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Builders face code ‘overload’

Building codes have changed in California for the first time in more than a decade, raising new-construction costs by up to 5 percent but making homes more resilient to wildfire and snow loads.

Though most local builders agree with the fire safety element of the new codes, they say some of the building material requirements were “overkill” and wading through the volumes of new rules will take time to master.

“It’s an information overload,” said Mike Leslie, owner of Tekton Construction. “I downloaded the code to my computer and it took four hours. I think the first year will be a huge learning curve.”



In January, after years of political wrangling and lawsuits, California decided to conform to international building and fire codes like most other states, said Brian Washko, director of the county’s building department.

Chapter 7A of the new codes include the wildland urban interface fire protection standards, requiring tempered glass windows, fire resistant siding and decking and clearing of defensible space around all newly constructed buildings, Washko said.




“This has driven up the cost of houses. It’s kind of a backdoor way to achieve fire protection through construction,” said Washko, who agrees with the new fire safety measures.

Builders of newly engineered commercial buildings will have to take a more complicated look at snow loads on roofs, an issue that builders in Truckee should be concerned about but less so in western Nevada County.

“The code is not making a differential in elevations,” Washko said. “It kind of went from short division to long division. It takes more time to get to the same answer.”

Changes to the building code do not apply to manufactured homes or remodels of older buildings, Washko said.

Some Nevada County supervisors voted to protest the changes to the state code at their meeting June 10.

“I voted no because I wanted a protest vote on the record,” said Supervisor Ted Owens. “We don’t have a choice. It’s a dictate by the state.”

Owens was joined by supervisors Hank Weston and John Spencer in the protest vote.

Owens, a contractor for 18 years, called the new code “draconian,” adding that it forces builders to use more lumber and labor than necessary in many cases.

A major change to the state’s building codes has not occurred since 1997, Washko said.

From 2000 to 2007 a war ensued between the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials for control of the publishing right to various building codes, Washko said.

“There was a tremendous battle of power between the two code groups,” he said.

When California decided to go with the ICC’s codes originally designed for commercial building, the rules for residential building became more stringent and complex, Washko said.

“The problem is most people didn’t know about it until it was law. We didn’t have much time,” he said.

Though costs are expected to go up, homes will not lose their cosmetic appeal.

“It’s not really going to change what a house looks like,” Washko said. “What it really does is give homeowners a better way of fighting a wildland fire because it has some protections built into it.”

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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