State eyeing safety, affordibility in new codes

Robert Houk • Apr 18, 2019 at 6:52 PM

The assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance told members of the Johnson City Homebuilders Association that upcoming changes to state residential building codes will be shaped by feedback from “stakeholders” in home construction and local code enforcement.

“We are all in this together,” Gary Farley, who is over the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said Thursday.

JCHA President Michael Garland said he found Farley’s comments ”a step in the right direction,” and noted local jurisdictions where not always as understanding as the state when it comes to residential codes.

“It all boils down to affordability,”  Garland said following the JCHA’s monthly meeting at the Holiday Inn, 101 W. Springbrook Drive. “We will have to keep local municipalities mindful of those costs.”

He and other JCHA members said the differing standards among local cities in the region, which are often more stringent than the state’s minimum codes, have made their jobs more difficult. Tim Hicks, owner of Hicks Construction, said residential code changes proposed earlier this year would increase the cost to build most homes by 3%. 

“To people building a $200,000 or a $800,000 home, that’s a lot of money,” Hicks said. “That’s why we are talking to the public about these costs.”

Farley said the new state rules are slated to be implemented by the end of this year. He said the idea of the new minimum state code is to keep new homes safe, as well as affordable for buyers.

He said the state will likely adopt the 2018 International Residential Code, which covers stand-alone single or two-family dwellings, with amendments specific to Tennessee. Local governments are allowed to implement their own building codes as long as they meet the minimum state standards.

Farley said 37 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have no codes in place

The assistant commissioner said there would be things in the state’s codes that both homebuilders and building inspectors can agree on, and “some things you will not agree with.”

Farley, a retired Murfreesboro firefighter and former Rutherford County commissioner, also told local homebuilders about a new state program that he hopes will reduce the number of Tennesseans who die annually in house fires. He said the “Get Alarmed, Tennessee” smoke detector program that started in 2012 helped move Tennessee from the second spot for the most fire deaths in the nation to the 11th position.

He said the the new “Close the Door” campaign should help improve that ranking.

Madelynn McCormick, community risk reduction coordinator for the Fire Marshal’s Office, said the program encourages homeowners to keep their bedroom door closed while sleeping, and to close any door between them and a room on fire.

“There is a 900-degree difference on the other side of the door,” she said. “Closing the door can buy you time and that time could save your life.”


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