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(Following is another section from my upcoming book on Green Framing. TKG)

Building codes are a relatively new invention. The first widely-accepted building code in the U.S. was written in the early 1900s. Today’s building code, the International Building Code (IBC), has its roots in the Uniform Building Code (UBC) which was first published in 1927. Over the years many local jurisdictions adopted building codes but many did not. Even today there are jurisdictions in the U.S. that do not issue building permits nor require adherence to any building code.

Where I live in western Washington, building codes are strictly enforced for any structure from a shed to a fence to a sky scraper. Around here it’s unthinkable that a house might be designed by a non-professional and built without a building permit.

But where my brother lives in Kansas, there are no such requirements. Draw up your plans on a napkin, grab your hammer and go. There are lots of places like that in our country today.

So in America we’ve got quite a mix-mash of structures. A few that meet current codes but many, many that don’t.

I took some photographs the other day of old buildings in my county.



The first one, I call the Titanic. This house is probably at least 50-years-old and as you can see has settled terribly. The house is likely built partially over an old slough that was filled with logs and other debris. The part built over the slough embankments has not settled but the part built over the fill-debris has. This is called differential settlement. Incredibly, people still live in this house.



The next structure is a 75+ year-old commercial building. By today’s standards it contains not a single shear wall nor a horizontal diaphragm. It is listing about a foot out of plumb, yet there it stands.



Here is a very large barn, probably 50+ years old. Note how huge its wind sail area (roof) is. Also you can see that it is located in the middle of an open valley with no trees or other buildings to shield it from the wind. The gable end walls are mostly door openings, and the wood panels in between don’t come close to any sort of legal shear wall. The roof isn’t a legitimate diaphragm. There’s a two-foot sag in the roof at the eaves. Yet year after year, winter after winter, storm after storm, this barn continues to serve.



According to its historic placard, this building was constructed in 1890. It has undergone an extensive tenant improvement, but other than new windows and doors, the exterior walls, floor and roof framing are original. It is built partially over a salt water channel, supported on timber piers. The horizontal siding on the long walls shows settlement up to a foot in several areas. The above photo is the rear wall. Note all the windows and doors (read: no shear panels.)



The front wall is pretty much the same: all windows; which count for nothing in resisting lateral (wind and earthquake) loads. Here is what this wall looks like from the inside:



This is also the front wall, about mid-height.



This wall is constructed of horizontal siding attached to 2x4 studs. Not one shear panel, holdown, or hurricane clip.

Roof framing is 2x6 rafters, originally spanning 20+ feet. There is no ridge beam. I’d go so far as saying there isn’t one code-compliant piece of lumber or connection in this entire building. And in fact most structural elements are overstressed, according to current code, by several hundred percent.

In its 119-year life, why hasn’t this building imploded or blown over?



This last building was also built in 1890. One corner (the one by the streetlight) has settled at least six-inches. But that’s not what makes this one of the most dangerous buildings in the county. The front wall is all glass. No shear walls, no portal frames, no buttress walls, nothing. And the next parallel interior wall is some 30-feet back into the building. As the one corner sinks, the building tilts causing racking (shear) stress on the window wall. Should a window break or crack there is a real possibility that this building would fall over sideways – I’ve seen it happen to a building of similar construction in a nearby town. Yet, this building stands.

All of the aforementioned structures have lived through snow accumulation of several feet, howling wind storms, and earthquakes.

All across America and the world are buildings that don’t come close to meeting current code. It usually takes a hurricane, tornado, severe neglect, freakish snow storm, or 7+ magnitude earthquake to bring them down. And even then many survive.

So what’s the point?

The point is that things not built to code are usually plenty strong and those that are built to code are vastly stronger than they need to be in most cases.

If you live in a jurisdiction that has building codes and enforces them, you don’t have a choice but to comply with those codes. But you don’t need to overbuild.

Let me say that again. Our building codes contain so much factor of safety, no one should ever feel compelled to exceed them. The grossly non-code-compliant buildings on the previous pages, in my opinion, provides stout testimonial.

Our industry should be actively searching for ways to trim our designs so that they just comply with code and no more. If we build stronger than code we’re literally throwing away money and effort. And we’re not building green.

This book is about minimal, yet code-compliant, structural design. Green design. The trick is understanding the underlying structural concepts: where loads come from; where they go; and how they’re resisted. With that knowledge, we can maximize efficiency and save money.
 

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Tim, Meetre read my mind...the concensus of the "building experts" is that codes are the bare minimum and are never good enough. Or maybe you are trolling?:eek::jester::whistling:thumbsup:
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Overbaked Building Codes

That is a can of worms you may not have wanted to open Tim. :shutup:
I have been vocally critical of our building codes for quite a while. See my blog at ConstructionCalc.com for more. In short I think the IBC is a pile of unusable gobbledegook and I've gone on record saying so. Funny thing is, no one seems to be able to dispute it.

If I don't say it, who will?
 

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In the old days, the purpose was to help ensure safe buildings. Nowadays, it seems the purpose is to confuse and to CYA the people who write them. Certainly, if the intent was still to ensure safe buildings they'd make the darned things useable. You should read my article, "Our Building Codes Are Broken" on my blog at ConstructionCalc.com.
 

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Right now I am building a 10 x 8 deck. Ledger anchored to house. City had me dig 3 12" piers, 48" deep for the beam on the 8 foot span. Actually, 6 feet when I bring in the piers a bit and cantiliver the beam. WTF? The things are so close together, it's almost a foundation. For a 36" high deck!
 

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In the old days, the purpose was to help ensure safe buildings.
Tim, now you know better than that...come on....I even told you what the purpose was in your first post to this forum. You either didn't read it or you think I am wrong.
It's about LIABILITY... INSURANCE...MONEY....LOBBIESTS...UNIONS (etc)

If you are going to be synical..you're going to have to work on that. ;)
 

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I'll side with Tim. Building codes are a way to keep more people busy doing nothing and hogging resources that are better put to other uses.

As the ultimate testament to stupidity, let me bring up the two counties in NY that I frequently visit "on business". Nassau & Suffolk have been deemed "hurricane zones" about 7-9 years ago. The average upcharge per square foot to install code-required connectors, roughly $2.50 a foot. More building inspectors are needed, as this is another controlled inspection. This means more taxes to pay them, run their official vehicles, etc.

If you're adding a 160sf addition to a 1830's house, you're required to put hurricane hold-downs on the addition. :whistling Just for good measure.

Funny thing is, 15 minutes away is the great NYC. Where the architect of record signs off on your structurals. With no adverse effect mind you. No more houses collapse in the city as anywhere around it.

I would much rather see a uniform building standards guideline that doesn't change every year. And architects/engineers actually designing their structures the way they feel those should be built. Maybe with a little input from people like myself, who actually put them together.
 

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OK maybe I'm wrong...maybe the various housing authorities aren't just about getting their hands in your pocket. Maybe they really care if you have a safe structure in which to live.

Maybe they do know what is best for you.


Maybe building codes aren't just a systematic pile of tax revenue draining gobbledeegook.

Maybe posting on forums isn't just a way to drive traffic to your blog. :laughing:
 

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OK maybe I'm wrong...maybe the various housing authorities aren't just about getting their hands in your pocket. Maybe they really care if you have a safe structure in which to live.

Maybe they do know what is best for you.


Maybe building codes aren't just a systematic pile of tax revenue draining gobbledeegook.

Maybe posting on forums isn't just a way to drive traffic to your blog. :laughing:
Maybe bureaucracy is not a way to keep otherwise useless people fed and out of trouble.:rolleyes:
 

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They have not failed because they are not really that old and are made from wood that gives you a flexible building that the owners just have to expect to move since it is cheap, will deflect and distort before it falls or burns. People in the U.S have become accustomed to accept that kind of construction.

A building code, when it is written, has absolutely no legal standing until it is accepted by a legal entity or specified by a professional. Our codes are just "life-safety" oriented or use concepts and do not really relate the life of the structure. - In the case of a disaster, as long as you can get the people out, that is the minimum. Of course, the people adopting the codes are smart enough to know the code is the worst way you can legally build and they have the option for local requirements that may be more sensible and realistic.

The codes are generally written by inspection people and U.S. material suppliers and are very simplistic and ofter prescriptive, to meet the needs/requirements easier for the "bone head" inspectors to enforce and the too common and equally ignorant minimal contractors to build by. The prescriptive concept also makes it possible to hide individual product deficiencies and get the use required. That is the minimum standard, but anyone can always do it better than code, which is often more sensible for the situation. When I asked about the code for an apartment complex in Brazil, the contractor said "we do it to meet your code minimums, but we then do it better".

If you look at other international building codes, designs and concepts, they are built to the "life safety" concept, but also include the common sense of performance and durability requirements.

I have had 100's of international contractors tour different sites over the years in different states (mainly residential) and they are amazed at how badly things are done in the U.S. Usually, they are polite, just smile and they voice their opinions later. Once, I had a group of Russian contractors look at a $1,500,000 model log home. One contractor accidentally bluted out "Why do you build with firewood"? They were amazed at the number of fire stations we have and what is done with a building after a disaster (fire, hurricane, earthquake, etc.), since most international contractors and engineers think structures should not be disposable and last a few hundred years without any problems or human losses. - It is a different concept, since most of the residential construction in the developed countries is concrete or masonry. Usually, the low class housing or sheds could be wood, but even in India all of the low cost housing to replace the "slum housing" is masonry because it makes more sense and is more durable.
 

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it would be a sad day indeed when masonry didn't make more sense to a masonry consultant.

there's no point in arguing that a reinforced concrete structure is stronger than a wood framed structure. there's also no point in arguing that it's more costly to erect and finish. and very costly to alter and modify.

so unless we're building WWIII bunkers, I think wood's plenty good. And let's not compare the great US of A to India, Russia, and any other third world country, where labor is worthless and available resources MAY JUST BE DIFFERENT :thumbsup:


They have not failed because they are not really that old and are made from wood that gives you a flexible building that the owners just have to expect to move since it is cheap, will deflect and distort before it falls or burns. People in the U.S have become accustomed to accept that kind of construction.

A building code, when it is written, has absolutely no legal standing until it is accepted by a legal entity or specified by a professional. Our codes are just "life-safety" oriented or use concepts and do not really relate the life of the structure. - In the case of a disaster, as long as you can get the people out, that is the minimum. Of course, the people adopting the codes are smart enough to know the code is the worst way you can legally build and they have the option for local requirements that may be more sensible and realistic.

The codes are generally written by inspection people and U.S. material suppliers and are very simplistic and ofter prescriptive, to meet the needs/requirements easier for the "bone head" inspectors to enforce and the too common and equally ignorant minimal contractors to build by. The prescriptive concept also makes it possible to hide individual product deficiencies and get the use required. That is the minimum standard, but anyone can always do it better than code, which is often more sensible for the situation. When I asked about the code for an apartment complex in Brazil, the contractor said "we do it to meet your code minimums, but we then do it better".

If you look at other international building codes, designs and concepts, they are built to the "life safety" concept, but also include the common sense of performance and durability requirements.

I have had 100's of international contractors tour different sites over the years in different states (mainly residential) and they are amazed at how badly things are done in the U.S. Usually, they are polite, just smile and they voice their opinions later. Once, I had a group of Russian contractors look at a $1,500,000 model log home. One contractor accidentally bluted out "Why do you build with firewood"? They were amazed at the number of fire stations we have and what is done with a building after a disaster (fire, hurricane, earthquake, etc.), since most international contractors and engineers think structures should not be disposable and last a few hundred years without any problems or human losses. - It is a different concept, since most of the residential construction in the developed countries is concrete or masonry. Usually, the low class housing or sheds could be wood, but even in India all of the low cost housing to replace the "slum housing" is masonry because it makes more sense and is more durable.
 

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Hmmm...I guess reinforcing masonry with steel is the WORST legal way to build a wall...solid steel would be the way to go. Masonry is the CHEAP alternative to the best way to build, just save money. :w00t:
 

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Wood may just be "plenty good", but the real world just does does agree and use it. - Those countries also rank ahead of the U.S. in many areas if you haven't noticed. They just have higher standards. The wall being built between China and North Korea is not wood or chain link fence like the U.S./Mexico "barrier".

China imports junk wood from the U.S. for use in trim and millwork, cheap violins, but only uses Chinese Spruce in the $50,000 violins. According to a GM representative, Buick sells more cars in China than the U.S. Ford avoided the bail-out and government requirements that allowed they to out sell everyone during the "cash for clunkers" program. They did this because they sold a division (Jaguar & Rover) to a huge, huge India company (Tata) for many billions of $s in CASH.

These people are not building WWII bunkers, but just solid, traditional construction that is durable and energy efficiency. They just happen to be more acceptable to the people than other construction. Most of the construction walls are not reinforced concrete, but masonry because of the design options and flexibility.
 

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I have been vocally critical of our building codes for quite a while. See my blog at ConstructionCalc.com for more. In short I think the IBC is a pile of unusable gobbledegook and I've gone on record saying so. Funny thing is, no one seems to be able to dispute it.

If I don't say it, who will?
Tim ....tell me...whats the purpose of building codes?


Building Codes have giving me a job. I worked my A$$ off for over
thirty years in this trade before I became a bldg Inspector. The code that I help enforce I hope help people to learn and help save there lives.

Little story.
Let me tell you about a man name Jed. Tryed to build a house and now his family is DEAD.
 

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Building Codes have giving me a job. I worked my A$$ off for over
thirty years in this trade before I became a bldg Inspector. The code that I help enforce I hope help people to learn and help save there lives.

Little story.
Let me tell you about a man name Jed. Tryed to build a house and now his family is DEAD.
if you want to save lives, join the fire department, not the building department. what a load of sh*t.:rolleyes:
 

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spdtrx -

I have been involved in writing codes and standards for over 30 years (about 40), designing and also looking at construction in many countries for at least as long.

You hit the U.S. model code concept on the head when you referred to peoples lives, but the real codes should also apply to the future occupants, building usability and not hide behind "grandfathered" exemptions created by minimum standard requirements. It is also a bit of a moral question if you think about the future.
 

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Wood may just be "plenty good", but the real world just does does agree and use it. - Those countries also rank ahead of the U.S. in many areas if you haven't noticed. They just have higher standards. The wall being built between China and North Korea is not wood or chain link fence like the U.S./Mexico "barrier".

China imports junk wood from the U.S. for use in trim and millwork, cheap violins, but only uses Chinese Spruce in the $50,000 violins. According to a GM representative, Buick sells more cars in China than the U.S. Ford avoided the bail-out and government requirements that allowed they to out sell everyone during the "cash for clunkers" program. They did this because they sold a division (Jaguar & Rover) to a huge, huge India company (Tata) for many billions of $s in CASH.

These people are not building WWII bunkers, but just solid, traditional construction that is durable and energy efficiency. They just happen to be more acceptable to the people than other construction. Most of the construction walls are not reinforced concrete, but masonry because of the design options and flexibility.
hollow cmu block has an r rating of zero. don't get any "effecienier" than that.

they build with mud & clay because that's what is readily available to them. in thailand they use bamboo for rebar and for just about anything else. truth is, framing lumber is not easy to come by in those regions.

they knock stick framing because they have no idea how it works, what it does, or how to put it together.
 

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spdtrx -

I have been involved in writing codes and standards for over 30 years (about 40), designing and also looking at construction in many countries for at least as long.

You hit the U.S. model code concept on the head when you referred to peoples lives, but the real codes should also apply to the future occupants, building usability and not hide behind "grandfathered" exemptions created by minimum standard requirements. It is also a bit of a moral question if you think about the future.

I agree.



if you want to save lives, join the fire department, not the building department. what a load of sh*t.:rolleyes:



I agree with that as well.
I still think what I do is importent.
We all have a load of sh*t of opinions.
Some more of a load then others. :)
 
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