Because building codes--and this includes plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and fire codes--are primarily concerned with health and safety, they’re by nature conservative and slow to change. There’s little incentive for the councils who collectively author the various codes to adopt new technologies that make construction cheaper, faster or more efficient, since these things aren’t directly related to safety. Hence, the code generally ignores technical innovations until there’s overwhelming pressure from the trades, the design professions, or manufacturers to incorporate them.
|It took building codes years to approve using this...|
|...instead of this.|
On another front, building codes have shown a sometimes overzealous tendency toward protecting people from themselves, often at a significant cost to comfort and aesthetics. A clear example is found in the code’s ever more stringent requirements for residential railings. The allowable open space between rail balusters, for example, has progressively shrunken from nine inches to six inches to four inches, while the minimum height of exterior railings has recently increased from the longtime standard of 36 inches to a towering, view-obscuring 42 inches.
Still, these are minor quibbles about a document that do-it-yourselfers ought to welcome as more help than hindrance. The building code is like a crotchety old neighbor who’s seen it all during his lifetime--his advice might grate on us now and then, but we’re still glad he’s around when we need him.