County Expected to Make Decision on Residential Building Codes by Fall

June 30, 2010
Dwayne Page
County Mayor Mike Foster

DeKalb County currently does not require homebuilders to adhere to any residential building codes, but the county commission will have to make a decision by this fall on whether to change that under the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act.

This new state law has taken effect which calls for the adoption and enforcement of a residential building code to one-and two-family residences across the state. The State Fire Marshal Office's code enforcement program will begin in October. In the interim, the State will contract with code inspectors, establish a network of issuing agents where the construction permits can be obtained and finalize the process for payments.

Effective October 1st, the State Fire Marshal's Office will issue residential building permits using a system similar to the electrical inspection program that it presently operates. Owners and licensed contractors will obtain a construction permit from the local issuing agents. Inspectors will then inspect residences during construction to ensure code compliance.

Cities and counties that presently enforce a building code that is current within seven years (the 2003 or 2006 edition of the International Residential Code will qualify) can notify the State Fire Marshal's Office and continue local enforcement. Local codes may be more stringent than the state adopted code. Cities and counties may also choose to have no minimum one- and two-family residential building code and no inspections to ensure quality home construction by a two-thirds opt-out vote of their governing bodies (county commissions).

County Mayor Mike Foster says DeKalb County has three options: to adopt the state requirements for enforcement of residential building codes; to adopt a plan of it's own and hire a building codes inspector; or to opt out altogether. But he says, sooner or later, the state will most likely require all local governments to have codes. "Basically we've got three choices, either to do nothing and let the state run it; opt out and have nothing for a short period of time, which it will probably be not more than a year before it's mandatory anyway; or the county can run it themselves and have a local inspector, which certainly would be more convenient for the builders and probably the homeowners. The county commission is looking at that and it will be their decision as to which option to take.'

"What this basically means is that the state has probably had many complaints about some of the quality of the builders and the energy efficiency ratio of the houses being improved. I think what they're (state) thinking is that this would give some standard to go by to where everybody operates under the same set of rules and it ensures, hopefully, that the homeowner is getting what he is paying for, making sure that the insulation and the other energy saving devices are there in the home and that the house is structurally built like it should be. Their (state) thinking is that there are some unscrupulous builders out there who are doing some of this and they're just trying to bring some compliance with the rules and regulations. It probably is a good thing for the homeowner in that they're getting a cheap insurance policy to assure them that their house is being built right and that it's being built within codes and it's built so that it is energy efficient."

"The option for the county is, do we let the state run this or does the county run it and have it's own local inspector? There are pluses and minuses to both. The county commission is still looking at it and waiting until we get all the facts on it before making up their mind which would be the best way to handle it."

"Several counties are facing the same issue. Most of the cities have building codes and it really is a good thing in a lot of ways because it just puts down a set of standards that everybody goes by and it helps protect the local homeowner who is getting his house built and his neighbors. It's probably a good thing to have somebody overseeing the building to make sure that it is built right. Make sure that it is energy efficient. In the long run, that's a much better situation for the homeowner.'

"If the state does it, once it's set up, it (building permits) would probably be where you go and get your electrical permits for electricity. It would be done through them. Some of the contractors and other people here have expressed an opinion that if you're building a house, sometimes weather is a factor and if you have a foundation ready to pour. I think theirs (state regulations) state that you have to let them know within three days. But, you know if you have your foundation ready to pour, you may not want to wait three days because it might rain. You're depending upon the weather. So a lot of them (contractors and others) have expressed an opinion that they would rather have a local person (inspector) doing that. Of course, it's a matter of the county commission looking at everything and seeing what they think is the proper, best solution for the county and the people."

"Enforcing building codes will make new homes safe and more energy-efficient, and will help assure the quality of residential construction meets minimum standards," said State Fire Marshal and Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Leslie A. Newman.

New State Fire Marshal's Office regulations adopt the 2009 International Residential Code and the 2006 International Energy Code. These building codes will only apply to new construction of residential structures. Nonresidential structures, such as out buildings and unattached garages, are not covered. Renovation of existing structures, no matter how extensive, is also not covered. Sprinkler requirements have not been adopted, although a city or county is free to adopt a sprinkler requirement.

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