Be weary of developers 'building to code'

By Vanessa Roman

I recently attended a Home Show and was, for the most part, impressed with the calibre of the vendors flogging their home wares. These are always great places to check out the innovation on offer, and to get some ideas for new home solutions and potential firms to recommend to clients.
But one conversation I overhead was cause for dismay. There was a small contractor, fairly new to the business, who was trying to convince a prospective customer to build a home using his company.
His sales pitch started with: "We build all our houses to code ... " and sadly, the customer seemed to be under the impression this was some sort of impressive upgrade. It's not.
In fact, here's the key you need to understand: A house ‘built to code’ is the worst house you are legally allowed to build.
I'm not criticising the code here -- it is vast, detailed and necessary, and emerged from a real need for basic standards on everything from drainage, windows, electrical wiring, insulation, heating. . . you name it, there's a code for it.
For instance, let's say you need minimum energy efficiency. When the code was written, various competing interests would have fought to make that efficiency rating higher or lower, depending on their desire to make or save money. The standard then set by the code is a compromise of sorts; certainly not the most efficient (possibly nowhere near it) but it will be the bare minimum a contractor needs to make the property legal.   
Building a home to that compromised 'minimum' is not going to give homeowners or investors a high level of efficiency or save them much money on their energy bills.
When you're considering a contractor, don't just look at what code they meet now. Find the contractor who builds homes above and beyond that minimum standard. They should be offering future-proof codes -- standards that look to improvements and 'minimums' many years down the line. Energy efficiency standards, for example, will only increase in terms of what technology is available and what codes demand.
The next time I visit a Home Show, I want to find the contractor whose sales pitch starts with: “Building to code is the worst house you are legally allowed to build – so here’s how we surpass it.”  

Vanessa Roman is the host of HGTV's Reno vs Relocation. She is also a licensed real estate agent who divides her time between Halifax and Toronto.

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  • by Mel Kraft. 2014-12-03 7:59:53 PM

    Good artical. Never thought of the building code as being a minimum but your are absolutely right. Will keep that in mind when talking to Buyers.
    Mel Kraft
    Landmark Realty Corp

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