting property from damage.  I was visiting with a contractor engaged in a big fire damage job – the fire did about $200,000 in direct damage.  Water from the sprinklers added another several million dollars to the repair bill.

The changes made every three years are so numerous and cumbersome that the construction industry hasn’t adjusted to the 2009 code when the 2012 code is published.

Three years is too short a cycle. And every tragedy reported in the newspapers does not need to have a response embodied in the building codes. Most of the tragedies reported are the result of cumulative failures including lack of inspections during construction and after occupancy, numerous violations of the fire codes while the building is occupied, impeded exits and the number of occupants exceeding that which the building was designed to accommodate. Alcohol impaired occupants often figure prominently in these tragedies. There should be some relationship between the societal cost of accidents and the cost of prevention. Accidents will happen.  Some will be tragic.  Should the entire industry change the way we build things? Not necessarily.

Of course, one has to believe that it is also about selling the books and bolstering the bottom line of the International Code Council.

All the changes in the Code do not become apparent until the books have been published, the officials have been trained, and all the seminars attended.  By then, the next round of changes is underway.  At the very least the Council should publish the book describing important changes to the Code long before, and not after, the Code becomes available for adoption.

Any state or local agency that requires compliance with the “most recent edition” should change their enabling legislation and adopt a certain edition. Laziness on the part of regulators is not a good thing.  If a new code is going to be adopted, it should be an affirmative act based on an evaluation of the new code, not a default automatic adoption.

The people who write (edit) the codes need to slow way down, make fewer, more meaningful changes, stop burying requirements in the wrong chapters and be less reactive to isolated events.  Yes, we want safer buildings and the building codes should lead the way – but don’t cripple the construction industry in the process.