August 21, 2014

County adopts building codes for new construction

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
Members of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners adopted an amended version of International Code. The code outlines minimum building requirements for new construction in the unincorporated areas of Johnson County.
During an April 18 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the code update. However, commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who represents part of Olathe, said there are provisions of it that made him uncomfortable.
Specifically, Ashcraft said the code adopts building codes that make new buildings safe and also energy efficient. He worried the energy efficient portions may be unnecessary, costly and burdensome.
“The energy efficiency efforts – why would that not be up to the individual builder or buyer to determine what they would like rather than have it imposed by some board in Alabama or San Francisco?” Ashcraft asked.
Jerry Mallory, Johnson County building official, said the code was crafted by the International Code Council, a U.S. organization. In the past, three different organizations from different parts of the country — the west, the south, and the east — each had its own councils drafting building codes. In 2003, those three code organizations combined.
The energy efficiency portions of the code are newer to the midwest region of the country, Mallory explained, but have been used on the coasts for years.
“Nationally, even without the energy codes, 30 percent of new structures built meet codes on energy efficiencies,” Mallory said. “I think (the energy efficiencies are) looking beyond next year and into the future. Energy conservation is definitely a part of our future.”
Mike Brown, a local contractor and member of the Home Builder’s Association of Kansas City, told members of the commission that he is OK with the codes. County officials met with area contractors in a series of five round table meetings to hammer out fine details of the updated code.
He estimated that the code would add $3,000 to $5,000 in costs to new home structures.
“But that’s if you’re not building to any of the minimums already,” Brown said.
Most builders, for example, already include adjustable thermostats. He anticipated the economic impact for most builders would be about $1,500 per new home.
“If I go spend the extra $1,500 and the competition down the street won’t, I’m leaving money on the table,” he said. “I am comfortable that we are moving to a level playing field. The uniformity is going to be good for our industry.”
Some of the costs associated with new minimum standards in the code will be offset by changes that will lessen costs.
“A lot of the public’s impression whenever codes are adopted is that, here we go again. More regulations coming down. When I went through this, I realized that there were a lot of restrictions that were made less,” Commissioner John Toplikar, who represents Gardner, Edgerton and part of Olathe, said.
Two commissioners said they received communications from constituents concerned that sellers of existing homes would be required to meet the new codes.
Mallory said the county typically does not get involved in home resales. He mentioned one instance, however, in which a home inspector found that a home seller had done extensive repairs and upgrades without getting proper inspections.
“That is probably the only time we would get involved,” Mallory said.
Ashcraft said he would only be comfortable passing portions of the code that deal with safety and not those dealing with energy efficiency unless county officials agreed to meet with builders within the next several months to ensure the new code is working.
“Having a uniformed code in the county is the right thing to do. But the energy component, I struggle with that,” Ashcraft said. “I could be supportive of that if at some point in the future we get a report back that (county staff) have visited with builders, and it is meeting their needs for encouraging development and growth. So we make sure we have a stopgap, so we just don’t plow down this road with added regulations.”
Commissioners agreed that county staff will meet with builders within a year of the code’s adoption to determine if it is too onerous.
“It is my intent, one of the things about adopting the energy code is not exactly the cost to homebuilders, but the payback to homeowners,” Mallory said. “These (energy efficiency) provisions will pay back to the homeowners over time. We want to track that. I don’t know how yet.”
The code commissioners adopted mirrors the code Olathe recently adopted, and according to a briefing sheet provided to the board, the cities of Shawnee, Lenexa, De Soto, Gardner, Spring Hill, Mission and Merriam are also moving toward adopting the 2012 International Code. The cities may amend the code to reflect individual standards. For example, Brown told the commission Overland Park codes are typically more stringent than in other parts of the county.

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