Does Your Project Team Know Georgia’s Building Codes Change January 1st?

Ryan Taylor and Bryan Readling just presented an update on the residential building codes of Georgia. Are the building codes in your state changing on January 1st?

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Ryan represents the architects of Georgia on the state’s building code development committee. Georgia is moving to a new set of building codes that become effective on the 1st of January so Ryan spoke for a couple of hours on the process and changes to the residential codes this past Friday at the AIA Georgia office (pictured above).

Bryan Readling of APA was kind enough to travel from Charlotte to give an hour long presentation on the wall bracing provisions in the new building code. Bryan presented APA’s simplified method for wall bracing in the 2012 International Residential Code (pictured below). The codes have gotten much more sophisticated – the requirements for structural design in the code have changed significantly from the building code Georgia is leaving. There are thirty-four pages on wall bracing alone.

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The Expense of Not Knowing
Though a building code update may sound really boring, not preparing for the changes can be dangerous and expensive. The amendments have been published for months though Georgia didn’t officially adopt the changes until this November. Much of the training for the changes started this fall so there’s a small window, during the holidays, for training.

There are two key dangers to having a project team with members that don’t know the building codes are changing. The first is the physical danger – Ryan spent almost an hour presenting and answering questions on the changes to the design values for southern pine. The southern pine lumber we commonly use for framing floors, walls, ceilings and roofs can’t span as far as it has in the past (for a number of reasons).

Unless your project team knows the values have changed, they may be designing and building an inferior structure for your project. There’s obviously a physical danger to an inferior structure if your project team doesn’t understand the changes in lumber design values, wall bracing and other protections in our building codes.

The second danger is significantly increased time and expense for your project. If a building code official catches an issue before construction, you project may only be delayed for a short period while it’s re-designed. The changes to the design values for lumber alone may require changes the layout. If the necessary change is discovered during or after construction, it will be much more costly.

How to Protect Yourself
It’s surprising how many project team members don’t have a copy of the building code. This can be especially true for subcontractors who only focus on one portion of a project like concrete work, masonry, framing, etc. That often results in a “That’s how I’ve always built it.” mentality where subcontractors only learn of changes when someone else alerts them. Georgia’s building code this January will be the first in seven years so you might understand how practices have become ingrained.

When a state goes through a significant building code change, it’s important that the project team leaders (your architect working with your contractor/builder) take time to educate the team members who aren’t aware of the code changes – that’s probably team members like subcontractors who don’t have strong professional associations to provide training.

You can also protect yourself by hiring an architect rather than a designer or a draftsperson to develop your design. Knowledge of building codes, particularly those related to life safety and structural design, is a key benefit of working with a licensed architect. If you’re saving money by working with someone who’s not licensed, you may be risking much more than you think.

Growing Pains in an Industry
This company offers hourly services for those who just need a consultation to help them identify challenges and solutions for a project. The service is open to owners, contractors and others who may benefit from the guidance of a professional. We’re expecting some growing pains as the industry gets used to the new codes, even on small projects like exterior wood decks – there’s an entirely new design manual for decks.

This company also offers jurisdictional assistance for those working with permitting offices and inspectors getting used to the new building codes. It was wonderful to have some building code officials in Friday’s class though we’re expecting to encounter some officials who aren’t familiar with the new building codes.

Georgia’s Building Codes + Amendments
You should be able to find a list of the applicable building codes for your jurisdiction online. Georgia adopts building codes on a statewide basis though not all states do; Tennessee (at the time of this blog post) does not. Georgia’s mandatory building codes are listed online – you’ll have to buy a copy to see the code itself. You can also find Georgia’s amendments to the mandatory codes and supplemental documents like the prescriptive deck details online.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Thanks!

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