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A Patchwork of Codes

A Patchwork of Codes

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, August 2010

For several years, I have been commenting in various publications about Maine's casual approach to monitoring its construction industry. This includes lack of licensing or certifying its general contractors and building inspectors, as well as its patchwork of different or no building codes in the communities across Maine. 
 
In 2007, my Condo Media article "Frontier Land" drew a lot of attention from local property managers questioning which code would govern a renovation project in which they were engaged, or whether a unit interior modification came under the residential or commercial sections of the codes. This year, there are lots of changes, but, because it's Maine, a lot is staying the same.

Licensing and Codes

First there was a big push to have general contractors licensed. The joke around our office was you could be a hair dresser one day and a contractor the next. The funny part was the hair dresser needed a license and many hours of training and the contrator did not. But then organized opposition developed from the contractors and their associations and the whole issue was tabled. It will probably come up again in two years.
 
The big news is that the long-awaited uniform statewide building code has been scheduled for this year (but not quite, we will discuss that later). The current building code situation permits a town to not have a building code; but if it does, it must follow the Internationsl Code Council's family of codes, including the commercial International Building Code (IBC) or the International Residential Code (IRC).
 
Though there has been postponed implementation dates for this new law due to committee reviews and need for additional public hearings, the current starting date for a statewide uniform building code using IBC and IRC 2009 is Dec. 1, 2010. But, towns of less than 2,000 inhabitants can delay implementation for two more years. This schedule also includes the International Existing Building Code (IEBC).
 
Maine has not adopted a uniform mechanical code; it is scheduled to adopt the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MMBEC) on Dec. 1, 2010. This will follow the International Energy and Conservation Code (IECC) 2009 and American mechanical engineering standards called ASHRAE Standards 62.1, 62.2, and 90.1 of 2007.

Code Confusion

Are these acronyms and dates starting to blur? Many architects, engineers, contractors, and code enforcement officers are also confused. The State Planning Office is responsible for training the code enforcement officers and building officials who have to implement this law. The problem is that this is a lot of training for a state with a historical apathy to code enforcement.
 
Maine has 458 municipalities; 70 have created their own hybrid codes and 40 towns follow a nationally recognized model building code. Popular towns, such as Camden, have no building codes while Augusta enacted its first one in 1984. Larger cities, such as Portland and Biddeford, will have an easier time complying as they have the staff and budget to deal with the training, but even they will have a difficult time assimilating eight new code books. The law will require Third Party Inspectors (TPI) to be certified by the state to conduct new building inspections to take the work load off the traditional municipal inspectors.
 
If you are a condominium developer or a property manager organizing a project, or an association board member asked to analyze a unit owner's renovation request, who do you go to? The next year or two will be challenging.
 
As condominiums are residences, does one follow the residential or commercial code? Are interior renovations governed by the same codes as the exterior? Are single-family buildings treated differently than multifamily dwellings? Go to a planning board meeting and witness these debates between the town planner and building code officer.
 
The answer, using these new codes is not an issue of ownership (ie - condominium vs. individual) but rather how the property is used. As condominiums are multifamily facilities, they will always fall under the IBC code; however, interior issues can be tricky. As an example, renovations that affect only the interior, such as a balcony or stair guard rail, will fall under the IRC while any renovation that affects the common rated firewall will fall under the IBC.
 
There will be growing pains as Maine moves into the 21st century but future homes will be safer and more energy-efficient than ever. There are many free and low-cost services available including CAI workshops to answer even the toughest questions regarding the IBC (or was that the IRC?).
 

 
© 2010 CRITERIUM ENGINEERS