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Code is the worst house you are allowed to build

CMObuilds | Posted in General Questions on

I may be biased since I build houses, or maybe more enlightened because I do, but “code is the worst house you are allowed to build” is such a ridiculous statement. I just heard it on a building science show on PBS which was somewhat equally ridiculous, and have heard it countless times on auditor, home performance, green building forums presentations, ect almost as a selling point to these services.

Maybe “energy code is the worst possible….” I would be onboard, but geez.

Anybody else shake their head when they hear that or perhaps cheer in joy? I think a community such as this will be the latter, curious minds want to know what you all think about that statement.

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  1. user-6184358 | | #1

    Yep, when you get an engineered house to resist earthquakes -it is designed not to kill you but to be destroyed like a NASCAR hitting the barrier wall. If you add 25% to the earthquake force you get a Hospital or fire station that is made to be functional after an earthquake. It is termed an " essential facility" I kinda think of my house as an essential facility.
    Go figure

  2. CMObuilds | | #2

    So you built your house as the worst possible essential facility you can build?

  3. etekberg | | #3

    I've seen plenty of new construction houses built worse than code. They get away with it just fine

  4. Expert Member


    I agree with you. But maybe that's because I live in a jurisdiction where if you build a house that meets the code you end up with a pretty well built and performing house. Here anyway, the problems don't seem to stem from just meeting code, they come from poor overly complex designs, bad workmanship, code violations that aren't picked up, or owners getting professionals (generally engineers) to allow alternative solutions than those required by code.

    So maybe it isn't so much that code is the worst house that you are allowed to build, as that very few people diligently follow or enforce the codes.

    1. CMObuilds | | #5

      I would agree with that. Also I would agree with that statement in regard to some of the energy code.

  5. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #6

    It’s basically true that building to code is like a D- , but that doesn’t mean it’s crappy — it just means it’s possible to do better. I’m an electrical engineer, so I see those issues most. Looong runs of wire of a particular gauge may meet code, but going up a size is sometimes a benefit with lower volt drop and better performance for devices connected at the end. There are loads of other examples.

    Building beyond what code requires increases costs. It’s no different than building to a higher finish level, granite instead of laminate countertops, etc. Code is the minimum you’re ALLOWED to build, so usually also the cheapest. If you’re doing a custom build, you can put in as much extra quality as you want with YOUR money. The problem with changing codes to require more of anything is that you’re effectively forcing other people to spend THEIR money on something YOU think is important. That can be a problem sometimes.

    A good example is basement wall insulation in my climate zone (5). It used to be R10, but now it’s R15. There is a study from Minnesota that basically shows anything beyond R10 to be well into the point of diminishing returns, which means you got most of the benefit of the insulation with R10, and anything beyond that doesn’t gain you much. I think it would have been better to leave the old code in place in this case. So, how much insulation do I have on my own basement (crawlspace, mostly) walls? A bit over R20 done with reclaimed roofing polyiso, but that was my choice. It was probably worth it when using the cheaper reclaimed material, but probably wouldn’t be (the insulation would cost more than the lifetime energy savings it would get me) if using new material.


    1. CMObuilds | | #12

      I wouldn't say code is the cheapest since a lot of it is safety provisions and accessibility, has nothing to do with cost.

      I think trade code, HVAC, plumbing and elec like you said is the exception to my argument and seems to have more room for dissatisfaction.

      In fact WI has a lot of good code language that would ensure quality but it isn't strictly enforced.

  6. user-723121 | | #7

    General contracting is still a form of free enterprise, if you want to distinguish yourself by building better, go for it. The marketplace will decide if your product has value. The code is a baseline, better with it than without.

  7. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #8

    Maybe "worst" is a loaded and pejorative term but the fact remains that minimum standards are minimum standards.

    1. Trevor_Lambert | | #17

      Yes, it's hard to argue that it's not technically true. Someone would have to demonstrate how you could build a worse house while exceeding the code minimums.

  8. ohioandy | | #9

    In my corner of Ohio, this statement makes no sense because no code is enforced and few builders seem to care. If I saw a new house that even approached our state code from the bottom side, I would be SHOCKED. So for me, code minimum--especially energy code--represents the Holy Grail of quality that I never get to see in new construction. That appraisers, banks, insurance companies, and, most importantly, consumers don't demand more is beyond my capacity to understand.

  9. maine_tyler | | #10

    I think you need to enlighten us as to your specific beef with the phrase. Use of 'worst'?

    In some cases the code isn't so much a 'minimum' or a 'worst' as it is an approved method. I suppose with energy code we'd mostly be talking about minimums.

    1. CMObuilds | | #11

      My specific beef was the way the phrase was presented in the PBS show I was watching as if you built a house strictly to code it is the absolute minimum AND the quality is as such. That is my beef.

      I don't build 100% code minimum by the way, but I am 100% sure some builders could, with ease, build a house 100% code minimum and have a better product than someone going over code minimum. Because of the quality component.

      Theres a lot of crappy builders, for sure. I take offense when all builders get lumped into the same pot as money grabbing hacks who don't care about their product and I digress, I get worked up. But Im calm now and I appreciate the input, it can invaluable insights as to how certain segments see a business one is engaged in.

      Appreciate the comments.

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #14

        I appreciate the point that there are many things that contribute to quality that are not part of code.

    2. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #15

      I've only heard it said on TV Home-shows, mainly by Mike Holmes to justify destroying some perfectly good work to do it his way.

  10. natesc | | #13

    Why build a 2x6 wall at 24" OC when you can be 1.5" OC? Way stronger!

    Why run a 4" sewer line when we can use culvert!?

    Why run 12 gauge wire when we can install a TeSLA coil with a complimentary Elon tweet!!!

    1 layer of shingles? Let's make it 3, with 2 layers of peel n stick underneath and solar panels on top with a direct link to your toilet seat!!

    Double pane? How bout two windows sandwiched!

    Next up watch me cut a $10 piece of plywood with a $1500 track saw!!

    1. gusfhb | | #16

      While Nathan is being funny, it is kind of the same reaction i have when I see the 'code is the worst' statement. In the real world there are far to many 'more is better' people out there.

      I personally prefer a more nuanced way of putting things.

      Current code is an R49 roof insulation[in my zone] Sure do twice code, but I would not feel guilty about R49

      I think I would feel guilty about a foot of foam under my slab, I just feel like the math driving that is somehow defective.....

      1. CMObuilds | | #19

        There is a lot of more is better, I think that is natural to most people. The code doesn't say you are allowed to do a crappy job so the house sucks. Most of the gripes people have are prohibited by code. Just not enforced.

      2. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #20

        I agree. Dana jokingly replied some time ago with a crazy high R number, something like R 1,000,000 for a wall in a similar thread to this one regarding crazy extremes. I remember working that out in terms of thickness and it was about a mile thick wall, obviously completely impractical to a ridiculous extent, but it makes the point that there are practical limits here.

        There are a lot of lazy and/or incompetent building inspectors out there too, which is an entirely different kind of problem.


  11. JC72 | | #18

    When code still allows

    HVAC in vented attics
    Doesn't require grade1 install with regards to batt insulation.

    Ya, code min is the least worst house one can build.

    Anecdote: Took a walk through some brand new $500k - $1MM attached single family homes. What did I notice?

    HVAC in vented attics.
    Batt insulation haphazardly placed inside/around exposed floor joists.
    Various section of brick veneer where mortar was in contact with the WRB.

    Living in CZ3 (Mixed-Humid).

    1. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #21

      This is an excellent example of a code not guaranteeing quality.

      It's also an example where a code compliant isn't necessarily better. Imagine two houses. One is entirely code compliant, but has ducts in the vented attic and poorly installed insulation. The other one has ducts in conditioned space and excellent air sealing and insulation, but is non-compliant for some trivial reason. Which one would you rather live in? I know which one I would.

  12. MAinspector | | #22

    "R101.3 Intent. The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment and to provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.

    The building code is not intended to guarantee quality, anyone that is relying on it for this reason is mistaken. I can think of tons of examples where a code built home is still a crappy house that I wouldn't want or a code built home could be incredible. A great home has more to do with selection of materials and equipment, layout, attention to detail of contractors, and a bunch more factors that the building code does not regulate.

  13. CMObuilds | | #23

    Exactly my point. Thanks for that.

  14. hughw | | #24

    More and more Massachusetts towns have adopted the STRETCH CODE for new residential construction with a required HERS rating of 55. Can you build a more efficient house? Certainly, but my understanding is that a 55 HERS rating represents a 20% increase in energy efficiency over the basic code....And for Zone 5, the basic code requires quite a bit more in insulation and protection than codes required a relatively short time ago,

  15. CMObuilds | | #25

    I think the takeaway is it is an assumption that code produces an inferior product and people fall for the BS, which seems to come from parties with other interests to seperate dollars from a wallet, or they honestly just don't understand the industry of building.
    Anything, building or otherwise can be manipulated.
    Code really doesn't much affect allowing sub standard, not the purpose of code, that's the purpose of NAHB standards for example.
    If the code was changed for those that believe code minimum is junk to align with their beliefs, the quality of implementation would make the advanced code worthless if not precise. So it all falls back to implementation.
    The "loads of examples" believers need to deliver "loads of examples", which cannot be reasonably done making the original statement absurd.

    So my elevated blood pressure sunday was not in vain.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #26

      "So my elevated blood pressure sunday was not in vain"

      Now, now - getting stressed is never a good idea.

      1. CMObuilds | | #27

        I’m not sure you can legally be a builder unless you have elevated blood pressure.

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