The Waverly City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance on Monday that would revise the city’s building code for another six years.
The major edits for the code, which is spelled out in Chapter 90 of the Waverly Municipal Code, are adoptions of the 2018 versions of the International Building, Residential, Plumbing, Mechanical, Fire, Fuel Gas and Existing Building codes and the 2017 National Electrical Code, though with some amendments. There is also a 120-day transition period following the adoption of the third reading, which would be expected in May, to use either the 2012 or 2018 codes.
There will also be a 5% increase in permit fees. It would be the first increase since the code was last changed in 2012, and according to a summary in the council’s agenda packet, it would still be 30% less than what Waterloo and Cedar Falls charge.
Randy McKenzie, the Bremer County Building and Zoning official, addressed the changes in the codes, as his office handles building code enforcement for all but three communities in the county.
“It’s an international code, it’s a family of codes,” Randy McKenzie said. “We in the past typically have updated the code every six years, which the code updates every three years, but we choose to do every other cycle. (It’s) a little less money invested in new code books and come up with the knowledge and study in the new codes for enforcement.”
He said there weren’t many significant changes in the building codes between the two versions. One he did highlight was in the Residential Code, which has typically appeared in the appendix section on radon mitigation.
“We are proposing to adopt in this cycle the appendix,” he said. “All counties in Iowa have a high potential for radon gas. The language which is in the residential code in the appendix, it’s a passive radon system, and would only be applicable to new residences, to new homes.”
Randy McKenzie explained that new houses would need to install a radon pipe that would run from below the basement floor through the attic and roof. It would help mitigate the radon gas if a house tests at a high level of the cancer-causing substance.
“The lion’s share of the language in the code changes are more administrative,” he added. “It’s just to update for the new code sections, as they change from one edition to the next.”
Ward 2 Councilman Dan McKenzie, who is also a Waverly firefighter, brought up that the city in the past has chosen not to require fire sprinklers in private residences. It is a policy that will carry on.
He asked Randy McKenzie what he saw as far as the trend for fire-suppression sprinklers in the home, especially with exempting their need for single-family residences.
“A lot of the larger cities, they have amended it to limit it to very large square-footage homes,” Randy McKenzie said. “We never see those size of homes
“When I thought about amending it to still accept the code requirement, exempt the small square-footage homes, it really doesn’t gain anything if you amend it. It’s just like not adopting it at all.”
However, apartments are required to have sprinklers.
Dan McKenzie said exempting single-family dwellings from requiring sprinklers has been hard for him to consider.
“We know how they help in multifamily high-rises, those types of things,” he said. “The cost to a residential (home) — when you think about it — isn’t all that much.
“I think the additions of the smoke detectors, those types of things, have gone a long way to protecting life, but the sprinklers would protect the property on top of that.”
Dan McKenzie wants to “highly encourage” homeowners to consider installing them. He said sprinklers have improved on their reliability and ease of installation in recent years.
“Just because it’s not required, I would encourage folks to think about it,” he said.
Randy McKenzie added that codes only set minimum standards, which municipalities could add onto.
Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen asked about the 5% fee increase and wondered if there would be further increases later. Randy McKenzie said there would not be another for at least six years.
“That would be something that would have to go to all of the governing bodies to approve by resolution,” he said. “There are no intentions of increasing the fees.”
Ward 4 Councilman Mike Sherer asked how do contractors stay current with the codes. Randy McKenzie said that the ones who do a lot of commercial work keep themselves up-to-date quite often.
“I guess it’s kind of a partnership between the enforcement and the contractors,” he said. “We have to kind of work our way into it, any changes that they may not currently be doing.
“The international codes are out there. You can purchase them. Most large companies that have a very large staff have access to the codes. Architects definitely keep up with the current codes.”
Mayor Dean Soash vouched for contractors having up-to-date trade codes, from his time owning Dean’s Light Box. He said that electricians, like himself, are licensed by the state.
“Every three years, that license comes up for renewal,” Soash said, “and all of the requirements (include) 18 hours of continuing (education) in that three-year period.
“I think the plumbers are that way. Some of the education taught of the building code comes when the inspector comes around and says, ‘You can’t do that like that anymore.’”
Sherer then asked how the contractors get notified of the changes. Randy McKenzie said there was a contractors’ meeting in February that went over the changes, and his office notified more than 100 contractors about it, with about 30 showing up.
“We do our due diligence to bring any significant changes in front of the contractors,” he said. “They’ll learn them as they get to them.”
Ward 3 Councilman Rod Drenkow asked if the other cities in the county use the same or similar building codes as Waverly. Randy McKenzie said if Bremer County Building and Zoning had its way, it would be exactly the same everywhere.
However, his office covers the unincorporated area and the cities of Waverly, Janesville, Readlyn, Tripoli and Denver, as well as Dunkerton in Black Hawk County. Plainfield, Frederika and Sumner are not handled by his department.
Soash added that whatever Bremer County Building and Zoning doesn’t handle, the state’s office would.
“It’s pretty well-covered by somebody, anyway,” the mayor said.