(Written by Derrick Childers – NMHBA President – Originally published in the September 2010 Housing Journal)

Battles Over Building Codes to Continue

I think all of you have heard me ask this year – “when is enough enough”? I am starting to feel that since the economy has flattened our building industry other groups are taking the opportunity to kick us while we are down. For instance, after many months of constant battling over the 2009 I.C.C. Energy Code Amendments, I thought my term as NMHBA President might become a little less hectic. It isn’t happening. The mandatory residential sprinkler system requirement had to raise its ugly head. After big pushback from us and others we believe that will be delayed for two years, but it still scares me to think how close the sprinkler requirement came to getting into our building codes. Again when I thought I could breathe again, more big issues popped up out of the blue. All of these could greatly affect our industry and will be up for a vote at the next Construction Industry Commission meeting.

The first issue was a code proposal that would require soil testing for every new house built in New Mexico. We dealt with this issue in the code change committee meetings and I thought we had it resolved. But it was pulled out at the July Commission meeting for further discussion. The new proposal would have meant at least two test holes would be drilled for every lot and a soil engineer would have to review and report on the results. It has been my experience, in our area, that this would cost a minimum of $2,500 for every house and the price would go up from there. The larger the footprint of the house, the more test holes will be required to be drilled in order to determine if problem soils are present. Is this necessary?

It has been reported that one to two percent of the homes built in New Mexico have some type of soil related failure. My estimate is that mandatory soils testing would only predict a problem in half of that one or two percent. Twenty-five hundred dollars would be a large expense for every home buyer to incur for a test that would most likely not benefit them. After much discussion and many emails here is the proposal to be presented at the CID meeting:

Section R401.4 Soil tests. Where quantifiable data created by accepted soil science methodologies indicate expansive, compressible, shifting, or other questionable soil characteristics are likely to be present at a particular location, a soil test to determine the soil’s characteristics at a particular location shall be performed.

The second issue that arose out of the code adoption meeting has to do with monolithic slabs on grade and foundations formed with foam boards. CID has been seeing an increased problem with workmanship on these foundation forming techniques. Contractors reportedly are allowing the edge of the ditch to collapse, and this allows dirt to push the foam toward the inside of the ditch and reducing the foundation bearing. That’s a code violation. One proposed code change was to require the footing to be over-dug to the bottom of the ditch and formed separately from the rest of the pour. This would also require the forms to be stripped and back filled and compacted before the stem wall was formed. Doing this with all foundations would waste a lot of time and money, and we opposed this solution. The second proposed fix was to require a third party inspector be present all during the pouring of a monolithically placed foundations so the inspector could determine that the placement was correct. I gave my opinion that such a requirement would be unnecessarily expensive and a scheduling nightmare. This is another example where sloppy workmanship by a few can penalize an entire industry. Here is what will be presented at the CIC meeting:

Section R404 Foundations. See this section of the IRC except for the following: R403.1.3.2 to add the following sentence to the end of the section: Where the slabs-on-ground are cast monolithically and rigid insulation is used as a forming material, a minimum of 1½ inch rigid insulation shall be used. Where sandy, silty sand or sandy gravel soils are present, rigid insulation shall not be used as a forming material. Forms must be constructed to prevent the possibility of failure or collapse. Forms shall be constructed and maintained so that the finished concrete complies with R401.2.

I have poured hundreds of feet of monolithic foundations with 1” insulation board and had no problems, but unfortunately this seems to be the best compromise we could come up with at this time.

We will continue to work hard to keep these new regulations to a minimum, but it’s not easy. And we will continue to keep you informed on our efforts to tell lawmakers and regulators that “Enough is enough”!