Prepare to face the strictest building codes in history.
Synopsis: Building codes are a vital part of creating safe, healthful houses, but they can be the bane of many builders’ existence. In this article, builder Fernando Pagés Ruiz takes a look at the history of building codes: how they started, how they got to where they are, and where they’re going.
You know the drill: You apply for a construction permit, submitting a set of drawings detailing what you intend to build and how. After some back and forth with the plans examiner and after your plans appear to meet the legal building code, your jurisdiction issues a building permit. Inspectors come to your job site at specific stages of construction to verify that the workmanship and materials follow the approved plans and meet local building standards. You complete construction, your inspector judges the building to be in compliance, and then your local authorities issue a certificate of occupancy. Usually, everything runs smoothly; sometimes, though, it feels like a struggle.
How did we arrive at this system? Why do code standards seem to keep getting harder and more expensive to comply with? Who writes these codes anyway, and who represents your interests in the process?
It began with safety
Code historians—yes, there are such people—tell us that building codes date back to the earliest times we had written laws. American building codes derived from English common-law standards and then evolved in response to local conditions. More often than not, they were responses to local catastrophes, such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992—all of which resulted in the development of ever more stringent construction standards, crafted to prevent a devastating loss of life and property from happening again. At the same time, widespread public-health concerns led…