Building codes are all good right?
Portland Maine, a town trying to be a city, has recently adopted the International Residential Code. The IRC is a rather globalist style code system that breaks down the country into different zones, it is really quite generalized when you consider it tries to handle the whole country. It is an engineers sublime in a sense, everything is turned into a number, a force, a zone. It is a system that insures the dumbing down of architecture, the loss of regional common sense and it creates a need for revision and amendment according to local town environments and needs. However, once again Maine is sheepishly following the times and allowing this sort of modernist coded agenda eclipse local knowledge and practicality.
In the long run this IRC system is flawed much like the globalized NAFTA economy.
Who is going to implement it? Who is going to check up on the contractors and insure that they are complying….Portland has so few residential building code enforcement officials, they are going to be hard pressed to make it to many of the job sites. Would it not be better to spend the time and money on programs that assist builders to making correct decisions rather than hiring more “police officers”.
The modern code system creates such redundancies that it is very difficult to be creative or to be able to afford much more than a codified box. Between modernization of electrical systems, insulation, heating systems, radon venting, fire suppression systems etc. the home owner, designer and builder is left with a spent budget. In other words there is no budget for creative and inspirational design. This explains the modern-day boringness found in most homes. In order for your remodeled or new home to meet modern codes for insulative values it must be able to re-enter the earths atmosphere without burning up. A remodeled home goes from a R value of 5 to R-48 in roof systems. Of course in this day of a looming energy crises we need to tighten up the building but to what point is it overly tightened?
Those praising the IRC are architects, builders, and code enforcement personnel who argue that it simplifies the system. Those professionals argue that by adopting one code system in all towns it reduces the examination of the varieties of code systems that are in place i.e. BOCA, IBC, IRC, and a long list of other building code acronyms. This is a myth….there will always need to be amendment by each town and there will be the latest year code book, IRC 2004, IRC 2008, etc., etc.. As an example lets look at Radon gas….In the IRC Maine is lumped into a high risk radon zone….this means all new construction has to include radon venting systems below grade. If you know anything about radon gas it precipitates from ledge rock, it rises up through the ground and can become trapped under your basement concrete slab, then seep in and cause the occupants cancer ….that is if you build over ledge….what if you build where there is no ledge immediately below? According to the IRC your builder will have to install radon gas venting systems because it dumbs down critical thinking. Even more what if your designer is smart and keeps everyone above ground, or there is no basement dwelling, which is really the best sense, the building still has to have this radon venting….these redundancies are expensive, and unnecessary.
My point is yes there need to be codes as guidelines but lets not dumb down the issue. There is no replacement for local knowledge. Codes are meant to be guidelines not the end all decision. The IRC is just another code, it will not solve all of our building dilemmas ….thoughtful designers, and builders with local understanding will…there is no replacement.