How To understand Home Building Codes before you begin a project

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    Depending on your location and the project that you want to complete there are a variety of different building codes that you must comply with or your project may require hours of fixes or possibly even a complete tare out and do over.

    For the most part these regulations help you the home owner or contractor complete a project that follows minimal requirements and standards for safety but when you get into regulations targeted at historic or preservation areas or even home owner association rules you will find that in addition to standard building practices you can be limited in what you can do to your own structure if you would create a presence that others find unpleasing.

    There are rules and regulation that cover everything from the color of paint that you can use on the exterior of your home to full structural details for foundations and structure. Even putting in a pool in your backyard is normally regulated and requires a permit and inspection.

    Yes, the rules of building on your own property can get pretty dramatic and although many of them seem a burden they have been set forth by standards within the community you live on which have been voted on or adopted through regulation.

    For instance in the national building code there is no requirement to include a fence between properties but your local town or county may set a height and setback requirement that you must follow and in addition your home owners association may set rules on the type, color and location of fencing even if you are compliant with national and local laws.

    This can be rather confusing for the home owner but can also be a problem for contractors that need to be compliant with a variety of different authorities which may or may not accept the work they perform.

    Often the best source for understanding if the home you live in or are working at has additional restrictions placed on it because of non regulatory contractual agreements such as a home owners association is your local building official.

    Often local individual inspectors are not your best source because they will follow regulations set forth by the county or town but if you ask the building officials you can normally find out if a home owners or association agreement is in place for your property and either get a copy of it or be given the contact information for obtaining one.

    So, all of these situations and many more can restrict where and how you build any project.

    It is important when you purchase a home or property that you require the seller and or their realtor to provide you with all of the information about restrictions and regulations. You may find that the home you thought you loved with a few changes is a home you could never live in under home owner or association rules.

    Once you do understand all of the regulations and rules it is important that you review them to the best of your ability. If you are a home owner who feels the technical information is beyond your understanding then you need to get someone to help you. If the project is a large addition or major remodel of your home then it would probably be a good idea to talk with a local architect.

    If you do get a plan drawn up by an architect then you want them to put in writing that the work they have designed is within all of the rules and regulations that your property comes under.

    Once you have a plan you must decide if you are able to complete the work yourself or if you need to hire a contractor. If you need to hire a contractor you should have set in your bid proposal that all work must be completed within the rules and regulations set upon your property. This should protect you to a point if there is disagreement later.

    Whether you live in the middle of nowhere or on the 50th floor in a Manhattan highrise you will be regulated on projects that you want to complete. The level of regulation normally gets greater when the population density increases but rural locations may come under regulations by federal departments that a suburban home does not.

    It can get very confusing and the primary thing to remember is there is always someone out there wanting to tell you how or what you can do.. so it is best to understand the rules first that way there is no disagreement after you have spent a lot of money purchasing a property or completing a project that they won’t let you have.

    For your homework I suggest that you call your local building official and ask them which set of national rules they have adopted. There are a few code books that local officials work from.

    Then ask them if they have internet access or copies of any changes they have made to the National Code Books. Normally they will do something like Change the line on page 27 to read use 12″ spacing instead of 16″ spacing.. and you must know the changes when you read the National Codes.

    Then get a code book they only cost about $75 new but can be picked up used for $20. Make sure you get the year and revision that your local office uses and do not think that getting a newer version is better. So say your building official says we use the 2001 ICBO Code book and its 2014 and you think hey get a new book… Well there is a high likelihood that major changes have been made they could put you in conflict.

    In addition to building codes there are Fire, Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC and other codes that must be followed. If you obtain the ICBO Code book for Residential building it won’t cover all of these other codes that are found in separate books.

    Here is a list of building code organizations your location may be using the ICBO is most common.

    The Building Officials & Code Administrators International, Inc.(BOCA), The International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), The Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI) and The Council of American Building Officials (CABO).

    Final Note on Building Codes

    If someone is going to hold you to a rule or regulation there is probably good reason for it. Normally regulations are adopted after many years of injury and problems have occurred. It may be the insurance companies behind specific rules or it could be average citizens that are concerned about a specific matter.

    None of that really matters if you get yourself into the middle of a project costing a lot of money and find out nothing you have done is compliant.

    So, Ask your building official about the rules then follow them to the best of your ability.

    And if you want to do something outside of the rules you will need an official variance which normally requires a hearing or notice to the building official and may require a public hearing where people can state their views and uphold the restrictions.

    Normally for variances you will be required to have your abutting neighbors agree to all changes. Which is reasonable considering you decided to move into their neighborhood so its up to you to fit in rather than expect changes they don’t agree to.

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