Built to a Higher Standard
Codes, Ordinances and Permits are the regulatory foundation our homes are built on. They are designed to protect buildings and people, to promote safety and function. Standards (Codes, Ordinances, and Permits) reflect changes in climate, materials, methods and culture. They correct past mistakes, adjust to new conditions and provide a path forward. It’s never been easy to disseminate new ways of building from their inception to the job site. Doing so now, during a period of extraordinary and rapid change, is a challenge.
It’s all Local
Hell on earth is located on the 3rd floor of Atlanta city hall. The toils of Sisyphus are child’s play compared to obtaining a building permit there. A convoluted and labyrinth process is made worse by ill-tempered staff and interminable lines. The faulty, poorly designed website not only fails to inform, it doesn’t provide a means to comply. Smaller metro municipalities vary in their degrees of hellishness.
To Permit or not to Permit?
Permits and inspections add cost and uncertainty because of delays. Getting a permit is like filing a tax return, it’s a complex, costly process requiring the patience of Job and costly specialists. Larger firms use in-house personnel or hire expediters. Contractors and tradesmen transfer permit and inspection costs to their clients or offer a no permit option. If you’re caught the project is shut down “red-tagged” until required permits are obtained. Many Do it Yourselfers are ignorant of or choose not to follow the permit process.
Why are permits such a hassle?
Politics and bureaucracy play a role. Reform-minded department heads rarely receive the financial and political support needed to provide better service. Inspectors, routinely overworked and underpaid, may lack technical skills and experience. Standards change during each code cycle and interpretation of code language may vary from individual to individual. Some municipal inspection departments rely on outdated, inefficient paper systems. Scheduling inspections is a particular nuisance. By definition contractors assemble labor and materials on the job site. Failed or postponed inspections delay the whole project, a common occurrence when municipal inspectors average 25 site inspections per day.
National Codes, Local Ordinances
The International Code Council (ICC) is the primary code organization in the US. http://www.iccsafe.org/Pages/default.aspx
Revised codes allow cities to mature into mixed-use, walkable communities http://transect.org/codes.html
Decatur to require higher efficiency standards in 2015 http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-curmudgeon/new-green-building-ordinance-decatur-georgia
Big homes on small lots and aging storm sewers led to this stormwater ordinance.http://saportareport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Proposed-Post-Development-Ordinance-10-08-2012.pdf.pdf.pdf
Drought and limited water supply the impetus for water conservation
Making Functional, Safe and Financially Sustainable Communities
In my nearly 30 years as an inspector I’ve seen the very real and positive results of building to higher standards. As our society changes towns and cities are re-evaluating development models. One part of that change is to encourage durable, efficient and healthy construction. Encouraging good building makes economic sense. User-friendly websites and inspection departments that assist and encourage this goal can help. Educating the public to the benefits of a well-run building department helps too. Here are some examples:
Avondale Estates hires a “Permit Concierge”:
Permit Process in steps: Fairfax County VA
Trying to be helpful: Pierce County WA
Then we can get hell to move somewhere else……..