Building Code Regulations
from an Engineer's View Point

Philip C. Freytag, P.E. Consulting Engineers, Ltd.

I wish to reply and elaborate on Chuck Monshein's views. I have known Chuck for many years and have worked with him and his architect on various projects doing soil tests, solving structural problems, and observing his projects progress to make comments that would improve construction techniques. The International Building Code (IBC) has been our guide to drawing preparation and construction. I have had copies of the IBC on hand in Consejo since the first edition was released in year 2000. The IBC is a new family of building codes derived from the Uniform Building Code which was first published in 1927 until 1997 in the USA.

I would like to stress the educational aspect of the application of the building code. The building code is prescriptive, meaning that it is a minimum standard, which can be understood by anyone and can and used to guide them either in design or construction. A special edition of the IBC is available called International Residential Building Code (IRBC) for single and two family residential homes up to 4000 sq.ft. and two stories. Code books should be readily available to architects, engineers, draftsmen, contractors and do it yourself builders. However, these code books are not readily available in Belize, they must be ordered from amazon.com or another book supplier.

The first step I think CBA should take is to make the code books available either from their office or Local Building Authority offices. The IBC and IRBC each cost about US$80 from Amazon. The code books should also be available in local libraries for the public.

Next, CBA should start the educational process by providing training and licensing sessions for contractors. Schools should begin Home Building Education classes. This has been started in Guatemala, I know because the University of Wyoming where I got my engineering degree is involved in the process. They send engineering students to Guatemala to help the students actually do building projects. Maybe Belize could do the same thing so the next generation of contractors will be ready. I would be happy to assist in getting a program like this started in Belize.

Another important early step is to train building inspectors so that CBA can start providing local building departments (LBA) so that owners do not have to make long trips to Belize City, perhaps many times. I was informed that there was no money for training LBAs. Both Chuck and I had conversations about 6 months ago with Efrain Teck and/or Hilberto Campos, Mayor of Corozal Town, about an interim measure along these lines of thinking. Teck said he was most concerned about environmental consequences due to many inadequate septic systems that are installed near the sea shore, a very legitimate concern.

Only after the first three steps of the educational process have been completed should building permits be required. In the meantime construction projects should not be interrupted with stop orders and people should not have to travel to Belize City many times to get a building permit. An interim measure could be to submit drawings and plans, whether or not they are signed by an architect or engineer to CBA and to receive back from CBA a complete list of comments or corrections taken from the IBC or IRBC to be implemented into the project. Comments received so far on drawings submitted have been ambiguous or of a general nature. After complying with those comments in some cases additional comments have been made. I think most people would try to implement comments if they realize that the changes would benefit them. This process could even be done by mail service each way which only costs $4 and is very good.

Since the IRBC is especially prescriptive there should rarely be a requirement for an architect or engineers stamp and signature unless there are special situations involved. I list those here:

  1. Determine elevation of first floor level and expected surge from hurricanes.
  2. Determine soil conditions and support for foundations - type of foundation.
  3. Determine soil absorption rate, size of septic system and area, type and size of leach bed.
  4. Any structural member that is not listed in the beam and column charts in the IRBC.

If there are special situations requiring a design professional then those recommendations and only those would require a stamp and signature as an addition to the building plan package.

When CBA issued the stop orders there was a serious concern among residents in the Consejo area. Construction is down somewhat and there are only a few new projects contemplated for next year. At least two purchasers of new lots in the area have put their property up for sale and have left Belize. Very few new lots have been sold recently. It should be a primary concern of the Government of Belize to not do anything that would effect property sales or new construction. Retired people who have a fixed source of income spend a lot of money in Belize and do not demand much in the way of services. They employ a significant number of people in construction, maintenance of their property and household assistance, and have a serious concern for quality of construction.