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The Best Homes Exceed Code Requirements -- Cost-Effectively

Do you live in a house that has hairline cracks in the ceiling? Do the doors swell so tight in summer that you can hardly open them, and then let in chilly drafts in the winter? Do you wear a sweater indoors all winter, even though your heating bill far exceeds that of your snug and contented neighbors? Do you know your plumber's first name? Are you following the progress of your handyman's children through college -- and making it easier for him to afford their education? Can you hear everything that happens in the bathroom?

It is almost certain that your house was built in compliance with all applicable building codes.

Building codes in the United States originated with building safety regulations that were brought by the earliest settlers from Europe. Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, state governments were given the responsibility over the adoption and enforcement of regulations affecting the health and safety of their citizens; and the states have traditionally delegated this authority to local governments. In the early 1900s, major insurance companies encouraged the development of model building codes that would help reduce both the number of deaths and the payments on claims for fire losses and major failures.

As building codes evolved and became more complex and inclusive, they generally raised the minimum standard of housing. But the codes only guarantee mediocrity, not excellence.

New products such as steel framing, oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing, and air admittance vents sometimes exceed code requirements, and are often less expensive, more durable, and offer greater design flexibility than conventional counterparts.

Other measures require higher first costs, but offer lower life-cycle costs and much greater comfort than are required by building codes. EPA's ENERGY STAR program offers Builder Options Packages (BOPs), cost-effective energy-saving specifications for new homes that far exceed code requirements for insulation, windows, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) needs. The energy savings and improved comfort come with additional incremental first costs of three to five cents per square foot for insulation, and eight to 12 cents per square foot of window area. Costs and savings for these energy-saving measures can be estimated by referring to ENERGY STAR's Home Energy Advisor. Often, even though a high-efficiency heating/cooling system is more expensive than that that required by code, the reduction in energy use from thicker insulation, a less leaky building, and better windows means that the HVAC system may be smaller than would otherwise be required.

The skyrocketing costs of homebuilder liability insurance provide extra incentive for the builder to go that extra mile to build a safe, durable, and efficient home. If a builder can show underwriters that the company consistently satisfies customers and has a proactive quality control program in place, the company is likely to save money on insurance. One forensic building consultant ranks the top 10 items that could cause a loss, regardless of code compliance. If a builder can eliminate them from his construction methods it is likely to save money on insurance.

Building codes for almost any jurisdiction in the U.S. can be ordered from the Building Code Library.

Model Building Codes are not available for free online, but can be ordered either online or by phone:

ICC Codes (including CABO and MEC) (703) 931-4533, or can be ordered from BOCA, ICBO or SBCCI.

Visit PATH pages on Regulations and Codes and Regulatory Preparation

Content updated on 5/25/2007

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