Meet Local Building Codes When You Build Your Own Home

You will likely need to become familiar with your local building department (and meet you local building inspector) to ensure that any existing or planned structures on your land will meet the safety building codes.

  • Building Inspector
    Ask a local building inspector about any known issues with land or a home that you are considering of buying.

  • Building Inspector

(Editor's Note: Les Scher is a California back-to-the-lander who also just happens to be a practicing attorney and an expert on property deals. Mother Earth News is proud to present this second excerpt from his book, Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country, a first-rate, comprehensive layman's guide to what is probably the most important purchase you'll ever make. This chapter is excerpted with permission from MacMillan Publishing Co. Copyright 1974 by Les Scher.)

I sometimes think men do not act like reasonable creatures, when they build for themselves combustible dwellings in which they are every day obliged to use fire. 
—Benjamin Franklin in his letter of 1787 entitled Building Acts Anticipated 

Building and health codes, like zoning ordinances, are included in the right of the government to regulate individual land use for the health, safety, and general welfare of the people. The county may also regulate the construction of private roads that lead onto public county roads in order to protect those public roads. In this chapter I discuss building codes, permits, and enforcement; health codes and permits; road encroachment permits; and how to protect yourself to be sure no code violations exist on the property you are buying in the Contract of Sale.  

An Introduction to Building Codes

The first recorded building code was passed in New York (then called New Amsterdam) in 1625. The law specified types of roof coverings and locations of dwellings to prevent roof fires. In 1648, New York prohibited wooden or plastered chimneys, and inspections by firemasters were initiated. By 1656, straw and reed roofs were prohibited and ordered removed from all houses. Philadelphia went a step further in 1701 by passing a law providing that any person whose chimney caught on fire would be prosecuted and fined. From the very beginning building laws were enacted only after a disaster had occurred. Although fire prevention was the primary issue in the first building codes, today all aspects of construction are regulated.

Building laws are designed to protect people's financial investment as well as to ensure their personal safety. Often the appearance of a structure will be regulated, and unusually designed houses will be discouraged. (I talk more about this later in this chapter.)

Today most building regulations throughout the United States are based on the Uniform Building Code, which was established by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) in 1927. The Uniform Building Code's stated purpose is to prevent people from being hurt physically or financially by providing minimum uniform standards of building construction.

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