Building Codes are a Slippery Slope

I would argue that current building codes make it nearly impossible to build affordable housing. All the restrictions on room sizes, allowable materials, and cost of permits and inspections put housing out of reach for a large segment of society. It’s a complex and touchy subject that can quickly lead to heated debates. Our intent is not to create a big stink, but rather point out flaws in the system and identify some realistic alternatives such as moving to rural areas with few or no building codes. This topic has been discussed at length in our blog post Counties with Few or No Building Codes. I’ve also covered the subject in Trailer Houses versus Earthbag Building and American Housing Ripoff and other articles.

The purpose of this blog post is a little different. My intent here is to show how going along with the building code system leads to even greater problems. Supporting and participating in the building code process increases the flow of money to a bureaucracy that will want to hang onto power at minimum and, if at all possible, grow in size and perceived importance. This is not a personal attack against building officials who in my experience are most always friendly and professional. I’m talking about the tendency of bureaucracies to grow, overreach, become oppressive, intrusive and burdensome. While some good may come from all this – a certain amount of improved public safety, for instance – all the negatives outweigh the good, and eventually we need to stop feeding the beast so alternatives can take root. That’s where we’re at now. It’s time to get informed and throw our support behind better alternatives (Vote with your Wallet) and stop funding the beast. Think I’m exaggerating? Read on to see what the powers that be are planning. Building codes are a slippery slope that consolidates more power at the top, while increasing taxes and control of the masses against their will.

Summarized from the 10th Amendment Foundation:
“If they know and understand the mandate of the 10th Amendment, how can any member of Congress or the Senate possibly even consider the passage of any Federal law that would impose a national building code on every local city, county and town and require them to tax their people (with property taxes of fees) to employ not one but three separate building inspectors who would have to approve, under Federal guidelines every house that was going to be put up for sale before it was put on the market? How could any member of Congress possibly consider that they (or the Federal Government) has the right or power to say what kind of windows, or insulation, or hot water heaters your house would have to have before you could offer your house for sale–or what they would have to have before you could buy a house, even if you wanted different windows, or insulation, or hot water heaters?

I bet you thought that if you bought a house, you actually own it and can, with reasonable exceptions, do with it what you want… Let me introduce you to a little section of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill called the “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program”. It’s section 304 of the bill and it says, basically, that your house belongs to the state. See, the Federal Government really wants a country full of energy-efficient homes, so much so that the bill mandates that new homes be 30 percent more energy efficient than the current building code on the very day the law is signed. That efficiency goes up to 50 percent by 2014 and only goes higher from there, all the way to 2030. That, by the way, is not merely a target but a requirement of the law. New homes must reach those efficiency targets no matter what.

…I confess I’m finding it harder and harder to see why you fellows bothered holding a revolution. Under this bill, it will be illegal for me to sell my property to a willing buyer without first bringing it into line with some twerp bureaucrat’s arbitrary and ever shifting “environmental” regulations originally designed for California, and which have helped turn the Golden State into the foldin’ state, but which are nevertheless now to be applied from Maine to Alaska. And no matter what you spend a couple of years down the road the standards will be “revised” and you’ll be out of compliance all over again.”

[Note: I’m all for energy efficient housing. I’ve spent a large part of my life designing, building and promoting energy efficiency. But I’m not in favor of another big government program that will cause more harm than good.]

From the 10th Amendment Center:
“Virginia House Delegates Robert G. Marshall and Anne B. Crockett-Stark recently introduced HB 27. The Residential energy efficiency standards exempts certain homes from federal cap & trade legislation, and would limit the power of the EPA to set the standards for home construction in Virginia, as stated in the bill’s brief description.” [So states are starting to fight back.]

From the Examiner:
“Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) issued a warning saying, “we’re setting up a global warming Gestapo.” The comment was made in reference to Section 201 of the [Waxman-Markey act] would have the power to assess civil penalties for buildings that do not meet the new code… The federal government can come in and inspect your house and send you the bill. And if they find that you’re out of compliance with this new federal code, ‘The Secretary shall assess a civil penalty for violations of this section… Scalise called into question the very constitutionality of the measure. He reminded his fellow congressmen that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to states respectively or to the people.”

4 thoughts on “Building Codes are a Slippery Slope”

  1. Love this blog, but what happened to the post for Counties with Few or No Building Codes?? Can you e-mail it to me?

  2. Great post! I believe most will admit that the federal government and it’s continual grab for more power and overreach is a problem with many aspects of our lives. Fortunately this horrible bill never passed in the Senate. With the shift in the political climate, it is unlikely such a bill will be brought forth again anytime soon.

    Building standards on their own are not really the problem. Affordability should go hand in hand with safety. The problem is the excessive nature of building codes and the fees required to enforce them. As long as society allows bureaucrats and material manufacturers to write the rules, the building industry will not change.

    The promotion of building in rural areas has it’s limits. There maybe dozens of areas in the US where building codes are not much of an issue. While most of those areas are out of the way and currently sparsely populated, how long will that last? Even if everyone wanting to build a natural home could move to those areas, what would the influx of people do to the area? In my experience, when ever the population of an area increases, more government and bureaucracy follows. Politicians, being the blood suckers they are,never let an opportunity for new revenue go to waste. It is also doubtful the older residents of those areas would look favorably on large population increases.

    What about the people who desire a home and cannot find employment in those rural areas? Not everyone wanting to build their own natural home can move to Crestone, Taos or Terlingua. Most rural areas have cheaper land prices, but there is often a greater shortage of jobs.

    As I see it for real change to come about, natural building experts need to write up standards that can be adopted by local municipalities. No matter how much we dislike and disagree with building departments, they are here to stay. Even if people were to elect all new government officials, it is unlikely that the entire building department would throw out it’s codes. If the alternative building movement wants their methods to become more mainstream, they need to put their work to paper. Then the citizens themselves can push for those rules to be adopted. With no standards, each builder is on his or her own.


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