Someone asked us if our job is to make buildings “to code”. Obviously, yes, right?
Well, not exactly. We do our best to design buildings that exceed the minimum requirements of the building code. Getting a building “up to code” requires us to meet minimum requirements for the minimum health, safety, and welfare of the building users. Look at that statement from the other side - a building designed “to code” performs as the worst building that can legally be built.
King Hammurabi of Babylon instituted the first building code in 1770-ish BCE and enforced it with harsh penalties. In classic eye for an eye manner, a builder would be put to death if a house they built for an owner collapsed and killed them. Similarly, if the collapse killed the owner’s son, the builder’s son would pay the price.
Buildings, building codes, and building technology have progressed since the 1770 BCE building code created by Hammurabi, but the basic purpose of the building code remains the same; the building code establishes a minimum standard all buildings must meet. The phrase “Up to code” is a misnomer and does not guarantee quality. It is the minimum acceptable quality to ensure the safety of occupants.
Got it, okay, so what does that mean?
Should we exceed the building code in every aspect? No. If we exceeded every aspect of the building code, costs could increase without adding value. Instead, we work to find the sweet spot of exceeding the specific code areas that make sense for the project. For instance, the code gives a minimum window insulation efficiency for new houses. It makes no difference to the code if the window faces north or south, but we know that southern windows get blasted with heat in the summer in North Carolina, so we can make a big difference by specifying a more efficient window on the south side of the house. The code minimum may be adequate for the majority of the house and with more efficient windows needed only on those southern windows. The result would be more comfortable rooms, and a lower power bill, allowing the owner to see a return on their window investment and a better house.
So let’s get to it! Let’s build better than the code but let us also be smart about the way that we do it.