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Here's How: Improve on a Code House With a Few Adjustments

James Dulley on

Dear James: We are in the design stage of our dream home. Our builder said he builds code houses. What is that, and what design factors should we be concerned about? -- Christine N.

Dear Christine: There is nothing wrong with a code house, which is what many builders build to keep costs under control. It just means that the materials and construction techniques used meet the minimum requirements of local building codes. A hardwood floor might squeak or be a little springy, but it certainly will not fall through.

Since this is going to be your dream home, you likely want some things to be higher-quality than just minimum code. It might be wise to select a builder who does more custom home construction rather than one used to building on a tight budget. This preliminary design stage is the time to discuss your specific ideas with your builder.

The first step to building a quality house is to study the building codes. If you cannot find them, contact the International Code Council at (800) 423-6587 or www.iccsafe.org. Discuss the major components of your home and how you plan to use the rooms with your builder. For example, if you plan to have an exercise or weight room, you may decide to make the floors significantly stronger than code requires.

Once the house is under construction, visit the building site often -- daily, if possible. Carry a copy of the codes with you, and make sure the contractor and subcontractors see you reading through them. This will let them know you are well informed and hopefully will be an incentive for them to do high-quality work.

There are a couple of areas in which upgrades from code are generally advisable if your budget will allow for them. Consider using engineered lumber and I-beams for the floor joists. These are considerably stronger than the flooring lumber that codes require. Using engineered lumber also conserves high-quality lumber because it is made of smaller pieces that are assembled into the larger beams.

Install extra electrical service. Although a 40-circuit electrical panel may not be needed now, you may need it in the future. Have your builder install extra conduits between all the floors. These will come in handy for future wiring needs as houses become more automated and interactive.


The sound of water flowing through the plumbing can be annoying at night. Upgrading the drain lines to cast iron pipe instead of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, can reduce the sounds significantly. Cast-iron piping is more expensive, but it absorbs sound. You can still use inexpensive PVC drain pipes for the portion of the plumbing that is underground.

Another plumbing upgrade is to install a 1-inch supply pipe from the street to the house. Within the house, use 3/4-inch pipe from the supply pipe to each of the fixture groups (bathroom, kitchen and laundry). Code usually requires only a 1/2-inch pipe.

Installing higher-quality windows can significantly reduce noise from outdoors and your utility bills. Double-pane glass with a low-emissivity coating and inert gas in the gap between the panes is a good choice. Casement-style windows are more expensive than some others, but they seal very well and provide good natural ventilation when opened.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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