While good code enforcers work hard to get codes changed they can use help from the homeowners and trades professionals to get city management to recognize and make the needed changes Photo by Tim Boyle Getty News Images

Comfort FAQ: How Important are Building Codes?

Sept. 2, 2014
While good code enforcers work hard to get codes changed, they can use help from the homeowners and trades professionals to get city management to recognize and make the needed changes.

Over the course of 2014, this column has identified opportunities within customers’ homes that HVAC contractors may not have observed in the past. The opportunities are based on a recent homeowner survey conducted by Decision Analyst, Inc. This month’s article is a little bit different, and for author Garry Upton, a lot more personal. — Ed.

This past July 4th, I lost a true friend to cancer. He had been a friend for over 40 years, and one of the most effective building code enforcers I’ve ever met. Unlike most of my articles, which report on statistically-accurate research, this article will call on you and your staff to consider the importance of building codes.

The last two weeks of Tim’s life were spent in the hospice wing of a veterans' medical center. His roommate was a professional umpire. I realized that the life of a city code inspector is much like the life of an umpire. Every call they make in the field is appreciated by some in the stands, hated by others, and makes no difference to those who didn’t pay to watch the game.

Tim often found his decisions and those of the code enforcement group working for him questioned by trades people, and by some members of city hall, while the general public whose safety codes enforcers protect, didn’t often get involved unless the building in question was theirs.

Tim and I talked often of the difficulties of his job.

Most homeowners want comfort to come at an affordable price. The red tape, and costs for permits, or simply the time and process permits take can come at a high price.  Some find a way around permits, and/or cut corners. 

Some city codes are ludicrous at best. They’ve been passed by those who don’t understand the reason for codes and the protection they should afford the city and its inhabitants. Occasionally, city management uses the codes to “make money” by overcharging. And often, because of the nature of the beast, codes aren't up to date. 

While good code enforcers work hard to get codes changed, they can use help from the homeowners and trades professionals to get city management to recognize and make the needed changes. All in this business know how much the products we install and the homes in which they are installed have changed in recent years. Has your city kept up?

As we grow, and as new products and processes become common, and old processes and products become useless, we often simply forget the rules we used to live by, since they make little sense in our current world. City hall is like that, too. Laws and codes that protected the city’s inhabitants in the past are no longer used, but never taken off the books. Yet, code enforcers must enforce what is there. 

Tim often talked about the life of a code enforcer and the challenges it brought him. There was the DIY group who didn’t take out permits, who may not have known they needed to. There were always homeowners who would try to work without or around permits. There were always some trades people who would try to cut corners. There were often members of government who felt the rules didn’t apply to them.

Then, there were government and trades friends who would try to work around codes together. There were laws and codes which should have been changed years ago, which still were in force, that made upholding them seem silly. There were attempted bribes, and attempted threats, and there was always the fact that a code enforcer might be let go for upholding the codes. There were times when I felt Tim was backing a losing cause, and I’d tell him so.  At those times he would always respond with the following:

  • My personal best is to be the most informed at the trades level, and know all processes that go into building structures in my city.”
  • “I can’t not follow the laws the city has in place for anyone. The safety of all who live here now, and in the future, depend on my decisions when passing or red-tagging work that is in process on structures in my city.”
  • “I must not give friends an unfair advantage. I must review permits in the order in which they come in. I must not fail to stay true to the laws, regardless of who the person is who wishes me to bend the rules.”

To be just to all, he was constantly taking courses. He had walls of certifications, and employed those who had expertise in areas he might have been lacking.

Tim was human. He made mistakes, but he went to his rest knowing that he was as fair to his community as anyone could possibly be, by following the codes of his cities, and not wavering even when his job depended on it.

If you have solid code enforcers in your city, appreciate them and work with them. Help them in performing their work, and help them change the codes when they need to be changed, instead of working around them.

The lives of your customers, your children, and your friends depend on it.   

Decision Analyst’s American Home Comfort Study of homeowners explores what customers look for in HVAC contractors. To learn more about this study, or to purchase it, contact Garry, at [email protected].