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Maine Legislature Considering New Codes
Designed to Discourage Building in Maine
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, May 15, 2013
The Maine legislature is currently considering several bills that if adopted would make changes to the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC) and increase building project costs by at least $5,000 while also requiring an intricate web of engineering, witnessing and reporting requirements on Maine homeowners, businesses and industries.
In new building projects or renovations, where banks and insurance companies are involved, those institutions are seeking to force the builder to provide evidence that the construction project meets these new codes- codes that were written by lobbyists for those institutions and passed by a group of legislators, many of whom have no idea how to build, much less what is involved in a building process. Essentially, the code will be passed by a group of unwitting dupes in Augusta taking their orders from lobbyists and lawyers, at the expense of the builder who will be required by the force of law to jump through all of these new hoops and expend vast amounts of money unnecessarily.
Fort Fairfield Code Enforcement Officer, Tony Levesque says if the insurance companies or lending institutions require the [MUBEC] report and the town of Fort Fairfield went the route where the builder would have to provide the documentation, a third party inspector would have to be employed by the builder to witness and confirm all steps of the building process to attest to the fact that they conform to the new MUBEC.
“I could still be the building official. But my building official role might be just to issue the permit to make sure the reports are there and they are in order, then issue the permit. Then I will issue a certificate of occupancy on the other end if they have met all of those codes and the report was provided by somebody like B.R. Smith,” said Levesque. “I believe including the engineering and design and the reporting and inspections done, you're looking at at least another $5,000 per residential project. You could charge almost that much for a garage, I don't know if that's being done yet.”
MUBEC would also apply to renovation projects over 50 percent of the overall value of the building.
“The old rule of thumb was 50 percent of the value. I don't believe that's the same with the Fire Marshall's office anymore. But if you're making a considerable change to the use then it would have to be brought to code. If it's the same use and it's just an update or remodeling then I think you could get away with not having to bring it to code. But, as soon as you change the use and/or get over 51 percent of the value I think the whole house has to be brought up to MUBEC, including the envelope, radon- all new construction has to be adapted to radon, either passive or active - and somebody's got to go witness that.”
“The intent is admirable, the problem is implementation,” said Dan Foster, Fort Fairfield town manager. “We're fortunate in our community because Tony actually has all of the certifications. If Tony wanted to, he could go out and become a third party inspector. He has the certifications to be able to do that. My feeling is we need to use that to our advantage.”
Levesque has suggested that the town would reference the code, not adopt the code, and if banks and insurance companies wanted to have a report from the town of Fort Fairfield's construction process, they would have to have it generated from a third party inpsector.
Recently, there were about four or five LDs introduced in the legislature on MUBEC.
“One of these would mandate that any community that was larger than 2,000 would now have to utilize the code again. There's also one that just got introduced, it hasn't even been written yet that removes all references in the State statutes to MUBEC and it goes back to the pre-2007 way where you could adopt the local code if you wanted to. I don't think there's very much likelihood that will happen,” said Levesque. “What that's going to mean if it's structured such that Fort Fairfield is going to have to utilize MUBEC is that we have several choices which is probably be driven by the town council. We can do it with a little common sense, as in the past - issue permits, do inspections as called for and continue as we have before. It's going to be driven by people that want to have the reports. If we're going to have to generate those reports in-house, we're going to have to witness what's happening in that construction project. Something as simple as it may mean three inspections of the foundation alone and don't let them do any more until you have the sump test back from the environmental services, or something similar, and then you're watching every framing go up and how the envelope comes together with insulation and part of the energy code, the windows and the doors. Now we have as part of this new MUBEC residential ventilation codes and commercial ventilation codes. So I would have to make sure that I had a plan that showed me how that house was going to be utilized, all of its apparatuses, how much moisture content it would have in there and how that would be ventilated - the size of the fan over the stove, the size of the fan in the bathroom and so on and so forth. It's just going to potentially be a lot of work.”
Levesque says some communities are dealing with it a little bit differently by going to the other extreme in that they will mandate the builder provide them with this the appropriate documentation before they issue a permit and then follow certain steps before they will issue a Certificate of Occupancy. If anything fails it will be withheld and there will not be completion of the project. “That goes for garages, to homes, to commercial and industrial. All I'm saying is if it's forced on us to implement that MUBEC we have a little bit of discretion but it may be limited based on the pressure we receive from other institutions. I'm of the opinion at this point if somebody wants us to say that it meets the code that they provide us with a report that says it meets the code and must have documentation that it does or doesn't and how they witnessed it. If it goes the other way and I have to do all the inspections and write the reports it's going to take away from some of the work that I've done in the past or I will not be getting some things done.”
“This could potentially make construction projects a very painful process and I was told by someone in town once that that's not the way Fort Fairfield does things,” said Foster. “We're supposed to be helping people and not making things unduly burdensome. There has to be some sort of balance. Tony has certain responsibilities, but he has taken the time at the town's expense to get those certifications. If this does come into effect it is my hope that we're going to be able to utilize the fact that Tony does have those certifications and that he is able to help people in Fort Fairfield to be able to meet those codes without it being unduly costly or aggravating.”
Fort Fairfield Journal ©2013 David R. Deschesne, All Rights Reserved