Personal property rights are a fundamental part of our American liberties. Increasingly, property owners are being forced to comply with restrictive building codes which severely limit what they are allowed to do on their own property, adding extra expense, and creating frustrating and expensive bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Kootenai County’s decision to reject the new building codes and adopt an ordinance allowing voluntary compliance is a step forward in protecting owner-builders, encouraging sustainable innovation, and safeguarding property rights.
Building codes are a slippery slope, leading down the path of intrusive government regulation, as evidenced by states like California. If property owners want to build or improve a structure on their own property, they should have a choice of exemption from building code requirements. Eliminating building code requirements puts owner-builders first. Many people in North Idaho build their own homes and other structures on their property. However, developing engineered plans and understanding the enormous amount of regulation in the IRC, IBC, and IECC are beyond the ability of most landowners. The high cost of obtaining permits, architectural drawings, energy efficiency calculations, and engineering services impact the ability of all landowners to lawfully improve their property without incurring large expenses and unnecessary debt.
Eliminating building code requirements encourages alternative, sustainable innovation. The IRC, IBC, and IECC require additional substantiation for non-prescriptive building materials and construction methods. Engineered/manufactured building materials are easier to meet code than natural/sustainable materials, which are often less expensive (or free), such as logs or stones harvested from the owner’s property, rammed earth, straw bales, tires, bottles, cob, or cordwood. Building codes make placing a prefabricated manufactured/mobile home easier and less expensive than designing and engineering a comparably sized custom site-built structure. Construction innovators such as Idaho’s Mike Oehler (pioneer in underground housing) or New Mexico’s Michael Reynolds (creator of the Earthship) could not have developed their innovative designs if they had been subjected to building codes.
Building codes do not guarantee a quality structure. Many of the most beautiful, functional, and lasting homes, barns, and other structures in Kootenai County were build before the building code ordinance was originally adopted in 1976. Since then, our county has grown with sprawling developments and subdivisions offering cheap, low-quality building-code-conforming homes that after 15+ years require considerable repairs. Such developments are intended to make a profit for developers, not provide high-quality, long-lasting homes for the people who live in them. Every contractor just has to meet the minimum code requirements; there is no incentive for contractors to compete with each other to build the finest homes and structures for their clients.
So who actually benefits from building codes? Contractors benefit from building codes; instead of owners saving a great deal of money building their own structures, they pay a contractor, who—through contractor licensing—enjoys a controlled monopoly. Developers benefit from building codes; wealthy investors, often out-of-state, who have no ties to the local community and who see our precious land as a commodity to line their pockets, have the funds to navigate complex regulations that hardworking local property owners don’t. Banks benefit from building codes; the higher cost of meeting building code requirements forces local property owners to take out loans, making them subject not only to county regulations but the burden of additional requirements imposed by the bank.
As an engineer, owner-builder, and proponent of individual freedom and responsibility, I applaud our commissioners’ decision to reject the new building codes and adopt a pro-liberty ordinance that respects our property rights. In a world fraught with increasing government regulation, a decision like this makes me proud to live in a place where people stand up for property rights.
Josiah Drewien is a lifelong Idaho resident working as an engineer in Hayden. He has a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University. He lives with his wife and two little girls on 11 rural acres in Kootenai County, where he designed, engineered, and built his own off-grid solar-powered alternative construction home. As an owner-builder and engineer, he has firsthand experience with every aspect of the residential building process, and extensive familiarity with building regulations. He is a supporter of code-free building.