How Archaic Local Regulations Are Killing the Future and Homes Built Like Bunkers
Jon Robb, Resilient Communities, 6 October 2012 (hat tip NC)
Now, I’m all in favor of local rules that keep people safe like many of the regulations do, but these regulations don’t just do that. Instead, they simply prevent you from doing anything different (which ranges from brilliant to stupid).
Why does it work this way? We live in a litigious society where people will sue the community’s building inspector if they a) buy a house with non-standard construction and then b) suffer injury due to that construction technique.
Note he links to this picture which shows the various pathways that the permitting process can take.
Building officials can get sued, but they rarely lose. It will vary from State to State, but in most cases you cannot sue a government official who is in service to the public. The duty of officials is to the public, not to the individual. Most building codes specifically state that they are in place for public, rather than private, good. Nobody would care if someone built a fire hazard, if it didn't also threaten surrounding buildings and the lives of emergency workers.
The enforcement of building codes has to be cookie cutter to some degree because building safety officials aren't in a position to review the details of the engineering of these projects, and truthfully, most engineers cannot work beyond the cookie cutter approach themselves. There is a lot of work involved, but trying to do the basic engineering from scratch every time is far too expensive. You might save a little on individual projects, but in the end you would have a combination of chaos mixed in with higher costs as insurance (liability and property-casualty) went through the roof.
The real problem is that there is not enough money for the green building component manufacturers to go to every state and/or local governing body and get there products approved.