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Hart column: Keeping current with code trends

By Dana Hart
For the Salisbury Post
I’m probably giving my age away but when I was younger I used to actually work on my own car. I still change the oil and a few things like that but for the most part I have to take it to someone who has kept up with the times, not only with tools but with knowledge and technology as well. I can remember my old 1965 International Harvester pickup truck. Farmers called it a corn binder. I not only would adjust the valves but would replace the points and set the timing. I rebuilt my solenoid from a box of spare parts I kept around and even did a front end alignment once.
Those days are long gone when someone like me could work on his own vehicles. Well, a similar thing has happened in the building trade. Building has become very technical. Code books change every three years or so and I couldn’t tell you how many professional contractors I talk with that have not updated their code book. In fact, some are still using code books that are more than nine years old. That means that certain aspects of the code have changed three times since they bought the standard. If it’s that hard for professionals to keep current and know the code; think how hard it must be for “Do It Your Selfers.”
Although I applaud the American Can Do Attitude there comes a time when one has to admit that things around them have moved a little too far and a little too fast. This is especially true in commercial construction and even more so when it comes to preparing the documents necessary to obtain a building permit for a commercial project. A commercial project is any building or remodeling project that is not on a single family house or duplex. If things like spectral response acceleration, assumed property line, and egress width per occupant sound like Greek it might be time to have a professional prepare your plans. Plans need to be drawn to scale and should be legible. If this is a problem then once again you need professional help.
The building code and its enforcement are derived from the General Statutes. Before you build without a permit or occupy a building before all the final inspections are done or occupy a building without the required Certificate of Occupancy you need to ask yourself the following questions: If someone were hurt in my building and the insurance company found out I am occupying my building illegally are they going to pay my claim? If someone gets hurt in my building am I going to be sued? If my building burns down and I don’t have the necessary documentation which proves that I followed the law will my insurance company pay? If I want to sell my property and the buyers’ mortgage company checks on my open permits or finds no permits at all will they allow the sale to go through? These are all good questions to ask. I know it seems like a lot of red tape and government intrusion to follow the code. But, do you really want to risk the consequence of not obeying the law?
I’m just like everyone else. I believe the government is too intrusive and taxes are too high but for the most part building codes have done a good job of protecting the general public from death or injury and of protecting people’s property from destruction. It takes everyone, though, to cooperate and want to obey the law. Hire someone when you’re in over your head. Follow through when you start a project and obtain the necessary documents and the next time you hear about a building collapsing in Russia or a night club fire that kills a hundred people know that if there was a building code and if it had been followed then you wouldn’t be reading about it. When people follow the building code there is nothing to write about.
Dana Hart is director of Rowan County Building Code Enforcement.

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