MILO, Maine — Some have called it evil, onerous, a builder’s nightmare, while others have praised the state’s new Uniform Building and Energy Code for bringing consistency to building regulations in the state.
LD 2257, which was enacted by the Legislature a few years ago with a delayed implementation, was designed to streamline code administration, to bring more consistency to builders, developers and towns and to improve energy conservation in the housing stock, according to Dick Dolby, acting director of the state’s Building Codes and Standards in the Department of Public Safety.
“We’re losing on an average 20 percent of the heat of our houses through unheated foundations,” Dolby said recently. Under the new code, all foundations must be insulated.
Improvements such as this that are outlined in the code will cost more upfront but will provide savings over the long term, he said. “A lot of people don’t want to hear that.”
Under the law, communities with more than 2,000 residents that have a building code had to start enforcing the new state code on Dec. 1. The state building code requires builders to hire certified third-party inspectors to conduct inspections unless a municipality voluntarily has chosen to have a certified municipal building inspector do the work.
Smaller communities with fewer than 2,000 residents that don’t have a building code have until July 1, 2012, to enforce the code, according to Dolby. There is no mandatory enforcement for the new code in the 330 towns with fewer than 2,000 people, but the code is law and remains in effect for all, he said.
That is, unless one of several pieces of proposed legislation is adopted. Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, has proposed a bill that would repeal the law adopting the code. Another piece of proposed legislation would exempt seasonally restricted cottages from the code, and still another being proposed by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would relax the code.
“I struggle with telling people how they have to build their homes, particularly in rural Maine,” Thibodeau said Friday. “That’s a decision that has or hasn’t been made by our rural communities for a long time, and many communities aren’t comfortable with that.”
Thibodeau said many residents, builders and municipal officials in Waldo County — the area he represents — are “pretty upset” with the “onerous” new bill and urged him to take some action.
Milo’s Jeff Gahagan said changes are needed in the law, which he called “pure evil.” The town manager said small towns exist with part-time code enforcement officers and planning boards that don’t have a lot of experience or funds for planning.
“It is a hardship for towns,” Gahagan said recently. “The thing that frustrates me is whoever puts in for a building permit now has the added expense of hiring a third party inspector” to ensure the building is compliant with the code. He believes that residents, many of whom do their own home improvement work, will find it cumbersome and too costly under the new code. That work will be abandoned, leaving more blighted properties in the community, he believes.
Dan Wellington, Bangor’s code enforcement officer, believes people want more sustainable buildings. “We’ve been a model code community for 40 years, and it has had a significant impact on the reduction of fire, structural failure and sustainability. It’s gone a long ways to making Bangor a livable community,” he said.
Wellington said city officials have vowed to build buildings that are sustainable.
While he praised former Gov. John Baldacci’s committee that developed the new code, Wellington suggested the implementation of the new code was a little rushed.
Thibodeau also believed the state rushed to adopt the codes since fewer than 60 people in the state are qualified to do the inspections.
Keith Doore of Dover-Foxcroft, a builder and a code enforcement officer for three communities who intends to take the inspection training, said Saturday he supported the new code.
“Anyone doing their job the way they should be won’t have any issue,” he said. “The consumer will get a better product, but it will cost more money.”
Probably the largest effect of the code change is going to be for the residential building, Dolby said.
That’s what bothers Gagahan.
“I think that the code as it is right now has gone a bit too far, and they need to try to make it more reasonable,” he said. “I understand the whole idea of the code, but it’s a bit too stringent.”
Thibodeau agrees. “There’s nothing wrong with having a model code, but not a mandatory code,” he said.