Of Building Codes and Sprinklers

So, it turns out that New Mexico’s Construction Industries Division (CID) is going to scale back its proposed building codes due to industry concerns. No more mandatory sprinklers; no more demanding that if 50 percent of an existing building is remodeled, the entire structure must be upgraded to the new codes.

That’s great, but the CID wants to move forward with a policy that the new state regulations must be 10 percent stricter than new national model codes (whatever that means). Of course, folks from the CID claim that this increased efficiency is all for free because customers will benefit from less energy usage, but I remain unconvinced.

Regardless, it seems to me that the CID has overstepped its bounds by dealing with energy usage and sprinklers in the first place. Building codes should be there to protect the public’s safety from buildings that are dangerous or will fall down, not to mandate the latest environmental regulations or sprinklers.

After all, shouldn’t you be able to build your building and experience savings without some bureaucrat — waiting in the wings with the force of law — telling you how to build? Clearly, a horribly inefficient building will be an energy sink and would not be a popular choice in the market, but shouldn’t building buyers and tenants have that choice? The same applies to sprinklers. If sprinklers are a major benefit, the insurance companies will price policies in such a way as to make it worth our while — much like those anti-theft devices on cars — why do we need the state looking over our shoulders?

I say, get the CID back to making sure basic safety measures are in place. Leave energy efficiency and the deluxe sprinkler systems up to the free market lest they completely kill New Mexico’s building industry.

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2 Replies to “Of Building Codes and Sprinklers”

  1. Government control is getting out of hand. I can’t even make bird houses in my garage to sell at various festivals without a variance that cost $150 (non-refundable, even if you are not approved, which is the standard resolve). Needless to say, I am making bird houses and I still have my $150.

    I would never put overhead sprinklers in my house. Let it burn and build another one with the insurance money.

  2. When Jimmy Carter got into the energy efficiency policy making mode, we ended up with something called ‘sick building syndrome’… most commercial buildings have outside air brought in to purge the ‘dirty’ air that occurs inside buildings. Dirty air comes from people breathing, machines of various sorts that emit, pollutants that come out of synthetic materials like carpets and drapes and so on. That air has to be heated or cooled depending on seasonal conditions and that means a certain amount of energy is being used to maintain clean air and comfort in the buildings.

    Carter’s folly was to limit the amount of air being brought in on the simply theory that less air meant the fans were requiring less energy to turn them and less air meant lower heating and cooling costs to keep that air comfortable. The result was sick building syndrome where people started suffering all sorts of maladies due to the toxic air that was left inside without adequate purging.

    The cost to retrofit those buildings which met the Carter energy codes was 2 to 5 times greater than if they had been built the ‘right way’ to begin with.

    This is the law of unintended consequences. New energy codes have to be looked at in term of their application in the real world… not just some arbitrary number crunching. It’s probably easy to command lower energy usage on paper… but what does it do to people in real life?

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