March 12, 2023

“Up to Code”

“Up To Code”

We often first hear this phrase when we buy our first house. The real estate agent talks about the upgrades and features of a home and often will intone the phrase, “Everything is Up To Code” to assure the buyer that they are looking at a top notch residence.

You hear it when the home inspector reports that some element of the building is in need of attention: “You need a smoke detector in this bedroom to be Up To Code.” Or that some system is checking out as appropriately serviceable: “Your electrical outlets are all grounded and installed Up To Code.” Or perhaps the system needs a little adjustment to make it right: “You need more insulation in the attic to get it to be Up To Code.”

We get the idea that something done Up To Code is a kind of ideal. It represents high quality and safety.

However, that impression is misleading. Yes, the Building Code establishes standards of construction to protect the health and safety of all residents current and future. We should be happy that this sort of regulation exists. It gives us confidence that the various buildings we enter during any given day won’t tumble down around us if the wind is too strong that day.

But code compliant construction is literally the lowest quality installation allowed by law. 

Builders and tradesmen, who are regulated by the local jurisdictions, are required to provide a minimal level of quality because often their work is buried or invisible to people who occupy the buildings. Sometimes hidden work is just an out-dated, historic installation, and sometimes it’s a cheaped-out, low quality effort to flip the property and maximize a return. Either way, neither serve the current owner into the future.

So, while Up To Code establishes a base level that is serviceable and reliable, is that really the level of quality you aspire for in your home? Your office building?

One of the best value building systems to address when the walls are open is insulation. It is a one-time fixed cost and doesn’t require maintenance over time. In a construction project, the insulation is relatively cheap to install. It will serve the house over time, especially as our energy costs seem to always go up.

At the Hillside House, we used spray foam in the attic joists to preserve the traditional eave dimensions and still provide an improved insulation value at the roof.

The walls of the Point Loma House used both exterior insulation (R-7.5ci)
and an improved cavity insulation (R-23 blown glass fiber).

The walls of the Point Loma House used both exterior insulation (R-7.5ci) and an improved cavity insulation (R-23 blown glass fiber).

Let’s talk about your project and what building elements can be upgraded beyond code to future proof your home.