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Dwelling code law just good sense

Jerry Deschane is the president and owner of Deschane Communications LLC, a lobbying, consulting and communications firm specializing in the construction industry.

By Jerry Deschane

Gov. Scott Walker on July 5 signed into law a bill that will save buyers of new homes a lot of money.

The law establishes a schedule for updating the Uniform Dwelling Code. Under the law, the state will take a quick look at the code every three years and will conduct a major review every six.

Under the old law, there was no set schedule for updates, although the state tried to update the code every other year. On a national scale, the privately owned International Residential Code is updated every three years.

In effect, the new law means Wisconsin will keep an eye on each national code change but will wait one code cycle before adopting the latest “thing” in building regulation. Because it already has been five years since the last update, the law also requires the state conduct the first scheduled review within the next two years.

The lengthened process will save a lot of money.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, there are 2,700 changes to the current version of the IRC being debated. If all of those changes are adopted without modification, the NAHB estimates they would add $45,000 to the cost of a typical home. And that’s just one code change cycle.

Are new homes really that poorly built? Are the new homes built under the current IRC in danger of burning down, falling down or sliding off their foundations because there are 2,700 design flaws in every new home? Of course not.

Homes are safer, more energy-efficient and more durable than they ever have been. The reality is that the national building code process has become a special-interest tool.

The International Code Council, owner of the national standard codes, established a process that usually encourages well-meaning engineers, inspectors, environmentalists and product manufacturers to bring their get-rich-quick gizmos, save-the-planet gadgets or Mission From On High policies to the table. If you have the staying power to keep talking after everyone else has gone home, you have a shot at the prize: a mandate in the building code, regardless of whether your gadget, gizmo or policy truly is needed to build a safe and affordable home.

Plus, the ICC earns its living by selling updated code books. No updates, no book sales.

The building process is evolving, and new products are being brought to market all the time. Building codes need to evolve as well.

But it’s a fact of life that there is no way to remove people from the process, and if there is a buck to be made or a mission to be advanced, someone will try to make it or advance it. Recognizing that and balancing those competing forces is a proper role for government.

Walker and members of both political parties in the Legislature have just recognized that the science of building shelters is as old as mankind. We don’t have to reinvent it every two years.

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