Saturday, March 12, 2011

Building Regulation Sometimes a Lifesaver

Almost uniformally in this country, business owners will rank regulation among the most important detriments to profit. At Valley Business FRONT (the magazine I edit), we have just finished a story on manufacturing in this region and I heard over and over from owners that regulation is driving businesses overseas--even more so than inexpensive labor, some say.

Regulations can be strict, niggling and often marginal in their importance. Regulators can sometimes be overzealous. Regulation can be expensive (a good friend of mine is pouring $20,000 and about four extra months into complying with some Roanoke regulations she sees as marginal at best), time consuming and nerve-fraying.

But in Japan this morning, a lot of people are thanking the Buddha for that country's strict building codes. The codes are credited for saving many, many lives after yesterday's powerful earthquake left us horrifying scenes of destruction. This morning's New York Times story detailing Japan's efforts at minimizing earthquake damage with its strict building codes is revealing. The codes are expensive and time consuming to comply with, but when you look at what has been salvaged in the center of such utter destruction, can there be a question about their worth?

(Image from


  1. Your title should read: Building Regulation Often a Lifesaver.

    Your friend may or may not be required to do what she's doing--there are often exemptions that building officials don't know or haven't told you about. It's always important to work with a great set of architects, engineers and contractors on complicated projects. A classic example is fire suppression systems--they're required based on occupancy levels, so sometimes simply adjusting your occupancy level can save you $25K plus.

    Also, VA is a Dillion rule state. This means that local governments can't impose anything other than the uniform building code of VA, and occasionally you'll get local folks trying to add on, although note that federal add on such as flood requirements are exempt from Dillion rule.

    Anyway, your friend may or may not need to do what's she's doing and the building official she or her contractor is working with may not know key exemptions that still meet public safety requirements, but are more affordable. That really is the key issue: when public safety is involved it's critical that minimum prescriptive code be followed, and in many case min. code isn't enough. But, in some cases, where the only danger might be to the home owner or the danger is unlikely due to small size, then there are lots of exemptions in uniform code to make construction and renovation affordable for everyone. There is an attempt to strike balance.

    Yay for building code!

  2. James:
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment and yes, regulation is there for a reason. As for the Dillon Rule, I'm not so sure that it, either applies or maybe is ignored by regulators, but my friends in the building trades talk heatedly about the different requirements in the four localities in the Roanoke Valley alone. They say you have to get the equivalent of a degree in regulation just to build an outhouse here.