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Building codes change Jan. 1

by Alecia Warren
| November 18, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - They started the education process nearly a year in advance.

But members of North Idaho Code Enforcers still worry some aren't aware that building and planning regulations are about to undergo changes impacting how homes are built.

"It's the same every year. Around January or February, the first months of a new code upgrade, we get (building application) submittals based on the old code," said Bob Ankersmit, president of North Idaho Code Enforcers.

As of Jan. 1, all building jurisdictions in Idaho will adopt the 2009 International Residential Code. The massive tome will update guidelines for building, planning and design practices.

Although the code is updated every three years, some are still caught by surprise, said Glenn Miller, Rathdrum building official and NICE member.

His advice for anyone with uncertainties: Contact local building and planning jurisdictions.

"I prefer people ask questions. It makes our job better in the field," he said.

Code updates range from tweaked terminology to a substantial increase in standards for energy efficient building.

For instance, at least 50 percent of bulbs in permanent light fixtures must be high efficiency. Forced air heating and cooling systems must have programmable thermostats.

"The 2009 code has about 15 percent more energy efficient restrictions than the last code," said Ankersmit, who is also plan review supervisor for the Kootenai County Building and Planning Department.

Some changes will make construction projects easier, Ankersmit added, pointing to how accessory structures like tool sheds 200 square feet or less will be exempt from building permits.

"Some decks aren't going to require permits anymore," he said.

Builders will be written a correction notice if inspectors discover code violations, Ankersmit said.

NICE is trying to get the word out.

The trade organization has been holding seminars over the past nine months dissecting the code updates.

"Just to sit down and read the code without assistance would be difficult," Ankersmit said.

NICE has also donated seven copies of the updated code book, roughly $3,500 worth of books, to seven area libraries, including those in Coeur d'Alene, Hayden, Rathdrum, Post Falls, Kellogg, Sandpoint and at the North Idaho Campus.

"A great deal of education typically comes from us. That's the primary function of North Idaho Code Enforcers," Ankersmit said.

Also, all jurisdictions are advertising in local papers about upcoming public hearings to adopt the new code. Kootenai County will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on Dec. 2 in the county commissioners' chamber in the Kootenai Administration Building.

Not all builders are thrilled to hear about the changes.

Dallan Pope, owner of Columbia Construction in Coeur d'Alene said that it's hard to keep up with the constantly changing code.

He thinks some of these changes are fixing problems that aren't there, he said.

"We've got a huge bureaucracy that's working on changing these codes all the time, which is hugely expensive," Pope said. "Just don't spend all this money making these changes when you haven't proven that we have a problem."

Some of the new regulations drive up building costs, he added.

"When they change the codes, things aren't getting easier," he said.

When folks complain that codes are too complicated, Ankersmit said, he reminds them that many code changes are requested by members of the construction industry.

Other updates, said Tyler Drechsel, plan reviewer for Northern Lakes Fire District, are generated by accidents resulting from building inefficiencies.

"When injuries and fatalities occur, we have to make changes," he said, citing past changes in allowable occupancy.

Greg Washington, president of Courtyard Construction in Hayden, said he doesn't mind the constant code changes.

"I'm not opposed to it, because building science changes," he said. "If we never changed, we'd be building houses like we built in the '70s, that would be full of mold and mildew, because we didn't know what to do with moisture in homes."

As a green builder, Washington said he is happy to see the 2009 codes focus more on energy efficient building.

He acknowledged that would bump up building costs.

"As competitive as guys try to be, there will be additional costs in trying to make things more energy efficient, especially on the supply side," he said. "But I don't think it will be significant. And really the people who will benefit are the people buying homes."

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