Construction Codebooks and Estimating Guides

Anticipating code changes

All the codes undergo periodic review and revision. Some of these are on a regular schedule (the NEC, for example, undergoes a revision every three years), some are not. If you are involved in a project where the completion date is after the next code change, you could run into problems passing inspection. This is true, whether you are developing a product or doing construction. Thus, you must know the code cycles for your industry, so you know exactly when the new code is coming out. But, what good will that knowledge do you if you don’t know what those code changes will be and what problems they might cause for you?

Here’s how to anticipate code changes and head those problems off before they happen. You’ll have to pick and choose from these tips based on the criticality of the project and the amount of time you can devote to the code compliance effort.

  • Serve on a code-making panel. This is a big step, and not really necessary for most folks. But, it’s a way to influence what the new code will be like if you can make a good case. This is the strategy manufacturers use. If their suggestions don’t fly with other panel members, they can take back to their company suggestions for product improvements or changes—often in plenty of time for approval in the current code cycle.
  • Understand the current code thoroughly. Understand the intent of each code provision, and the rationale behind it. This allows you to design or install a bit ahead of the code, and to do so efficiently because you will know which code areas are likely to change and you can plan accordingly. You can gain this knowledge by joining a code users group or code discussion group (for the NEC for example, you can join a group at www.mikeholt.com). You can gain it by taking a course on your current code and/or getting certification in the code. You can gain it by signing up for code-related newsletters and reading industry trade publications. You can also gain it by attending industry trade shows, conferences, and seminars. This strategy puts you in touch with the power players. While not as "powerful" as serving on a code panel, it does give you many venues for making your voice heard. More importantly, it keeps you in touch with what is going on. This is a strategy used by manufacturers, contractors, consultants, engineers, trade authors and editors, and just about anyone who wants to be "in the know." You don’t have to do all of these things—think in terms of a buffet and take what you want.
  • Get an advance copy of the proposed code, and buy a copy of Code Changes Illustrated or something similar if it exists for your code. This often gives you a good six month lead on the official code and its adoption—sometimes it’ll give you much longer than that. Then, you can reduce the amount of rework required by designing to what you think the new code will be. If you exceed the new code, that’s not a problem—any extra cost is offset by reducing rework in the aggregate. This is a good overall strategy for everyone involved in work that overlaps the code change cycle.
  • Include a code change clause in the contract. This is the strategy most often adopted by contractors. If you are billing time and materials, this is a good strategy—it allows the code change to give you a paid scope increase. But, some contractors abuse this by including non-compliance work in the new scope to cover previous errors. To avoid being accused of such shenanigans, you’ll have to clearly document the required changes at the time of design change and show the relevant code for each. You’ll also need to show the cascading of costs and time. If you can show the client how you anticipated specific changes and saved them money, this will go a long way to improving relations with that customer and getting a good referral and repeat business. You don’t have to hand them every penny of the savings, but you can certainly quantify enough to create good will.
  • Use good engineering practices for design and follow standard industry practices for construction, installation, and tradeswork. Often, doing this means you exceed the code, so the code issues are irrelevant. In cases where they are not, the authority having jurisdiction may grant you a letter of exception or write you a "grandfather" letter because your design and work are of generally high caliber and meet or exceed the intent of the code.

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