Michael Steele / RESCON
After five and half decades of experience in the design and construction industry of multi-residential buildings, even I can question whether I have done enough to be qualified as an expert.
The question that brought this thought to mind was: “In your expert opinion, have progressive changes to building codes, regulations, technological advancements in methods of construction and development of new materials resulted in an improved product and environment for living for the consumer?”
This is a great question. To answer it, first let me address the use of “expert.”
Does five and a half decades of work in residential construction make this man an expert?
It’s a word I’m not comfortable with, but I think it’s difficult for most people labelled this way to accept it because there’s an expectation that being an expert means you’ve reached some kind of pinnacle in your career. But the purity of that word’s meaning is contradicted by the basic human trait to be always challenging and improving ourselves and continually obtaining more knowledge.
So when I was asked recently to provide an expert opinion regarding the influence of codes and technology on the quality of construction, it caused me to ponder whether my diverse experience qualified me as an expert.
Over my five and half decades in the industry, I’ve served as:
- partner in an architectural firm
- general manager, construction of development corporation building multi-residential high-rise
- building science consultant
- a member of industry and national committees dealing with codes, standards and quality of construction and vice-chair of building code commission of Ontario, including vice-chair Building Code Commission
- and now director of technical standards for RESCON, a builders association.
Not many of my peers have this diverse background so, if the shoe fits …
That question again: “Have progressive changes to Building Codes, Regulations, technological advancements in methods of construction and development of new materials resulted in an improved product and environment for living for the consumer?”
My instinctive answer is yes.
But after examining some of the facts, my thoughtful answer is “not so fast with yes.”
Among the facts to consider:
- Construction of all forms of residential accommodation is one of our most important industries as people cannot live without shelter.
- Virtually every building we construct has some feature that makes it unique, even if it looks similar to others.
- The construction industry is not immune to the impact of the many changes driven by technology and the necessity to preserve our environment which are happening at a pace faster than we can absorb.
These facts offer some clues related to the development of codes and regulations that impact the construction industry.
‘NOT SO FAST WITH YES’
The Internet, with its wide-spread access to information and the use of evolving computing technology continues to challenge our ability to react to and accept change.
In the past, it could take many days to access the required information before a decision could be made. Now it can happen instantly through our mobile devices.
We also had to rely on each consultant involved in a project to complete their designs in somewhat isolation before the start of co-ordination with other disciplines, a process that could take many weeks. Now the utilization of BIM and other computer digital programs can produce the desired information in a fraction of that time.
This new dynamic challenges our current building codes, standards and regulations, many of which were developed before the wide-spread use of the Internet. These concepts were not developed around a framework allowing them to be nimble or responsive to the changing requirements of government and new technologies.
The problem develops when the applicable jurisdiction tries to apply general principles rather than undertaking a rational approach to specific situations even when it’s not correct. This creates situations where they are unable to relate to a proposal which is based on acceptable innovation.
The result is that in many circumstances it’s easier and more expedient to follow the old edict of “don’t confuse me with the facts.”
To quote, Richard Kadulski, the editor of Solplan Review:
“Codes are meant to set out minimum requirements for how a building is to be constructed. Unfortunately, too often they are relied on as a ‘how-to’ manual, and as a benchmark of quality. But codes are there to define minimum standards, to set the floor for the least that can be built that will provide a building that is healthy and safe for the occupants.
“Codes are reactive – they are changed as required to meet community objectives and address issues that users raise about new materials, technologies and interpretations. We need to encourage construction that goes beyond a literal interpretation of the code, not just minimum compliance.”
My “not so fast with yes”answer is:
We have the ability and the knowledge to construct better shelter and provide an improved living environment for consumers, but this cannot occur unless we create a new regulatory framework that is responsive to changes and innovation.
I’ll finish with a question:
“What can you do to push the forces that govern the construction industry, using codes, standards and regulations to embrace our sense of innovation and optimism about the future so we can produce affordable housing?”
I sometimes think we are being increasingly guided by small minds with limited vision. I wish it wasn’t so.
Michael Steele, B. Tech. (C.M.), is the Director of Technical Standards at RESCON. Reach him at email@example.com or @RESCONtech.