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“Built to Code”

DSC_0092Owning a home that is built to code gives you access to many mortgage options and rebate programs, and can make it easier to sell your home when the time comes. But what does it mean to say a house is “built to code”?

A house is built to code when it meets the requirements set forth in local building code. Local building departments typically adopt the International Residential Code, designed to protect the health and safety of occupants.

The IRC regulates construction of houses, duplexes and townhouse units. It covers the whole building – from structural components such as floors, walls and roofs to mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. It addresses common and conventional construction practices – and does not cover atypical, custom construction. However, the IRC is constantly being revised to address new technologies and practices as they become more common.

City building departments typically tailor the IRC to their location. For instance, in Fairbanks, city ordinance 5834 amends the code to clarify building type definitions and add requirements for carbon monoxide detectors. It also amends the sections on snow loads, ice barriers and flood loads to apply specifically to Fairbanks.

City building officials determine whether or not a house is built to code with a 3-step process. First, the code official inspects the building plans and identifies any code deficiencies. These issues will have to be revised before a building permit is issued. If the code does not address a technology or construction practice used in the building, the code official will decide as to whether or not adjustments should be made.

Second, the house must be inspected during construction – including foundation, walls, electrical system, mechanical system, ventilation system and more. Contractors must arrange inspections during certain construction milestones.  If the code official determines the house does not meet code requirements, contractors must bring it up to code before moving on.

At the end of construction, there is a final inspection and the city issues a certificate of occupancy.  At this point, the house is considered “built to code.”

While building code technically only applies to homes inside city limits, homes in the greater borough can also be inspected to receive a certificate stating they meet code if the homeowners need a mortgage or loan.  In this case, rather than going through the city building department, builders will have to consult with the International Council of Building Officials, a group of building inspectors.

What is Timber Frame Construction

Photo Courtesy Dave Miller

Photo Courtesy Dave Miller

Timber frame homes are characterized by large structural wooden beams visible throughout the interior. Timber-frame construction techniques have been in use for hundreds of years throughout the world, initially brought to North America by European settlers.

The skilled craft of timber framing remained common practice until the early 19th century, at which point both milling and construction methods shifted to machines and mass production. Advances in technology, such as large powered circular saws, enabled mills to quickly produce large quantities of smaller dimensional lumber, which could be more easily transported. In turn, mass produced smaller framing members made it possible to erect a home with only a small team of builders using “stick frame” construction techniques that remain relatively unchanged to this day.

While timber frame construction is still in use, it has evolved from the purely practical construction technique that it once was. Originally, timber framing was primarily structural, however in today’s homes, timber frame construction is also used to showcase the aesthetics of the timber frame substructure, since it remains exposed towards the home’s interior.

Many different tree species can be used for a timber frame, including Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, Eastern white pine, red cedar, oak and Interior Alaska white spruce. The trees are handcrafted or milled into large beams.

In the United States, there are several suppliers who cut custom beams according to a computer-aided design plan sent to them by a builder.

At the building site, the beams are assembled into a structural frame that is fastened together with a combination of carefully fitted interlocking wood joints and wooden pegs and splines. In a traditional timber frame, metal connectors of any kind are seldom used. A completed frame will contain combinations of dozens of types of joinery that make it unique.

For instance, some substructures are built like wooden furniture, where the connecting beams use mortise and tenon joinery, a process through which two beams are cut so that one has a square or rectangle opening (the mortise) into which the other beam (the tenon) fits exactly.

Usually, joints of this type are held together with exposed wedges or pegs and have the additional benefit of great strength. (A similar construction technique, post-and-beam, uses metal braces and bolts to connect beams.)

After the timber frame substructure is erected, it is enclosed, often using structurally insulated panels (SIPS), to complete the home’s envelope. Most timber frames homes have open interior designs to showcase their exposed architecture. Plus, interior walls are not needed for structural purposes.

Timber frame homes come in all sizes, from small cabins to expansive homes. While timber frame construction tends to cost more than traditional stick-frame construction, the extra planning, materials, and labor results in a truly unique and durable home.

Today, timber frame construction fills both a practical and artistic role in the building community by crafting a home that is both a shelter and a work of art.