Understanding Building Regulations: A Self-Help Guide for the Owner-Builder

An explanation of building codes and permits for anyone constructing their own home.


| September/October 1976



041-056-01

The second in a series of articles on building regulations.

ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

"Shucks. Puttin' up your own house ain't hard at all. What's hard is figuring out and conforming to all those @#$%0& * building codes and regulations.  

Take heart, all you would-be and actual fabricators of do-it-yourself shelter. At last someone (good old MOTHER) has commissioned a series of articles designed to help you meet and beat! those most trouble some of all obstacles in the construction of your own home: THE BUILDING REGULATIONS.

The series of informative pieces (Read the first article HERE) was written by Ed Vitale, an attorney who specialized in real estate and building construction during most of his ten years of private practice. So read on as Ed [1] I investigates in detail the four major model building codes used in this country, especially as they apply to the activities of the owner-builder, [2] gives you concrete explanations and examples of "how to read the code", [3] reviews the statutory' and administrative framework of the construction and sanitary codes of four representative states, and [4] generally lays down criticism, comments and plain good help for anyone contemplating the construction of his or her own shelter.

The Building Permit

Now that we have a few definitions under our belt, let's set the stage for an in-depth review of the building code (remember: it's the regulation that deals with the minimum requirements of how a building is to be constructed).

Let's assume that you the owner-builder have a piece of vacant property on which you want to build a house (or you've bought an old farmhouse you want to fix up) and that the municipality where that property is located has [1] a building code, which you must abide by, [2] a subdivision ordinance, which has not been violated since there was no division of the land you purchased, [3] a zoning ordinance, the provisions of which are satisfied because your property is in a single-family district and meets with all of the area requirements of the ordinance, and [4] a health or sanitary code that allows you to use an old-fashioned privy. (This last assumption is unlikely to be the fact ... but I make it so as not to unduly complicate the discussion at this point. I'll be dealing with the subject of health codes in a separate article in this series and will save my comments on the matter for that time.)

If you followed the advice I gave you in Part One of this series, you will have—before you bought your property—at least looked at, if not purchased, a copy of the building code in effect in your municipality. (If you don't have a copy of the code yet, get one from the municipal clerk's office.)





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