You know they exist, but you’ve probably never seen them. I am not referring to the rare Orange Billed Nightingale-Thrush, I am referring to the International Residential Code. The 2006 IRC for One and Two-Family Dwellings is the gospel of the residential building industry in South Carolina. Even if you have undertaken a residential building project or hired a contractor to build an addition or renovation for you, you have most likely not read the entire 611 page document and you probably know very little about what is in there. That’s not the scary part though. The scary part is that your contractor has probably not ever read the code either, and even if they have and even if they have followed it to the letter, your project still may not contain the level of quality you expect.
The codes are designed to provide a minimum level of protection and safety. They are not designed to increase your property value, improve your home’s character and function, or guarantee that your addition will not look like an addition at all. The sole purpose of the code is to prevent your home from falling down on top of you, spontaneously bursting into flame, filling with toxic fumes, flooding with electrically charged water, or otherwise presenting itself as a death trap. The codes are concerned with life safety and are written in an attempt to protect the home owner and other occupants from unnecessary injury.
The codes are updated every three years and try to keep up with changes in construction materials, methods, and technology. Typically changes made in the code are a reaction to recurring or catastrophic events. For example, recent code changes include items related to fire safety such as requirements for sprinkler systems. These changes have been on the table for a number of years, but did not gain the support necessary for inclusion in the code until a group of college students recently perished in a fairly new built beach house that caught fire. It is vitally important that the building codes be followed, but it is not enough to guarantee that your project will be built to meet your quality of standards.
Like I mentioned before, the codes define minimum standards. If you think that because your contractor is building your new $500,000 home to “meet code” that you will actually have a home that is worth $500,000; then you would be wrong. Homes built to “meet code” have bounce in the floor, cracks in the sheetrock or brick, little to no sound isolation between rooms, stairs and hallways that you cannot move furniture in or out of, doorways that you cannot fit a wheelchair through, room sizes that would satisfy only the smallest of people, and inefficient mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Your home needs to be designed with greater quality and attention than the IRC requires. To add value and to allow your home to continue to appreciate in value, your home needs to be designed above and beyond what the code instructs. Do not trust one of your largest financial investments to a builder or contractor that promises to provide you with a home that will “meet code”. The only home you deserve and the only home you should ever build needs to exceed code. It needs to be designed by a professional who knows what TROUBLE is and how to avoid it.