Shrinking building codes

A new law that limits local regulation on building materials used in new construction — preventing rules that go beyond national standards — has caused massive frustration among city of Huntsville officials. 

That frustration prompted many city counselors to lash out at the Texas Legislature during their meeting Tuesday evening.

“What we are basically doing here is reducing the quality of products for construction, plus removing fire resistant materials in between the walls to lessen the safety,” councilmember Joe Rodriquez (Ward 4) said. “What the heck was the legislation doing? This is ridiculous. I can’t believe that we are voting to approve this, it makes you sad to see this happen.”

The new legislation — House Bill 2439 — prohibits local governments from amending its construction codes to control building products, materials or methods in a manner that provides an improved standard, greater than what is permitted by the adopted construction codes of the city.

Some building regulations that will be removed from the city’s code include:

• one-hour fire resistant walls between tenant spaces in a multi-tenant commercial buildings.

• provisions that limited the use of thin wall pipe, poly type pipe and copper pipe products for both water and gas applications.

• provisions that reduced the number of occupants requiring separate restrooms in businesses where both sexes are employed.

• provisions requiring improved fire resistive materials in the wall that separates the house and an attached garage in residential construction.

• limitations of the use of flexible metallic/ non-metallic wiring materials and provisions concerning wire size and materials.

“The state is making us take things out of our code that protects people from fire,” councilmember Tish Humphrey (Ward 2) said. “We as a city should be grateful that we have been proactive, but this move by the legislature makes no sense.”

The ordinance, which is expected to be approved at the next city council meeting on September 17 in response to HB 2439, brings all codes, to national and international building standards, and will no longer allow for provisions that address specific regional conditions.

“I am in severe disagreement with this. When it comes to the safety of our citizens we need to stand up and do something about it,” councilmember Mari Montgomery (Position 4, at-large) added. “What it opens up is the opportunity for the unscrupulous to run free and increase their profit margins at the cost of the safety of our citizens.”

House Bill 2439 became law on September 1.

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