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Building Code Updates

I'm writing today to elicit input from local design and construction industry stakeholders regarding Monday's Planning Commission meeting on the adoption of 2012 building code updates and Teton County's local amendments to those codes. We reviewed this item once, and is back in front of us on Monday. Staff has made some changes which in my opinion are a step in the right direction, but maybe not a big enough step.

I personally would like to use this opportunity to further address some of the side effects and uncertainties in our building permit application process, and craft a set of local policies and procedures which might allow construction industry professionals to predict with more confidence in the outcome of code reviews. I'm not so concerned with commercial projects or life safety issues, it's mostly the residential International Energy Conservation Code and its application towards existing projects that troubles me. I've been a vocal advocate of establishing Teton County as a leader in energy sustainability throughout the crafting of our Comprehensive Plan, but I also believe that we need a process similar to the variance process in the planning world which would allow an existing nonconforming homeowner to remodel without having to meet all of the criteria required to comply with the IECC. Construction in Teton County is cumbersome and expensive enough as it is. Making some upgrades which don't go all the way to code compliance is more energy efficient than not doing the project at all because it's cost prohibitive, which IS code compliant.

I feel that the design of upgrades, additions and reconfigurations of existing heating systems should be able to be performed during the course of construction rather than prior to permit approval. With our short building season, the permitting process should be more streamlined in order to allow subsurface foundation work etc. to proceed before the entire heating system has been designed and certified compliant. By moving the requirement for compliance certification to Certificate of Occupancy rather than Building Permit issuance would allow local trades-people to analyze and troubleshoot existing systems while preliminary portions of the project are underway. It would of course be the client who assumes the risk of uncertainty as to what will be required for the final heating system design.

Another issue I would like to see addressed in our local Code Resolution is the in-plane extension of existing roof structures. That is, extending an existing of roof of the same thickness and R-value at which it was originally permitted in order to attach to an addition which complies with current R-values. A small amount of new non-compliance to benefit an overall increase in energy efficiency.

One last item- a provision for building code officials requiring written code interpretations during the design process, rather than a policy of "Here's what I can tell you now, but it's not binding. Submit your project and we'll review it then." Given all the effort involved with our building permit process, design professionals should be able to rely on code interpretations before spending months completing construction documents. The planning department currently has a Zoning Compliance Verification process, the building department should have something similar.

OK-one more while I'm at it. The Building and Planning Departments need to coordinate their definitions of non-habitable storage space. The Building Department requires only one electrical receptacle and one light fixture to insure that a storage loft isn't habitable space, and the Planning Department won't classify the building as an ARU because the loft puts it over 1,000 sq.ft. Been there. I'd really like to be able to understand the regulations just by reading them.

Agree? Disagree? Got any other suggestions? Please share your opinions with the Planning staff, or better yet come by Monday at 6 and provide some public comment. Thanks for your time.

Paul Duncker/ HandsOn Design

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