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Why is the building code so bad ?

Why is the building code so bad ?

Why is the building code so bad ?

I am shocked to see what is being passed as the new building code.  I wonder why more people are not up in arms with what is going on with the codes. Thousands of pages of paper are not making our building better.  Where is the engineering judgement and skill of making something work?

Love to hear other point of view.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

There have been several posts about the continuing increase in complexity of codes.

I've worked for two companies thus far and in both, the older engineers tell me that wind loading under some of the codes, for example, used to be 20 psf. Period.

I'm not against including provisions that account for certain phenomena that are identified in ongoing research, but usually the complexity is a result of code writers striving for greater efficiency. This is where a lot of the push-back is coming from..  The code writers seem to think it is reasonable to make a design 3 times as complex to save 10% in materials. That, in my opinion, is absurd. And I'm still relatively new to the design profession.

I suspect you will get mostly sympathetic feedback on this issue. I, too, would like to hear if and why someone thinks it's a good idea to make codes so complex to achieve marginally better efficiency.

Again, I'm not referring to safety issues (for example, resonance wasn't really an issue before the Tacoma Narrows incident); some issues arise as a result of newer technology and building methods- these certainly must be investigated and accounted for in the codes. But at some point someone needs to do a cost analysis and weigh the benefit of saving a little material vs. the significantly greater time expenditure on our part as engineers.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

You made a good point. One of the questions is how to make the code simple for designs that require a simple approach with the ability to make a more detailed analysis if time and money warrant the effort.  The present code does not consider this and it is a big missing.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

The ultimate reason why the code is so burdensome here is that the buildings have to be a lot stronger now to support all the paperwork of the code itself.   

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

complexity = job security
That's how I look at it. Take the case of lawyers and tax consultants. Also, buildings designs aren't straight forward anymore...they are getting complex with architects trying to do crazy things. So, there is a need for a robust and comprehensive standards to capture all the different scenarios, and so you have complex codes. Now, that's just my opinion.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

frv... I couldn't agree more.  Especially since many engineers beef up the design with extra material anyway to be conservative.  
I think Academia has to justify the expense of their research and of their positions.  Let's not forget too that there is money to be made by releasing a new code every 3 years.  Certainly, the guys that are employed by the various code agencies are not interested in saying "The Code is good enough you don't need us anymore".  

It comes back to strucguy's statement.  Complexity = job security.  For some reason the term bureaucracy comes to mind.
Does anyone have the authority to stop this?   

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

Quit your wining and join an ACI, AISC, etc committee - then you can see the process and do something about it if you wish.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

It is time to start pushing back from the bad decisions.  I have no problem with ACI, AISC.  I have a problem with a building code that is badly developed and so complex that normal engineers can not easily understand and apply the code.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

I didn't intend my post to be interpreted as an indictment on academia. I actually have a lot of respect for academics. They are masters of tedium and do a necessary and occasionally mind-numbingly boring job.

I simply mean that the committees and the chairmen occasionally lose the forest for the trees.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

For what it's worth, many of the chairmen and members of these committees are practicing engineers, not academics, though there are certainly a good number of those too.   

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

Most of the comments I have read so far pertain to the structural provisions of the building code. What about non-structural provisions- are things becoming more complex?


RE: Why is the building code so bad ?

On the mechanical end, I think its great that the energy code is getting stricter.  It helps you design an efficient system, that otherwise the owner would tell you to go with the cheaper unit, even if it doubles your operating cost and energy usage.  As long as the first cost is low.   

knowledge is power

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?


design fees usually constitute a small percentage of the project costs, and doing a more in depth analysis represents a modest change in this quantity. so I think the cost benefit analysis might not yield the results you are expecting.  More often than not, at least in the structural field, I believe more investment in design costs will yield an overall reduction in total project costs, not an increase.  Finally, if you learn these techniques, then being paid to do them is a positive thing, not a negative.

Another perspective on the structural code issues.  I'll agree the new codes can be more complex and sometimes, time consuming, but not in all cases.  

A couple points, in the past many items in codes were organized in tables and charts, the primary reason for this was that the governing equations that determined these tables were too difficult or impractical to solve, AT THAT TIME.  Now. a decent calculator with a solver function can easily spit out the answers to these equations. There really is no excuse for not using the actual equation anymore.  Using the equation will yield more accurate and less overly conservative (wasteful)results.  So I don't have much sympathy for whining about advancements of this sort.

Second, we owe it to our clients to put in the time and produce the most efficient designs possible.  I am not talking about cutting corners or producing unsafe designs, but being wasteful about our designs is not in the owner's best interests. Our clients should expect that we adopt the latest advancements in our field and spend the time to learn the codes that govern our practice.  Imagine how silly we'd sound these days if we whined about having to learn cad drafting, or how would you feel about a doctor who stopped learning of any new medical advances in his field after he graduated in the early 80s?  Does everyone need to apply every single technique available, no, but i believe you should make a strong effort to keep up to date with the general concepts and if possible, not become bitter.

One final note, I exclude BIM/IDP from the above discussion, as I believe these alter the business relationship between the various parties and requires separate discussion.

RE: Why is the building code so bad ?


I think you make a valid point in that engineering tends to be a small percentage of construction costs. However, your medical analogy is a bit of a straw man argument.

I specifically stated that anything having to do with safety should be addressed and updated as necessary.

Wind loading is a good example of the point I am trying to make. I attended the 2008 (I believe) NCSEA winter institute on design in low to moderate seismicity. One of the topics had to do with wind vs. seismic loading. The speaker pointed out that the wind loading code, although probably more accurate, was negligibly beneficial with it's current complexity. ASCE was exploring greatly simplifying the wind provisions, as they had become nearly unusable for any moderately complex situation (specifically, when you have to calculate some of the factors).

Additionally, medical knowledge leads to saving of lives. A three-fold increase in complexity (admittedly an arbitrary number) in the codes doesn't necessarily correspond to an increase in safety. It MAY increase efficiency somewhat, but I suspect most engineers would tend to bump up their design to what they're used to anyway.

Our profession is ever more commoditized. Adding layers of unnecessary complexity in a business environment that demands more service at the same or reduced fees is a recipe for financial disaster.

You are absolutely correct that we owe our clients a good, efficient design. But it seems to me that the code writers occasionally forget that those of us in the profession are also in the business of making money. It is not just the clients who need to be served by the codes.

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