By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert is updating the building codes that set the minimal safety standards for home and commercial construction in the town.
The town is operating under the 2012 International Building Code and is looking at a 2018 version.
“There’s some people who really like that, some who really don’t,” said Councilman Jared Taylor, who sits on the council sub-committee tasked with reviewing the codes.
For Gilbert, the 2018 codes include required GFCI protection in laundry areas, bathrooms and for kitchen dishwashers; lower ceiling heights for bathrooms and laundry rooms by 4 inches; making it easier to comply with the energy code; and increasing from 75 percent to 90 percent of permanently installed light fixtures that need to have high-efficacy bulbs.
A ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a type of circuit breaker that shuts off electric power when it senses an imbalance.
The IBC model building codes include plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, energy and electrical provisions and are updated every three years and adopted as a base standard by most jurisdictions in the country.
Changes can affect the price of a home – which builders pass onto homebuyers.
Gilbert can amend the IBC, making builders responsible for meeting those standards in order to get a building permit.
Taylor said the town bypassed the 2015 IBC but there were enough changes in the 2018 set to warrant a review. The town is taking public comments on the update.
“Feedback was more along the line of simplification, make it more clear so that every inspector has the same interpretation of the code,” Taylor said. “Some of the codes in 2018 are less restrictive, which I think are welcome to everyone, and some are new.”
He said some codes may not make sense for Gilbert.
For example, under the 2018 IBC, trained crowd managers are required for facilities hosting over 250 people.
“I think those are more applicable to cities and towns with stadiums or large sports facilities, which we don’t have,” Taylor said. “Some churches have a capacity larger than 250. With some of the large schools and churches, it doesn’t make sense to have all the training requirement. It’s an expensive burden for schools and churches.”
Taylor said the committee is reviewing what codes are applicable to the town as well as how the ones that are should be applied in a simple, unified and meaningful way.
Taylor said he was interested in recommending adoption of less restrictive codes and a check list with definitions of codes included so everyone is on the same page.
In the sub-committee’s last meeting scheduled this week, the members will make recommendations for the council to review on April 18. Adoption of the updated codes would take place later in the summer, he added.
Most communities in Arizona have already updated to the 2018 codes, according to David Nichols, senior government relations manager for the International Code Council, which publishes the codes.
The council’s members include code and fire officials, architects, engineers, builders, contractors, plan reviewers, permit technicians and designers.
“I’ve not heard anything of a major concern that is going to be a show-stopper or a big impact to homebuyers or homebuilders,” said Nichols, who has a background in building and fire safety.
The market drives what provisions of the 2018 ICB Code stay in or what gets amended out, according to Nichols.
“Generally, we encourage jurisdictions not to weaken the code unnecessarily,” he said. “It puts them in the position years down the road to try and catch up, and it becomes more painful, to what is standard across the US.”
Nichols said the IBC codes have steadily improved over the years.
“Homebuyers buying a home today are getting a much superior product than they were in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – the home’s quality of materials, the testing and certification, the performance of the homes,” he said.
He noted the National Association of Home Builders participates in the code development process and one of the things it does is bring forth new technology and new methods in home building.
“They make sure (the codes) are done in a reasonable fashion so the price of a home doesn’t jump up dramatically,” he said. “Some of the code changes the National Association of Home Builders participated in and brought forward are actually cost-savings.”
For instance, some changes by the association present options for doing things that result in cost-savings, he said.
“There are many options builders have with compliance with code and yes, there are things that are mandatory they have to do,” he said.
“I think here in Arizona and most places I’ve worked with, code officials have a pretty open mind and are willing to listen to those alternative methods and means when presented.”
Overall, there are no huge changes in the codes from 2012 to 2018, Nichols said.
“In reality, in the long-term picture these are very small changes relative over time, very subtle and not a huge jump in cost compared with the overall economy and overall income of buyers,” he said. “Homebuyers are getting a better product that lasts longer and more equity in the long haul.”