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Updated: 21 hours 7 min ago

Vinyl Siding – or Not

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:39

Perhaps you are on the Building Committee which has been charged by the Board to recommend a replacement siding material for your 35 year old condo. Perhaps you are a property manager whose in-basket is filled with unit owner complaints about vinyl clapboard siding problems in the new condo complex. Whatever the vinyl façade issue is, the future solutions may surprise you.

Vinyl siding materials are everywhere. It is probably the most common façade material in all its forms used on condominiums across the nation, and for good reason. It is quick to install; it is relatively inexpensive; and has an estimated useful life of over 40 years. Most of its negatives are well understood: it can crack or break in the winter time from hail or your grandkids hockey pucks; it can make noise when it’s windy or too hot; colors fade or become chalky over time; and frequent cleaning is required. However, these may not be the issues you may need to face with the current vinyl siding problems.

Solar Attack

This problem can fall in the unintended consequences category. With the issuance of the new building energy codes and the drive to reduce our heating costs and carbon footprint, we are melting our vinyl siding. This is happening due to the installation of the new low-E, highly insulated glass windows being installed in both new buildings and replacement windows.

The thermal layers and reflective properties of these high-tech windows cause sun rays to bounce off and reflect onto vinyl siding causing the siding to buckle; warp; or melt. These new window surfaces act like magnifying glasses concentrating the solar energy on a vinyl surface that cannot tolerate heat over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. This condition can occur when a window on the south elevation of the building is near a right angle corner wall covered in vinyl siding. It can even occur when a new commercial building is built across the street and its new glass wall façade faces the sun and reflects across the street to your vinyl sided property.

So what are you to do? This problem was rare in the past but now solar damage is occurring with increasing frequency due to the drive to install low-E windows. The Vinyl Siding Institute suggests placing awning or shades over the windows and even changing the landscaping to create shade trees to block the light. Some vinyl siding manufacturers are addressing this type of solar damage by adding a ‘thermal diffusion agent’ to the vinyl mix at the factory to help reflect and resist the heat build-up.

Manufacturers are also responding to the problem with vinyl siding by excluding solar refection or melt damage from their warranties. Their warranties always excluded damage from heat sources such as gas grills placed too close to the exterior wall, but now damage from reflective windows is recognized so it would be wise to read the fine print before selecting a siding brand.

Color Fading

This increasing problem is a sub-set of the solar melting problem. Whether it be due to window reflective energy; climate change; or changes in manufacturing, this color fading complaint is becoming more prevalent. In the past, color fade was protected with a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer. Color fade was measured by a maximum of a Delta E of 4 Hunter units in accordance with ASTM standard D2244.

In the past, this warranty issue would be handled by a siding replacement policy. Now, some manufacturers are offering a ‘restore’ process instead of replacement. The ‘restore’ process would allow the manufacturer to paint the siding with an acrylic paint often applied by specialist painting contractors. This restore process comes with a 10-year warranty, down from the prior ‘limited-lifetime’ color warranty. Here again, read the fine print before signing the contract.

Installation

Vinyl siding may be quick to install, but it is not easy, if it is done right. Vinyl siding has an integral vinyl tab at the top in which an oval hole is punched at set intervals along its length to allow a nail to be driven through this hole and into the sheathing. Sounds simple, but it is not. The manufacturer specification requires the installer to drive the nail head within 1/32th of the vapor barrier/ sheathing surface so as not to bind the thermal movement of the siding.

Keep in mind the fasteners are being driven by an adjustable nail gun requiring a level of skill to properly set the nails in each slot hole without touching the vinyl. This accuracy requirement, coupled with today’s reduced numbers of skilled construction personnel, makes this a quality control challenge. If fastener binding does occur, the siding will not properly move with thermal expansion and buckling will soon appear on the surface.

So the answer to today’s vinyl siding problem is: do your research. Read the manufacturer’s specifications and warranties; ensure your contractor is committed to good supervision of the installation of this important building envelope element; and finally, follow up with your own quality verification program, either through your building committee or project engineer. The siding is only as good as it is installed.

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Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media September 2019 edition

Download a PDF Version of this Condo Media Article

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Foundation Forensics

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 12:27

Cracks in foundations are by far the most common structural complaint raised in either reserve fund studies or transition studies.  They can occur in the youngest or newest condo building.  As condo documents usually assign the maintenance responsibility of their repair to the association, board members and property managers take them very seriously.  Maine condo buildings have many types of foundations including concrete block; brick; and mortared stone with the most common being poured concrete.

Most basements and garages have 4 to 6 inch concrete slabs and unless this is a slab-on-grade foundation, the slabs were poured independently of the foundation walls.  They are said to be ‘floating’.  Often the construction joint between the slab and wall can easily be seen.  The common slab crack complaint is hairline cracks appearing in spider web-like patterns.  These cracks can show up shortly after construction and are normally caused by shrinkage during the curing process.  The key point here is this type of slab cracking is rarely a structural problem, for after all, the slab could be completely removed leaving a dirt floor while the foundation walls and columns with footings will easily maintain a stable building.

Therefore, slab cracking is often more of a cosmetic problem.  Cracks are often repaired with a variety of grout, caulk, or epoxy products primarily to prevent groundwater penetration, insect entry, or radon gas infiltration.  Cracks showing differential movement on opposing surfaces can be a tripping hazard but more importantly an indication of serious sub-surface conditions needing further investigation.

Regarding foundation walls, the most typical problem with concrete walls are vertical hairline cracks, often starting at the top of the wall and traveling down to the floor slab.  A sub-set of these types of cracks are those that propagate often in a diagonal direction from stress concentration points such as the bottom corners of basement window openings.  The key point to remember is these types of cracks, even when they penetrate the entire thickness of the wall, normally do not constitute a structural problem as the loads from above pass unobstructed on both sides of the crack to the footings below.

However, when the wall surfaces on both sides of the crack are moving out of plane or the structure above shows stress in the form of movement or cracking sheetrock walls and ceilings above, further structural evaluation is warranted.  Foundation cracks should be sealed if periodic water infiltration occurs.  Repairing cracks from the outside if often the best method, but due to the excavation costs involved, repairing the crack from the interior by injecting a crack filling material has become a routine solution.

When horizontal wall cracks; multiple closely spaced vertical cracks; or large diagonal cracks in basement corners are observed, these conditions may indicate more serious problems related to settlement or other structural problems.  Similarly, a single vertical crack that is much wider at the top of the wall may indicated foundation settlement problems stemming from poor soil conditions; hydrostatic groundwater pressures; or frost heaving.  These problems should be directed to a knowledgeable consultant.

Regarding concrete block foundation walls, most of the guidance above can be used with some exceptions.  By their nature concrete block walls are often not well reinforced and are subject to inward movement from various soil pressures causing these types of walls can bulge inward.  Ice lens forming about 3 feet below the ground surface can expand and push concrete block walls inward.  This can even occur from a vehicle’s weight being too close to the foundation, such as oil delivery truck.  When horizontal cracking is observed in block walls, steps should be taken quickly to prevent further movement.  These types of walls are also very susceptible to water penetration even when foundation drains are present often requiring serious water proofing repairs.

The key to maintaining a sound brick or concrete block foundation is periodic vigilance to ensure loose or dislocated masonry elements are not ignored.  If you observe a ‘stair step’ patten crack in the mortar joints of a masonry foundation wall, it typically means settlement has occurred under the ‘step’ section of the wall. .  Any observed bulges or horizontal movement, as well as new cracks, should be quickly addressed.

Many Maine condominiums have been converted from old multi-family apartment buildings with mortared or un-mortared stone foundations, some with brick foundation walls above the ground surface.  These foundations have stood the test of time and are more than 100 years old and if well maintained can last another 100 years.  They are more likely to allow the entrance of ground water due to their porous nature and the necessary steps should be taken to protect the structural elements and indoor air quality of the building if high moisture is a problem.  Old foundations are like people.  As they age, they need some extra care but they have already met the test of time.

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Hurricane Season is Here—Are You Ready?

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 12:56

The engineers at Criterium encourage residents, homeowners, condo/apartment owners, and commercial property owners to prepare for the hurricane season which begins each year on the first of June.

This year’s seasonal forecast was recently announced by NOAA’s Climate Prediction. They predict a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year with a range of 9 to 15 named storms. Dr. Gerry Bell, Lead Seasonal Hurricane Forecaster at NOAA, provides this season’s outlook.

Now is a good time to prepare your home or business for such an event. FEMA provides a wide array of hurricane tips—including what to do before, during and after a hurricane at READY.gov.

It’s also a good time to take photos of your residence or commercial property in its current state. That way, if your property is involved in a hurricane—you have photos to use as a basis of comparison. When it comes to insurance companies and FEMA, more is better for documenting any hurricane damage. That way you will have “before” and “after” photos to document your property’s situation.

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

How Safe Is Your Deck?

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 06:46

May is National Deck Safety Month® and your spring maintenance checklist should include a thorough inspection of your deck and railings. It’s important to ensure their safety before the outdoor entertainment season begins with family gatherings and neighborhood barbecues taking place on your deck.

Here are a few items to consider as you check your deck:
  • Check Connections: make sure all railing connections are secure. Anchorage points for wood railings often rot and may fail. Perform a stress test by cautiously pushing on the railing to make sure it doesn’t give at any point.
  • Stair Railings: stairs with two or more stair risers should have a railing.
  • Guardrails (railings): are required on “open-sided walking surfaces” higher than 30 inches from the ground, including decks. On single family homes, guardrails must be 36 inches high for decks (measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail) and 34 inches for stairs, measured vertically from the tread nosing.
  • Strength & Spacing: both guardrails and handrails must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force applied at any point and in any direction. The balusters should withstand 50 pounds of pressure exerted over a one-square-foot area. Spaces between balusters cannot exceed 4 inches to prevent children from getting their heads stuck in the openings or falling through them.
  • Benches: a bench installed around the perimeter does not serve also as a guardrail. The bench may be the required distance from the ground (36 inches), but without a guardrail behind it, which both the building code and common sense require, there is nothing to prevent someone from toppling backwards off the deck.
  • Touchup with Paint: repaint or stain the wood, if necessary (the experts suggest at least every five years). Consider using paint with slip-resistant additives for the deck and stairway riser surfaces.

With regular inspections of handrails and guardrails, you can identify and correct problems before they become an accident you could have prevented. Ensuring that your deck, handrails and guardrails are safe will help to ensure the safety of all who use them from toddlers to seniors.

Related Resources:
  • Your Home – a Criterium Engineers publication “Stairways and Decks Aren’t Safe Unless their Railings are Secure.” This document outlines building code requirements for guardrails and handrails, as well as design elements that may cause problems such as rail height and benches along the perimeter.
  • The State of California has a new extensive law that went into effect January 1, 2019, requiring the inspection of Exterior Elevated Elements (Decks and Balconies) and waterproofing elements for buildings with 3 or more multifamily dwelling units. Information on this bill and its history may be found on CA.gov.
  • The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) provides tools for consumers to Check Your Deck® for the upcoming season.

Note: these resources are provided for consumer guidance only. To have a licensed, Professional Engineer inspect your deck, contact Criterium Engineers.

The post How Safe Is Your Deck? appeared first on Criterium Engineers.

Categories: Criterium Engineers

Stairways and Decks Aren’t Safe Unless their Railings Are Secure

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 15:00
Your Home | Volume 35, Number 1

You’re standing in the basement waiting for a friend, who is following you down the stairs. Missing a step, your friend reaches for the railing, which breaks away from the wall. This will not end well for your friend, who may be seriously injured or worse; and it may not end well for you, because of the law suit and liability claim that will follow, and the friendship that will almost certainly end.

This isn’t an article about the importance of having adequate insurance; it’s about the importance of having secure railings on your stairs. Accidents related to stairs are the second-leading cause of accidental injuries in the United States, according to the National Safety Council, responsible for 12,000 deaths annually and for non-fatal injuries costing $92 billion a year. Only automobile accidents take a higher toll.

There are no statistics indicating how many of the stairway accidents are caused by faulty railings, but as the incident described above illustrates, the stair rail can make the difference between a close call and a disaster.

Recognizing the importance of railings – inside and outside of homes – building codes establish detailed requirements for them. The codes address two major types of railings:

•Handrails or stair railings, which are installed along one or both sides of a stairway, providing a surface to grab to prevent falls down the stairs or over a stairway’s open side.
•Guardrails, providing a safety barrier to keep people from falling off or through stairways, balconies, decks, and porches.
The requirements for railings in both categories focus primarily on their height, location, strength and grip. (See related sidebar.)

Emphasis on Safety
Building codes establish the safety standards structures should meet; they don’t guarantee that any specific structure complies with them. For one thing, building codes change over time, usually in response to incidents that highlight inadequacies in them. (Allowable baluster openings got narrower because children kept falling through them.) Older homes, covered by earlier codes, won’t necessarily incorporate those changes. Newer homes may fall short as well.

Municipal building inspectors who issue occupancy permits, ostensibly certifying code compliance, may not notice every shortcoming nor object to every one they find. They would doubtless notice if a required railing was missing, but they might not notice (or decide to overlook it) if the railing was a little shorter than required.

Your concern is safety, not code compliance. The question you should ask about railings is not just whether they are ‘built to code,’ but whether they provide the safety a particular stairway (or deck) needs, given where it is located and how it is used.

Cool Designs – Uncool Risks
Architects, and homeowners themselves, don’t always put safety first. Architects often make building code compromises to achieve design effects, and homeowners often focus more on the coolness of the design than on the risks it may create.

For example, to ensure an unobstructed view while sitting on a deck, the guardrail may be set lower than the 34-38 inches the building code requires. This protects the view, but it doesn’t protect the people who are standing on the deck. At 38 inches, the rail will hit someone of average height at hip level or higher, which is above their center of gravity. At 32 inches, the railing is now below hip level, which means someone who leans too far over the railing or slips will probably go over the side.

Another common deck-related compromise is to install a bench around the perimeter, expecting it to serve also as a guardrail. It won’t. The bench may be the required distance from the ground (36 inches), but without a guardrail behind it, which both the building code and common sense require, there is nothing to prevent someone sitting on the bench from toppling backwards off the deck.

If you read home decorating magazines, you will notice that using cable in deck railings has become popular. The longer the distance between the cables and their anchor points, the cooler the design. But stretching also makes the cables more flexible and easier to pull apart, creating wide spaces through which small children, or less-than-sober adults, could fall.

These risks aren’t theoretical. According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, more injuries result from the failure of deck railings than from the collapse of decks.

I’m not suggesting that only conventional designs are safe. The problem, in many cases, is not the design but how it is implemented. Glass railings, which you will find in many buildings today, are a good example. Thetempered glass used in these railings is quite strong, so there’s no cause for concern there. But the exposed glass edges must be protected, and the railings must be secured firmly. If they are inserted in a wood frame (a common structure), there has to be enough overlap so the glass won’t be dislodged if it is hit hard, as it could be by someone grabbing the rail for support.

Essential Maintenance
Whatever the design and composition of your railings, maintenance is essential. Aging affects all structures and all materials to varying degrees, but deck railings are particularly vulnerable, because they are exposed to the elements. Rain, heat and freezing temperatures all can take a toll. Wood rots, steel rusts, the connections anchoring railings to the deck weaken over time.

Your spring maintenance checklist should include a thorough inspection of your deck and its railings. Repaint the wood if necessary (the experts suggest at least every five years). Make sure all railing connections are secure. Perform a stress test by pressing on the railing to make sure it doesn’t give at any point.

Railings on inside stairs aren’t exposed to weather, but they are affected by age and wear and tear, so you want to inspect them periodically, too. Grab the top rail on a stairway to make sure it doesn’t wiggle at the touch. Shake the rail slightly and notice if it vibrates; it shouldn’t. Perform the same stress test you used on the deck railing; interior handrails are supposed to withstand the same 200-pound force.

With regular inspections of handrails and guardrails, you can identify and correct problems before they become accidents you could have prevented. Most of us have heard Smokey the Bear intone: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” A mascot for stair safety might issue a similar warning: “Only you can prevent railing failures.” Ensuring that your handrails and guardrails are safe will help to ensure the safety of all who use them.

Overview of Building Code Requirements

While local building codes may vary, most track closely, if not completely, the International Residential Code, from which this summary is drawn.

Handrails are required on at least one side of each continuous run in a flight of stairs with four or more risers. The rails must:

•Run continuously for the full length of the stairs.
•Be 34-38 inches above the nosing of the stair treads.
•Allow no less than 1-1/2 inches of space between the wall and the handrail.
•Be easy to grasp. (The code requires one of two types of specified grips or their equivalent.)Guardrails are required on “open-sided walking surfaces” higher than 30 inches from the ground. This would include interior and exterior stairways as well as decks.

Guardrails must be 36 inches high for decks (measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail) and 34 inches for stairs, measured vertically from the tread nosing. (Guardrails for decks on multifamily buildings, which are covered by the International Building Code, must be 42 inches high.)

Strength and Spacing

•Both guardrails and handrails must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force applied at any point and in any direction.
•The balusters should withstand 50 pounds of pressure exerted over a one-square-foot area.
•Spaces between balusters can’t exceed 4 inches, which is the average diameter of a baby’s head. The obvious purpose is to prevent children from getting their heads stuck in the openings or falling through them.

Download the Printable PDF Version

The post Stairways and Decks Aren’t Safe Unless their Railings Are Secure appeared first on Criterium Engineers.

Categories: Criterium Engineers

Turn the Water Tank Temp Up or Down? It's a Hot Question.

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:46

Is your hot water safe??   Too hot and you can be seriously burned.  Not hot enough and your hot water may harbor dangerous bacteria.   It’s not a simple question!!

What’s the “correct” temperature at which to set a water heater?

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Stairways and Decks Aren’t Safe Unless their Railings Are Secure

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 10:19

You’re standing in the basement waiting for a friend, who is following you down the stairs.  Missing a step, your friend reaches for the railing, which breaks away from the wall.  This will not end well for your friend, who may be seriously injured or worse; and it may not end well for you, because of the law suit and liability claim that will follow, and the friendship that will almost certainly end.

This isn’t an article about the importance of having adequate insurance; it’s about the importance of having secure railings on your stairs.

read more

Categories: Criterium Engineers

Home Fires are Common, Deadly and Preventable - August, 2017

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 11:14

Fire safety probably isn’t high on the list of concerns for buyers when they purchase a home.  But the statistics indicate that it should be. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in the United States:

  • Most fire-related deaths (more than 80 percent of them last year) occur in residences.
  • More than 4,000 people die and 25,000 are injured in fires every year.

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Building Code Myths Create Liability Risks for Real Estate Professionals - March 2017

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 13:29

If we were writing a Steven King-style horror movie, it might begin with a real estate broker discussing all the attractive features of a new home.  After noting the “brilliant design,” the high ceilings, state-of-the art kitchen and the exciting architectural details, the broker happily, assures the buyer, “The house is fully compliant with the building code, so you can be confident that it has no structural defects and that the construction quality is superb.” Cue the eerie music and note the black storm clouds forming in the sky. 

Why is this a horror story?  

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Is Radon Risk Real?

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:00

You have heard of radon. Perhaps you have tested your home or the home you intended to buy for the presence of radon gas. If so, when you received the results, did you take any action? Did you install a mitigation pump or even refuse to purchase the home?

Is radon risk real? There is a wealth of information out there. Let’s review some facts. Let’s look at what leading agencies are saying.

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MOLD - Hype or Real Risk?

Wed, 01/15/2014 - 09:22
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Retaining Walls

Mon, 12/23/2013 - 09:21

What is a retaining wall? To retain, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means “to hold secure or intact.” A retaining wall, then, holds something “secure or intact.” Typically, as it matters to homeowners, the “something” is soil on a slope or at a higher elevation that, if left on its own, will not remain “secure and intact.”

Retaining walls come in many shapes, sizes and materials. This issue of YOUR HOME will examine a few of them.

Why Retaining Walls?

Have you ever looked around your property to see if you have retaining walls?

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A Few Words About WINTER....

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 11:04

Seen on a Maine license plate - BRRRRR. When it comes to winter, that says it all!

But what of our houses in winter? Think about it. Is your home winter-time safe?

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Recovering from Hurricane Sandy; It's More than Just Cleaning Up

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 11:36

In the wake of the damage and flooding of Hurricane Sandy, Criterium Engineers encourages residents, homeowners, condo/apartment owners, and commercial property owners to have a thorough inspection, especially as winter advances.

Criterium Engineers are assessing the clean up for Hurricane Sandy. President of Criterium Engineers, Alan Mooney, P.E.says the devastation is still a shock but cautions commercial and residential property owners to consistently document damage as much as possible.

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Fire! How Safe Are You In Your Home?

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:59

The following information has been compiled from several credible sources including the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).While for many years there have been two levels of fire protection available for your home, now there are three!

Smoke and fire alarms Fire extinguishers Fire sprinklers

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Home Security

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:55

Feeling safe at home is important. While some crime statistics are declining, media coverage of acts of violence and vandalism increases our concerns about the safety of our families and ourselves. Busy families with chaotic schedules add to the concern as one may be returning home alone, late at night.

If you want to increase the security of your home, what can you do?

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Categories: Criterium Engineers

Home Security Checklist

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:51

Use this as a guide as you check your home for safety measures.Boxes marked “No” indicate areas where you could take action to improve your home’s security.These are just some of the steps you can take to decrease the likelihood that you or your home is targeted.

Exterior Doors

Yes

No

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Energy Star

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:43

ENERGY STAR is a program first introduced by the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) in 1992. It is designed to save energy. While many people relate the name to the energy-efficient performance of individual appliances, lighting and equipment (heating, cooling and water heating), the ENERGY STAR program actually is designed to rate the performance of an entire home.

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Real Estate or Wheel Estate?

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:40

Is it modular, manufactured or mobile? Or…is it pre-cut, pre-fab or panelized? Or…is it site built or stick built? Or…is it a trailer?

And what regulations apply, if any? Previously, we discussed building codes and addressed some common myths and misunderstandings. Building codes, when they do exist, apply primarily to homes built on-site. But there are other types of homes to consider as well.

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Building Codes - Myths and Realities

Thu, 10/28/2010 - 13:39

What is a building code? Is it a law? Or a guideline? Or a voluntary standard?

What do building codes mean to my home?

Perhaps you will find it useful to review how building codes affect your home, both the theory and the reality.

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Categories: Criterium Engineers