Residential ID, Codes & Observed Trends

Tom Polk, Certified Building Official, Decatur, AL

David Price, Building Plans Examiner, Huntsville, AL

Interviewed by Shirley Hammond, FASID, NCIDQ, RID

Q. What do you see as the latest trends in residential codes for north Alabama?

Tom:  I see three topics:

  • Lack of Code Uniformity:

                Because each municipality can adopt and/or amend a version of the IRC (International Residential Code), code differences within various jurisdictions may be confusing to design professionals and homeowners.  Every jurisdiction has its own menu of rules, regulations, policies and procedures.  For design professionals who work across multiple jurisdictions, it may be particularly difficult to follow the code variations.  Thus, in 2019 The Association of North Alabama Code Officials (NACOA) started a dialog to work towards standardizing policies, procedures and code editions among the municipalities within its jurisdiction.  NACOA represents the eleven most-northern counties in Alabama.  Its jurisdiction goes east, west and north to the state line.  It extends southerly to the City of Cullman. Through this shared dialog, NACOA members may solve problems and unify responses to issues.

                Even though COVID-19 has caused delays, we are making progress on our standardization process.  Currently, Athens, Madison and Madison County have adopted the 2018 version.  Huntsville is moving from the 2003 edition toward 2018, as well.  Decatur was the first to adopt the 2009 version and has opted for its continued use.    Codes versions are available for updating every three years.  However, simple adoption of a latest version may be complicated by regulatory burdens such as the costs and increased time for additional training by all stakeholders throughout the building industry (inspectors, designers, contractors, sub-contractors and consumers).  Additionally, the state may intervene on particular issues, as it did in 2010 with its ruling on residential sprinklers in one to two unit family dwellings.  This controversial topic was superseded by the State of Alabama decision to prohibit the requirement of residential sprinklers due to increased construction costs.  Besides the codes themselves, other administrative policies may vary across jurisdictional lines such as how to submit a permit application, how to classify building occupancy (as in the case of RV storage) and energy conservation codes (whether they are reviewed through building departments or utility providers. 

  • COVID-19 Impact:

                Due to COVID-19, infections and quarantines have impacted inspection employees.

Delays in timely inspections have, however, led to innovative solutions such as video inspections and Google Meet for pre-meetings with designers and contractors.  Thanks to new technology, these solutions may become a new procedure for previously face-to-face requirements.

  • The Importance of Adopting a New Code:

                Building and fire departments are graded by ISO (Insurance Office Services), a private-sector entity.  Scores are determined, to name a few items on the check-list, by how qualified, how trained, how busy, how overworked, what inspections are made and what code edition is being used.  Obviously, from an insurance perspective, jurisdictions with up-to-date codes should demonstrate fewer insurance losses.  Thus, insurance rates can reflect that. The prospect of reducing damage and ultimately lowering insurance costs provides an incentive for communities to enforce their building codes rigorously.

For specific information on ISO policies and procedures go to: https://www.isomitigation.com/bcegs/isos-building-code-effectiveness-grading-schedule-bcegs-update-project/#

Like an auditor, ISO protects the public by encouraging practices that protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.  If a building department does not train its employees, provide timely and quality inspections and work from a current code edition, ISO may issue a negative score leading to increased insurance costs, not to mention less attention to the health, safety and welfare of its citizenry.  ISO grades jurisdictions every three years through an application that takes approximately a full day.  To get more information on this process you may call:

Paul Randall,  Office Phone: (770) 815-3286, Email: [email protected]

Although there may be reluctance to update codes on the local level due to training and costs, at the national level, homebuilders are not objecting. 

David:  I see the latest trends in residential codes for north Alabama affected by the following:

                North Alabama has seen unprecedented growth in the building industry over the last few years. The trend looks to continue for several years according to business analysts who monitor the economic indicators. There are some obvious issues which can cause this growth to slow. COVID-19 is at the top of the list and looks to remain the fly in the ointment for months, if not years. The virus problem could be less of a factor in economic growth depending on the success of the vaccines being made available to protect the public.

                The restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 have put discussions of Code adoption among the several jurisdictions in north Alabama on hold. While some municipalities have moved forward individually to adopt new codes, the hope to have all jurisdictions in north Alabama adopt the same code and to have a similar permitting process is hampered by less interaction among Code Officials in area municipalities.

                As progress is made in controlling the spread of COVID-19, I anticipate a renewed interest in discussions taking place to get most municipalities in north Alabama to move toward adopting a similar edition of the Building Codes and to discuss better ways to provide similar operating procedures.

                The discussions about code adoption and the permitting processes and procedures are an important topic to the public and to the inspection community, but as Code Officials, our main focus should be to assure that the public has homes and buildings that are built to the safest standards possible. We should also encourage the adoption of the new building codes as technology and industry create better and more efficient equipment and systems being used in homes and buildings.

Summary: 

                Codes are part of interior designers’ training, especially for those Registered Interior Designers in Alabama.  RID’s are required to attend code classes annually as part of registration requirements.  Additionally, teaming with building inspectors strengthens the working relationship of both the inspectors and the design community.  Opening lines of communication in pre-submittal meetings, the discussion of code issues and the scope of work for all projects increases the protection of the public.  The built environment is a huge part of our community—where we reside, work, socialize and worship. 

It is all about health, safety and welfare!

To get more information about The North Alabama Code Officials Association Tom Polk and David Price can answer your questions.  Professional membership is open to building inspectors and associate memberships are available to the design community as well as the public.

For copies of energy and residential codes, go to: https://adeca.alabama.gov/Divisions/energy/energycodes/Pages/default.aspx

For information on interior design NCIDQ certification & interior design regulated construction, go to: https://www.cidq.org/definition-of-interior-design

Tom Polk, Development Services Manager
City of Decatur Building Department
256-341-4582
http://onedecatur.org/

David E. Price, MCP, CBO
International Code Council Gulf Coast Region IX Board of Directors
Building Plans Examiner
City of Huntsville Inspection
256-427-5341