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Common Sense vs. Building Codes

stikestike Posts: 15,597
edited 4:23PM in Off Topic
---a mild rant, with nothing but rhetorical questions, and way too long. (written during a tall cuppa coffee)---

I have been involved one way or another in the architecture biz since about 1986. building codes, dealing with inspectors, bosses, budgets, etc.

So yesterday I took some drawings down to the Town Hall to get a building permit. I'm taking down an old rusted cast iron rail around my porch and putting up a wood rail, among other things. Existing rail, which has kept people from falling to their death for 75 years, is 31 inches high. I designed the new one to be just over 36", which was good enough for most of my career.

The guy asks "How tall's the new rail?" I told him. "Nope, gotta be FORTY-TWO inches. three foot six.." he says.

Said they just changed it, 2009. Any drop over 6 feet, gotta be 42 inches.

My mind flashed back to two things. Frank Lloyd Wright's "Fallingwater" in Pennsylvania. The most-visited private residence in the country (besides the White House). It gets 120,000 visitors a year. The balcony rail, which juts out over a waterfall and is some thirty feet from rail to back-breaking fall, has a rail of about twenty-four inches. I remember it comes to somewhere mid thigh. You could sit on it. No one's fallen yet. ten thousand people a month...

As a practical example it, arguably the most-tested railing in a private residence (in a decidedly precarious situation to boot) is about 18" TOO SHORT. and yet no news reports of people falling to their death on a regular basis. heck, even once.

The other thing that came to mind...

I took a train and subway to work for the better part of twenty years. You can stand in a public place, with a pressing crowd of strangers behind you, your toes inches away from a four foot drop onto an electrified rail, as a train comes in at 35 miles an hour.... with no railing

but sitting on my deck, with a lemonade, I need a rail that is higher than my head when I sit down, and higher than my waist when i stand.

Thankfully, Yankee practicality prevailed. I asked if we could use my tape measure when he came for the final inspection. wink wink. he laughed.

you see, my dimension worked out so that I could use a certain number of boards, etc. and he said "ah, heck. just pay the thirty five dollars and we'll call it fine"

seriously, though. 36 inches was bad proportion, but 42 inches is just stupid. any person who falls over a 36" rail deserves to, and making it 42" is just ridiculous. the porch would look like an adult play pen.

I really hate things designed to save me from myself.

So glad I don't have to deal with that frigging building code every day anymore.

here's another rant.

having drinks with my former boss the other day. both a little schnockered. into the men's room, and i say (as we LEAVE, per man-rules) "you know that lower urinal, and the lower phone in a bank of phones, which are there per the handicap accessibility regulations?" he says (perplexed) "yeah?"

"ever actually use the low urinal, or the lower phone?" he says "yeah, of course." ...and you had no problem using it, right?

so, my question. the lower urinal (or phone) looks pretty stupid, and basically says "you, in the frigging chair, that's your special urinal". instead of being inclusive, it make the difference obvious, and (my real problem) just looks totally stupid. like someone made a mistake.

"so," says I, lubricated sufficiently with adult beverages, "since everyone can use the lower ones, why not put them all at the same lower level?"

he's looking down at his feet, focusing on where his next step needs to be as we head back to the bar... "genius" he says. "pure genius"

coffee's done.
time for "work"
ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante


  • HaggisHaggis Posts: 63
    Just went through the railing issue on a home renovation but luckily didn't have to deal with the 6 foot fall - mostly only a foot but in some places up to about five feet - I'm at 36 inches as a result. I did have all sorts of problems with the railing material. I'm placing it between columns that are in some cases 8 feet apart. None of the manmade/composite materials are more than 8 feet long now because they can't engineer the railings to meet both the new 2009 code and the more stringent codes of some jurisdictions. The old style Trex actually comes less than 6 feet long. Treated lumber railings have to have posts every four feet here outside DC. I'm still waiting to see if I can get away with no railings over my 6-foot retaining walls backed by mature shrubbery preventing anyone from getting close to the edge.

    Hey - in downtown DC they've mounted a lot of new electronic parking meters at about 3 feet. A normal height standing person cannot read the time on the meter because the angle required causes all sorts of glare and it washes out the digits.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    i'm using solid walls, cladded each side with 1x8 bevelled cedar siding. $4.15 a FOOT. yeeee-OUCH. but gotta do whatcha gotta do.

    frikkin guardrails... it's run by the insurance racket frankly. hahaha

    i drew up the drawings with no architectural stamp. the guy says "are you an architect" as he flips through the drawings. i said n, i just liked to draw. hahaha :whistle:
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 21,049
    remember back when i wanted to change the balcony rail in the scools theater, in the end i wanted 36 in high, the scool department wanted the 36 inch high, the building inspector wanted 42 inch high or leave it unsafe at about 18 inches high. its the same as it was
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    quick sketch. kind of a bungalow/cottagey thing
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597

    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
    I assume all the black smoke coming from behind the house is something burning on the egg?
  • Hopefully the historical society (sometimes also referred to as the hysterical society) doesn't throw a penalty flag on you and say it has to be the original height to maintain the ......

    Not sure if it is true or not but I heard a story of a baker who was told by OSHA that he had to change his floors to a non-skid surface and he complied. Then health department said he had to change to a smooth surface because the non-skid suface couldn't be cleaned as efficiently and would harbor germs. The bakery closed.
  • FlaPoolmanFlaPoolman Posts: 11,671
    Stike,, even you wouldn't believe the building and safety codes in the pool industry now. Most don't help with safety but sound good at election time.
  • "Sparky""Sparky" Posts: 6,024
    You lucky bastid,you've been to "Fallingwater" :ohmy: Man,I'de love to go there one day.That place is amazing :woohoo: BTW: My new smokehouse railings are "only" 36" :lol: I didn't get the building inspector involved though :whistle: :ohmy: Great sketch BTW :)
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    been to fallingwater a couple times. last one was a cocktail party, and we were free to roam. held at dusk too. beautiful place.

    seen a lot of wright's stuff, and lucky enough to work on one (and later, gives tours)

    never see another career like that... many human failings, but the guy was an undeniable american genius as an architect.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    no historic society on my street. hahaha

    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    i'd believe it...
    spent twenty years slogging through building codes. gah!
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • CrimsongatorCrimsongator Posts: 5,791
    Remember building codes are only about 2 things.

    1. Revenue
    2. Safety

    in that order
  • MaineggMainegg Posts: 7,787
    It is stupid the things they hang up on. Our neighbors in Fl after Charlie went through, had to put in a new home. the other was destroyed. now they had lived there for 22 years and our yards are small. he had a beautiful yard with mature citrus trees and flowers, about every inch covered with gardens, trees or walkways. they wanted 6 new trees planted for the new construction??? and they wanted the house numbers that were on the light post out front taken from 2 inches to 3 inches or some such stupid thing. they would not give him the occupancy stamp till he did. he told them to come show him where he could fit any more trees on his lot and the house numbers were the only charlie left him. stupid.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597

    they don't make much revenue. hahaha

    they really do serve a purpose, life/safety, but it used to be that they were a guideline.

    an architect or engineer could do something that was technically against code (or usually, something the code didn't really address) and their stamp was enough to override that. a stamp, in effect, is a declaration of liability. but now, you have guys in building departments that have been there 35 years, who realize they can make spot requirements that are more stringent than the code, because THEY don't want to be accused in the future of having approved something and then having it fail...

    so it's just getting more and more conservative, and there's a feeling that everything is designed not so much for safety as it is to ward off claims.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    what i really "enjoy" is that a builder can go in without an architect's stamp, and pull a permit for a 5,000 square foot vinyl-sided P.O.S McMansion, but when an architect walks in with drawings, the inspector feels they should start throwing their weight around.

    lots of times the inspectors KNOW the rules, but don't understand WHY they are there.

    not saying that's the case all the time, but sometimes there are things that require interpretation, and occasionally you'll find a guy (or woman) who will toe the line on some stupid level of minutia, ignoring the spirit and holding to the letter.

    an architect's job is 10-15% design, the rest is given over to construction drawings, coordinating all the mechanical/plumbing/electriacl/structural info, etc. ... and then accepting liabilty for all of it. hahaha

    which is why i draw pretty pictures for a living now.
    no liability in THAT
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • CrimsongatorCrimsongator Posts: 5,791
    OK, so bulding permits are the money maker.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    my permit was 35 bucks. not making any cash there.

    the real money maker is the "contribution" the city (boston) gets out of the developer.

    toss us 15 million for improvements, or to build a little orangerie over here in a park, and we'll approve your project. basically, a "donation" extracted under threat of denial
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • Celtic WolfCeltic Wolf Posts: 9,773
    My favorite one here in NC is the deck rules. I can build the most elaborate deck anyone could think of and as long as it isn't physically attached to my home I do not need to build it to code or even get a permit; however, if one nail, screw or bolt it driven, or screwed into my existing home I have to meet code and get a permit.

    Awful lot of decks in NC touch the house but aren't attached.

    Ohh and I can put a 100' amateur radio tower on my property, but I need a permit for a commercial tower.
  • I went through hell trying to get a fence. I live along a busy street and have little kids. So to get a 6 foot privacy fence, we had to have an offset of so many feet, prior inspection from the traffic engineers for site lines (on a corner) and oh yea, was supposed to get permission from the voluntary HOA.

    Did i mention I was putting the fence in side and existing 15' tall hedge that had been there for 30 years? The county knew that and still made us do cartwheels.

    Oh I completely blew off the HOA. I got one letter, the a registered letter and did not accept it. Never heard another word form the HOA.
  • i always use the lower urinal.... cause the coldness of the water in the upper one is
  • oops .... meant to respond to the original post by stike....
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