Building Code Regulationsfrom a Practitioners View Point

Chuck Monschein - C.J. Consulting

My name is Chuck Monschein and I am a building contractor/consultant in Northern Belize. My current residential project was one of several in Consejo visited by two CBA inspectors in early November. Although I was not issued a Stop-Work Order, I agreed to go forward in complying with the Belize Building Act of 2003. I received a letter from C. Phillip Waight, Chairman of CBA, in which he said the construction drawings must be signed by a registered engineer or architect(Belize) As all my project drawings are developed and prepared by design professionals, I had my current drawings stamped by a Belize Registered Engineer. I spent one day going to the CBA Belize City office with these stamped drawings and related materials in a Pre-Submittal meeting so as to avoid any delays or additional trips to Belize City. A short list of additional items was developed after the plans examiner looked over the stamped drawings. Returning two weeks later with all the requested drawings, I met with one of the site inspectors who immediately rejected the submittal. The reason given was my Belize Registered Engineer was issued a Construction Engineer stamp but now a Structural Engineer stamp was required.

The house being built is traditional 1500 sq ft single story, single family dwelling of standard all steel reinforced concrete & concrete block (core filled) construction. The inspectors first visited my project site when the foundation was being excavated. We are now in the stucco application process and no permit has been issued. The CBA process is the height of inefficiency. Given the fact they readily admit to having insufficient staff to actually perform the inspections, the entire process is rendered meaningless. If the CBA is not going to fund the staff positions to conduct the inspections listed in the adopted IBC in a timely manner, then it is clear this whole process is just about money and has minimal intentions of improving the construction process in Belize. My experience with CBA is not tremendously different with others trying to achieve compliance on their individual projects in the Consejo area.

Like others who have contributed to these articles on Building In Belize being hosted on Consejo.bz, I have an extensive background in construction methodology and the Building Codes. I spent my 27 year career building under the Uniform Codes in the United States where I was licensed in several states as a general contractor. As a portion of my Building Codes Career I worked at the Oregon Building Codes Division, where as an assistant manager in State Wide Services, I was actively involved in code change committees, researched and issued code interpretations. I have spent my career dedicated to being a problem solver, a positive participant and never an impediment to the process.

Mr. Waight stated that Belize has adopted the International Building Code (IBC) which is to be modified and implemented upon completion of the Caribbean project, (CROSQ) which will establish the application documents to correspond with the IBC. Be advised, the International Building Code is, to a great extent, a Prescriptive Code Document. This means it contains prescriptive methods to build safe and functional dwelling structures without the drawings having to be prepared or stamped by an architect or engineer. The code has been developed, reviewed, modified and amended over many years by Code Officials, Inspectors, Plans Examiners, Architects, Engineers, Home Builders, General Contractors and Industry Material manufacturers, all of whom believe the requirements currently in the code achieve the goal of the code without the additional burden imposed by CBA here in Belize.

The code specifically states The purpose of this code is not to create or otherwise establish or designate any particular class or group of persons who will or should be especially protected or benefited by the terms of this code. In other words this is not to be used by Officials to Reward their political friends and/or Persecute their political enemies. Secondly, The IBC specifically empowers the Building Official to require or wave the engineered drawing preparation. When (plans are) required by the building official, plans shall be drawn to scale and shall be of sufficient clarity to indicate the nature and extent of the work proposed and shall show in detail that it will conform to the provisions of the code______. This means that a home owner or contractor can draw their own house plans so long as they meet these detail requirements. A blanket absolute requirement for every structure to have Architect or Engineer prepared drawings seems to violate this tenet of the IBC.

Requiring architecturally prepared drawings for every single family dwelling is oppressive and adds minimal value (if any) to the overall single family project. In other countries under the IBC this is not required and single family dwellings are successfully constructed daily. These countries, however, have support staff (inspectors and plans examiners) to administer the provisions of the code and help educate the contractors. CBA must act immediately to employ highly trained, code literate inspectors and plans examiners in order to carry out the mission to which the Belize Building Act charges them. This training will render assistance to those building single family dwellings under the IBC and the CBA employees will find their job made easier by these training efforts.

The building code regulation process must start with a workable code document, understood by the building department (CBA) staff and the contractors regulated. Neither of the inspectors I spoke with had a copy of the IBC with them, nor could they tell me what edition was being adopted by Belize (the IBC is amended and republished every 3 years). After the adoption, or simultaneously, an infrastructure of inspectors and plans examiners must be hired, equipped & trained. Having only 4 inspectors for a Country of 8800 square. miles is absolute lunacy and is pretty much an admission that the actual IBC listed inspections are not going to be made. If Belize is going forward with this implementation, the officials must step back and evaluate what they have been doing and recognize just how dysfunctional the process has already become. Either the Government is committed to the successful implementation of this Act or it is not. If only 4 inspectors are to be hired, then I believe we all have our answer. Perhaps CBA should consider consultations with the International Code Council (ICC) who write the code and will provide technical and administrative assistance upon request. Building Code Regulation is not a complex issue. The code has been in existence for many years in many countries. Unique geographic or weather related conditions should be specifically addressed by each country, but the overall code is designed to be functional, prescriptive and achieve the goal of the code without being excessively burdensome. 

So far CBA has apparently not achieved a complete understanding of this document and just how workable it is designed to be. The purpose of this code is to provide minimum standards for the protection of life, limb, health, property, environment and for the safety and welfare of the consumer, general public, owners and occupants of residential buildings regulated by this code . The minimum standards and methodologies are provided in the IBC for every citizen of Belize to avail themselves, without the additional cost of Architecture or Engineering fees. The IBC gives the prospective home builder the option of adding this additional cost to their project or not. If a first world country does not require this burden, why would a developing country trying to encourage development embrace this burden which stands to stifle it here? I cannot believe there is an extra couple thousand dollars in the average home owner's budget for this requirement.