Unlicensed, Uninsured Contractors Get Stung in California

Under arrest white collar crime © Imageegami | Dreamstime.com

California ran a sting that netted 12 contractors operating without licenses and the appropriate insurances. (This guy wasn't really one of them. He's just to add visual impact.) © Imageegami | Dreamstime.com

One dozen illegal operators will have their day in court following a Contractors State License Board (CSLB) sting operation in the Berkeley Hills on February 22, 23, 28, 29, and March 1, 2012. The individuals are suspected of contracting without a license, not securing workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, soliciting excessive down payments, using contractor license numbers not belonging to them, and advertising illegally. Read More

Codes Don’t Account for Risks From Multiple Natural Disasters

New informationfrom the National Institutes of Standards and Technology says building

3D construction worker building a brick wall - 13807312  © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

13807312 © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

codes may be out of date when considering the effects of natural disasters on buildings. The reason is because codes generally consider the effects of these disasters as individual events, but when they are combined such as an earthquake followed by a hurricane, structures will experience both seismic and wind loads that they may not be designed to withstand.

Researchers used the example of South Carolina where both seismic and wind hazards can be expected. In those places, building design limits won’t account for both eventualities. According to wind zone and seismic hazard maps another vulnerable place is at the junction of Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. With wind speeds capable of hitting 250 mph and with three seismic hazard zones this area is at greater risk for dual failures on buildings.

Researchers are considering a wide range of models and extending the methodology as they advocate for changes to building codes.

Amish Take Building Codes To Task

In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York there is an attempt underway to bend the building codes a bit. In all three states the Amish have sued local governments claiming the building code requirements run counter to their religious beliefs. Now, one group has made it a federal case.

In Morristown, NY, 11 families that belong to one of the more austere Orders of the religion have brought a federal suit claiming the building codes discriminate against their religion. Apparently these Amish families don’t mind buying the building permits and following most of the requirements but there are some sticking points. They say the requirement for smoke detectors and submitting engineering plans, and allowing inspections all violate their religious beliefs.

Previously the group lost a similar suit when a town judge ruled their religion gave them no special standing to avoid compliance with building codes. There have been 10 Amish prosecuted in the town for code violations since 2006.

Well, this could spark some lively discussion, so if you have some thoughts on it, leave a comment. Or, at least vote in the poll below.

[poll id="3"]

Global Construction News: Algeria, South Korea and Tanzania

Just Build It Right: In Biskra, Algeria, the housing and town planning minister is cracking down on what he calls “urban anarchy” in building. Armed with additional funds the organizations that police compliance with building codes are imposing sanctions on builders who violate the “rules of urbanism and construction.” While a lot of the rest of the world reels under the current economic storm it seems Algeria is on a growth path. According to the International Monetary Fund the country is expected to post 4.9 percent growth in 2008 and 4.5 percent in 2009.

South Korean Builders On Growth Path: South Korean builders are building more and more of the Middle East. With overall construction orders up a record 45.4 percent year-on-year the boom is being enjoyed by medium and large firms alike. South Korean builders are also increasingly grabbing contracts throughout Asia with a 56 percent gain in that sector. In one interesting collaboration a consortium of South Korean construction companies won a $6.3 billion refinery project in Kuwait. The country’s builders are also handling desalinization and gas facility projects.

Concrete Figures Prominently In Africa: Tanzania is undertaking the construction of the single largest cement plant in the east African region. Expecting demand in that area to grow at twice the rate of projected economic growth of 5 to 6 percent, Kenya’s Athi River Mining (ARM) company will build the plant with a capacity of 4,000 tonnes (4,480 tons) a day. Funding for the project was concluded before the world’s recent economic crisis and it drew from both national and international sources. A spokesman for the project said a reduction in the demand for cement because of the market turmoil is not expected to be significant. ARM is the second largest cement maker in Africa.

S. 2191 Steps Up The Drive For More Efficient Buildings

Senate Bill 2191 in it’s simplest definition is an attempt to legislate a reduction in green house gas emissions through a trading scheme. This sounds like another opportunity for speculators to make some money, but of course there are many players who stand to reap some benefits. That has to be the case for any legislation to see the light of day in a society that values economics so highly.

While one commentator decries the failure of the European Union’s cap and trade system as reasons not to support this one, another cites statistics that bolsters the EU’s efforts. When it comes to following the money you get the usual. All the pundits slice and dice the numbers to suit their own views so getting very deeply into that fruitless endeavor usually nets brain cramps.

But for the construction industry this bill, simplified, means a renewed effort in training a workforce and the continued drive toward mandated green building standards. The legislation proposes to deposit funds into a Climate Change Worker Training Fund in order to :

  • create a sustainable, comprehensive public program that provides quality training that is linked to jobs created through low-carbon energy, sustainable energy and energy efficiency initiatives;
  • satisfy industry demand for a skilled workforce through quality training and placement in job opportunities; and to
  • fund federal and state industry-wide research, labor market information and labor exchange programs and to develop government administered training programs.

The bill also authorizes training partnership grants made available to various types of entities that have experience in skills training and education. Besides occupational skills training this grant money can be used for basic skills and literacy, general equivalency degrees and even English as a second language. Meanwhile a full 25 percent of the total funds collected will be available to colleges to use in ways that keep science education and research at the forefront.

An interesting development in Title V talks about the mandated Minimum Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency Design (AFUE) for various boilers for residential use. The law would require 80 to 82 percent AFUE depending upon whether the boiler is for steam or water and is fired by gas or oil. This doesn’t seem to be a very high benchmark since current Energy Star qualified boilers must have an AFUE of 85 percent.

Further on in Title V you begin to see the trend toward mandating green building standards. For example in Sec. 5102 there is a provision that starts the process of setting up "National Minimum and Regional Standards" for heating and air conditioning products. The provision also allows for the ban of the sale of products within those regions that don’t comply with the standards. Label design is even specified for the products and are supposed to contain a map of the country with shading in the areas where the products meet regional minimum requirements.

Sec. 5201 requires updating the national model building energy codes and standards within three years, and every three years thereafter, to achieve 30 percent overall energy savings "with respect to each edition of a model code or standard published"  through 2019, and 50 percent energy savings "with respect to each edition of a model code or standard published" after 2020.

Later it is required that each state certify it has reviewed and updated its codes regarding energy efficiency and that it certifies within a year that either:

  • at least 90 percent of new and renovated buildings covered by the State code during the preceding calendar year substantially meet all the requirements of the code; or
  • the estimated excess energy use of new and renovated buildings that did not meet the requirements of the State code during the preceding calendar year, as compared to a baseline of comparable buildings that meet the requirements of the code, is not more than 10 percent of the estimated energy use of all new and renovated buildings covered by the State code during the preceding calendar year.

It would be interesting to see just what it is going to cost the states to figure out the "estimated energy use for all the new and renovated buildings" within their jurisdictions. We better start graduating more accountants. For its part, the law will allow each state to get $500,000 to train state and local officials to implement energy codes.

Buy Lunch For Your Building Inspector

On second thought maybe you should just go to lunch together, and each of you buys your own. This is Building Safety Week, as advanced by the International Code Council, and it says some of the credit for safer buildings goes to all those people who ensure construction goes according to code. This includes not only building inspectors but also structural engineers, plan reviewers, and fire officials. Another idea would be to have a pizza party Wednesday afternoon and invite them all. The ICC offers a series of Top 5 building safety tips here, and a list of events for the week including a fireside chat and tools you can use to promote building safety in your community.

I’m a history buff so what I also discovered at this site fueled my thirst for answers about building code origins. Apparently there are some records that show codes, and the penalties for not following them, go back a long way. According to the ICC’s publication "Building Technology-Then and Now:"

…more than 4,000 years ago, the Code of Hammurabi, circa 2200–1800 B.C.E., prescribed the execution of any builder whose faulty construction of a house caused the death of its owner.

Early codes in the U.S., circa. 1625-1630, dealt with fire safety relative to roof coverings while another outlawed wooden chimneys, (scary thought) and thatched roofs. I suppose if you had a building with both a thatched roof and a wooden chimney you might call it…a torch?

Then in 1788 the first formal code was established in what we now know as Winston-Salem, NC, and was entirely in German. Interestingly it was New Orleans that became the first city in the country to require inspections of public buildings.

So there is your Monday morning primer on building codes and if people were really daring enough to use wooden chimneys once upon a time then we ought to be thankful for building codes.

Grant Program Opens Door For Mandating Green

There is some legislation that has been signed into law that authorizes two billion dollars a year, over five years, in grants for communities to undertake energy efficiency and conservation efforts for things like:

  • Public buildings;
  • Transportation; and
  • Use of renewable energy.

The funding however has not been released for these efforts so the National League of Cities brought four hundred signatures to Congress urging the release of the funds. Called the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program it is said to stimulate efforts by communities to address factors affecting energy dependence and climate change. The proponents claim its funding will promote new jobs, reduce waste and support new technologies.

One of the purposes also allowed by the act is the development and implementation of building codes and inspection services that promote building energy efficiency.

In a previous post here I wrote of the struggle between Michigan builders and the state government over the state’s desire to mandate green building practices. Other states and other builder groups have also been engaged in this issue. The National Association of Homebuilders previously has come out against mandated green building practices saying:

NAHB discourages efforts to dictate and legislate what constitutes acceptable green building practices because the building science in this area is still evolving. We don’t want to see this dynamic process frozen in place.

It appears that this legislation on the one hand offers building opportunities but on the other it opens the door for federally funded efforts by states and municipalities to mandate green building practices. Just how states and municipalities interpret this remains to be seen but when viewed within the broader context of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, in which it is contained, we could start seeing “green” entering the building codes to further extents.

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