Through every phase of a project, the building code lurks in the mind of every builder. What will pass? What's pushing the limit? How can l deliver the product without violating the code? Here are 10 simple steps a builder can take to ensure they can deliver what the client wants without running afoul of the code:
1. Keep an open mind. Most of us are builders and businessmen not code experts. A willingness to accept the official interpretation of the code is paramount to your success. Be ready to admit that others know more than you and that you must put personal motives aside and always do the right thing.
2. Get to know architects and engineers who are credentialed and recognized experts in code interpretation, application and enforcement. Before going to bat against the code, go first to one of these experts to check your thinking.
3. The code is often interpretive and the official is the interpreter. Develop a relationship between the key people on a project and key officials. The architect, engineer or expeditor can carry the most weight with officials. The contractor's team must be clearly responsible to the building inspector in the field.
4. You're the front man. Never let subcontractors stand alone for their inspections. Stand with them to take the responsibility for the job as the general contractor. The entire relationship with inspection officials is based on their confidence in the building team; be sure you look like, act like and feel like a team.
5. Show your clients how the code works. Architects and engineers typically cover the obvious codes for height, square footage, setbacks and use. However, many times only the contractor will recognize the requirements of neighborhood associations, CC&R's, easements and special municipal ordinances such as hillsides or flood zones. Handling these issues early help set the initial expectations of the client and keep the project running smoothly.
6. No two jobs are the same. Although the last job taught you a lot about the code, you must still be careful applying it to future projects. The learning curve can be just as steep job after job. Specialties such as medical facilities, Mixed-use requirements for parking, adequate exiting, signage, path of travel and ADA compliance often become the responsibility of the contractor. Read all the code information you can get your hands on, discuss interpretations with architects and engineers and remain vigilant to each varied circumstance.
7. Believe it or not, the code is very sensitive to the economics of projects. Code officials are fundamentally aware that the departments of building and safety are there for the collection of fees and the improvement of the taxable property base in the municipality in which they work. We get the advantage of knowing this without ever having to say it.
8. Use state resources. Most states have a great deal of material available online and in print to support you. Folks at your local office of building safety can discuss an issue with you or refer you to the appropriate licensed professional. Remember to use these resources appropriately; they are not there to design your project or let you get away with something.
9. Professional associations such as the American Association of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers typically are quite active in code development, interpretation and application.
l0. Volunteer to sit on code-review panels. This is a perfect way to influence the way the code is created, modified, interpreted and enforced. It will also increase your personal knowledge and give you an appreciation for both the spirit and letter of the code. Contractors are at their best when acting as an advocate to the client. Always be aware that the goal is to best serve the client, avoid and prevent latent defects and produce the best possible product.
Carniglia is President of Los Angeles-based Carniglia Construction, Inc. and 28-year veteran of the California construction industry.