Building codes are a great way to ensure architects and builders are using the best materials and techniques available to produce high-performance dwellings – at least, in theory. The truth is, structures often fall short of the regulations in place because builders look to cut corners, reduce cost and decrease construction time. When that happens, the buildings are at risk of costing the owners more than necessary, or much worse – becoming structurally unsafe.
"Contractors shouldn't need much convincing to adhere to codes."
The problem is, it's difficult to enforce building codes. There are regulations officials in many areas, but few of them wield the power to force a builder to make retroactive additions to the structure as a way of upgrading its code compliancy. Most of the time, contractors are required to self-report about meeting codes. But even then, many town records are outdated and inefficient buildings fly under the radar.
However, a few areas have made a concerted effort to hold contractors accountable for keeping up with building standards. They shouldn't need much convincing – high-performance buildings can generate a higher price point for the builder and also save the buyer money over time. It's a win-win situation.
Georgia county empowers regulations officials
In Walker Country in Northwest Georgia, building codes officials recently gained the power to take action against buildings that don't stand up to inspection. According to Northwest Georgia News, regulators can condemn unsafe buildings, demolish them and send the bill to the property owners. Before the new ordinance, codes officials were required to file a civil suit for a building to be condemned, a process that often delayed action for years.
The bill had been debated for some time, but ultimately Commissioner Bebe Heiskell decided it was time to do something about the dilapidated buildings that dotted the county.
"Nothing is worse than going into a place that codes and common sense tell you is unsafe, but you [building inspectors] have no recourse to correct problems," chief building inspector Mark Askew told the Northwest Georgia News. "This is not how to tell people how to take care of their property. It is to provide another tool to help protect the public when situations arise that depress values of surrounding properties – and it will help safeguard the public's health."
To be clear, only structures that are past the point of salvation would be condemned. Otherwise, the inspectors would insist that builders take code regulations into account and retroactively install continuous insulation or necessary exterior coatings.
Vermont takes on stricter codes
In the Northeast, building regulations keep homes and offices temperate year-round – a tall order during hot summers and frigid winters. Now, Vermont has embraced new codes as of March 1 that require better insulation, air tightness, ventilation and other measures, reported VT Digger. Additionally, the state expects that by 2030, all new buildings will be constructed to net zero design standards. That will require five more code updates between now and then.
But the new codes don't just ensure builders utilize high-performing exterior wall systems and the best insulation available. The regulations also address the deficiencies in code compliancy by insisting contractors register their buildings with the state.
"Documentation has been lagging," Department of Public Services Commissioner Chris Recchia told VT Digger. "It has to be filed on the land record now. It will show up when someone does a title search on a property. The failure of that to be there won't cause a cloud on the title, but it it does indicate that there is something missing."
With these new programs that hold builders responsible for their structures, there is a greater chance that more buildings will meet with regulations.