Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Code Alert

Been a little lax on the posting of late. No major projects to write about, however I have been a bit preoccupied with familiarizing myself with the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code (IRC), the Architectural Access Code, the current Osha Regulations, and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). That's right, I'm preparing to take my unrestricted contractor's license in Massachusetts. While the neighboring states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York lack statewide licensing requirements for home building contractors (along with 19 other US states), Massachusetts requires that a contractor be licensed if they are to take on a significant housing repair or construction project.

So, I'm taking a 7-session class to prepare for the exam, and we meet once a week for 3.5 action packed hours of thrills and spills, looking stuff up in the code books. Our instructor likes to say, 'answer is A - Apple', and 'C, for Cat', stuff like that. Actually, I'm learning a lot of good stuff - who couldn't, when faced with a pile of light reading like this?:

We get a fair amount of homework after each class, so I spend a good chunk of my remaining week looking up obscure regulations concerning such things as nailing schedules, widths of egress, heights of fire alarm pulls, masonry fireplace design details, approved ceiling finishes for class I and II buildings, etc etc. I also had to obtain notarized letters of attestation from past employers so as to prove at least 3 years employment as a carpenter, and will have to pony up another bit of cash to take the exam at the end of the course. The exam is open book, multiple choice, and administered by computer. You have 3 hours to answer 75 questions, which is actually pretty tough sledding. 'Pass' is achieved by getting 70% correct or better. I'm feeling at this point that I have a good chance of passing based on my homework gradings so far. We'll see. It's going to cost me about $800 when all is said and done.

I will admit that I do have mixed feelings about the building code, a hefty binder which grows fatter with each issuance (about every three years a new edition comes out). First off, it is a little funny to me that it is called an 'International' code when the dimensions, weights, and other measures are given in the inch/feet/pounds scales (often, though not always, with metric measures alongside in parentheses). A lot of the rules, especially concerning fire safety, accessibility, materials testing and so forth make good sense. I guess where I find it less enthralling are where they get prescriptive, telling you HOW to do something and with what materials, rather than giving a performance objective to meet.

You know, the Great Pyramid at Giza likely wouldn't meet building code regulations - note sure if the means of egress has clear markings and appropriately configured 'EXIT' signs, and what about the lack of handrails? My god, what a disaster that was. They should tear is down and replace it something more conforming. I can think of a lot of indigenous building ways which would not conform to these code books either, and I fear the growth of such books and the tendency among most bureaucratic systems to gravitate towards self-enlargement and ever-increasing realms of control will ultimately tend towards a narrowing sterility in terms of what we build. It's already happening and has been happening for 100 years or so already. There's the point that the code is about minimum standards, which are not generally what you want to be following if you want to create a well-made structure. There's also the case to be made about buildings codes being configured to suit industry above and beyond other concerns, whether it be the insurance industry or those companies making building products, but I'll take that up some other time perhaps.

Philosophical objections aside, the pragmatic argument is that in order to get work here in Massachusetts, a lot of potential clients are going to be filtering their choices through the licensed/unlicensed divider. If you want to list your services on Craigslist, for example, you need to state whether you are licensed or not, and that - being unlicensed as I am at present -is going to cause some folks to not even consider my services. Insurance companies and banks issuing construction loans also stipulate that the contractors be licensed, so in order to increase my chances of obtaining work, I need to hop over that fence and stand on the other side. And I think it certainly doesn't hurt to become familiar with the regulations which govern construction, as this definitely can help avoid costly mistakes where you have to rip out something you just built because, say, the balusters on the handrail are too widely spaced, or some such thing.

In other news, I'm building a little CD storage rack for the household. It's not much different constructionally than the bookcase I made a few months back, so I'm not going to bother with a build thread. I'm making it out of leftovers and scraps - and despite a certain temptation to screw and glue something together all quick like, I decided that that wasn't what I wanted to do. The case sides are Australian Lacewood, the top casing and shelves are Black Cherry, the back panel is Black Cherry and the back panel frame is Jatoba.

I thought I'd share few pictures of where things stand at this juncture. Here are the joins for the carcase upper corners (right 3 boards) and the shelves (left 4 boards):

The shelves are multiple-tenoned, housed, and will also be wedged. Here I'm sawing the kerfs for the wedges on one shelf board end:

First one side, and then the other:

It took about 40 minutes to kerf all the tenons:

I'll post up a few more pics along the way and share them with you. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.


  1. Hi Chris

    I'm happy to see a new post. In my twenties I kept up with both carpentry and electrical codes. I'm so far behind the times now I wouldn't know where to begin. It's been about 10 yr's since I have even picked up an issue of Fine Home Building. I'm very interested in your CD storage rack, always a pleasure to see your projects & joinery.

  2. Dale,

    thanks for the comment and for dropping by. As for FHB, I might pick it up once in a while at the supermarket for a skim through, but I haven't found much reason to buy one in a while. I'll see if I can be a little more regular with the posting.



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