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Up to Code

Does your log home project meet local building requirements?

Building codes, much like other laws, ensure public safety. Of course, as time goes on, we make advancements to increase public safety. Think of this like a car: At one time, we did not have seatbelts or airbags. When a structure is built to the current code, the public can be comfortable knowing that it has been built in a structurally sound fashion. Having a project comply with the building code is not a difficult process when following properly drawn and executed plans. If you are dealing with a log package supplier or builder from outside of the local area, rely on the local log home company representative to help with the code issues. However, an owner-builder may not be as up-to-speed as a contractor; the contractor already should be intimately familiar with the local codes if he or she builds in that area. Whatever the case may be, the building must be constructed according to the area's current building code standards.

Before construction begins, there should be an informal plan review to ensure that roof loads, wind velocities and related conditions are met. This should be done as early in the process as possible - even as early as the quote stage. The answers to these questions usually are nothing more than a five-minute conversation with the building official. In general, the structural stability of a log home will greatly exceed that of a conventionally built home, so many building officials can zip right through a plan review. Just like any inspector, the average home buyer can access the codes. Speak with the representative of the company producing the package to answer any code questions. Local representatives may not have the answers immediately, but they will have the ability to find the information. It is equally in your log home company's best interest to ensure that your project goes off without a hitch, and they will be eager to give you all the needed information. If you are unable to obtain the information from the factory due to geographical location, you should turn to the most powerful tool available - the Internet. Many sites are available to answer your questions. Launch any search engine and type in "building code questions," and you will be amazed at the results. Scores of sites relate directly to building issues for the layman. Many of these web sites are free of charge and are supported by professionals in the industry, volunteering to help out with advice.

Changing Times

The local, national and international building codes are constantly re-evaluated and updated to meet the high demands of today's construction market and to maintain or improve the level of safety in all buildings. Although building codes have existed in this country for more than 100 years, it has not been until present day that one model code - the International Building Code - has been approved for implementation across the country. This acceptance will smooth out the conflicts of many local codes with federal and state regulations. The building codes in the United States already are fairly stringent, so for this code to represent international interests is certainly conceivable.

The three model code organizations that operate in the United States - International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA) and Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) - joined forces in 1999 to produce and publish this new set of regulations, with many separate references for all other aspects of construction. The code should be implemented nationally and somewhat internationally soon. Until that time, however, be aware of the local standards required for your home. Even after implementation of the International Building Code, there will be local issues your builder should be aware of. Some aspects, such as snow loads, certainly can vary considerably throughout the country, so different areas will outline different codes, possibly requiring more than the International Building Code. Always follow the more stringent applicable code for your log home building project.

The Code of Logs

Of course, log homes definitely present certain unique building challenges. But, in terms of code requirements, there are advantages. One of Rhode Island's prominent municipal building officials, Ron Rebello, offers some advice for future log home owners. "A few things I have noticed about log homes?that should be of interest to local inspectors?is that the energy efficiency is very good for this system of construction; structurally, it is a very solid building system; and the stairways tend to be far sturdier than in conventional homes," he says. As far as getting familiar with the local codes, it is very important for the home owner to regularly consult the log home representative to work out all the local code issues. And, be sure that you are patient, as well as knowledgeable on the basics of log home construction. "It's not that the local officials don't want to give the home owner some guidance," Ron says. "We are just very busy," he explains, "and honestly don't have the time needed to learn and explain all the codes in detail."

You'll benefit from including local officials in on the progress of your building project to a certain extent. Apprise the building officials of the steps you are taking not only to complete your log home, but also to ensure that you're progressing in compliance with the codes as you understand them. As you prepare your prints, bring the plans in to local officials for a review of the regulations. "Then we will let you know if what the company plans to supply will meet code," Ron says. A mutually respectful relationship, early on, between you and the building official will help both parties throughout your project.

Joseph L. Walsh and his wife, Melissa, are the proprietors of Tranquil Log Homes, general contractors, consultants and factory representatives in Foster, Rhode Island.