Building Codes – Why Are They Beneficial?

We often hear the phrase “they sure don’t build them like they used to!” Meaning the quality of construction isn’t nearly what it used to be. My response to that is “Yeah, and I’m sure glad they don’t!” Here’s why:

Several years ago, I worked for the City of Pendleton in a housing rehabilitation program. We worked with houses sitting directly on the ground, with rock foundations, the bottom rotting out; rafters with such a bow in them you were afraid to walk under them; stairways so steep you could barely walk up and down them, tiny little windows – no escape in the event of a fire; chimneys you could literally put your fingers through located right next to the wood rafters; knob and tube electrical wiring with exposed hot wires all over the house; and on and on.

We take so many of our built-in safety features for granted now that we don’t even realize it took jurisdictions creating, adopting and amending building codes for generations to get us where we are today. When you walk in many buildings now, you won’t even notice the sprinkler system overhead or the fire alarm system that will alert us of a fire before there is even a flame. We might notice the panic hardware on the exit doors, but probably not the specific placement of those doors to always have an exit available in case of a fire; or the electrical system that won’t electrocute us or burn down the building.

Our State Building Codes were developed with three primary criteria: #1 to protect and get us out in case of a fire; #2 to protect the firemen who are trying to save us and our building: #3 to save the building from destruction by fire, earthquakes, wind, snow etc.

Many of the Code requirements have evolved as the ‘prescriptive path’ or the cookbook method – if you build it this way, it will work. Other Codes allow for innovation and engineering concepts to substitute for the tried and true methods. Oregon allows smaller buildings, up to 4,000 sq. feet, to be designed using the prescriptive path in the Code, making the buildings much easier to design and to build. Buildings over 4,000 sq. feet, must be engineered due to the inherent hazards of a larger building.

Oregon was one of the first states to adopt the State Uniform Code in 1973. So no matter where you are building in the State of Oregon, the same building code rules apply. Oregon was among the first to adopt the International Building Codes in 2003, which are now being adopted uniformly by many states across the nation.

We realize that many code requirements are difficult to achieve and cost extra money. Unfortunately sometimes that can’t be helped. Other times, we can help to find an alternative method that will work as effectively, with less impact.

Codes are a useful tool to be sure our construction meets structural and safety standards that have been evolving since before the Chicago fire in 1871. Building officials learn from each major incident on how to improve public safety.

Mid-Columbia Building Codes Services is working to ensure a safe building environment in cooperation with the construction industry and other partners. Give us a call at 541-298-4461. We are here to help!