A Bit About Building Code Requirements And Why They Are Important For Historic Homes

City, State and Federal Building Codes are essential pieces of legislation that help to ensure the safety and health of building owners and residents. These rules and guidelines, and the penalties for noncompliance, play an important role in today’s society by protecting the owners, occupants, and even the structures themselves, from unnecessary harm or loss.

One of the first recorded examples of a building code can be found in the Code of Hammurabi-- a Babylonian set of 282 laws that dates to about 1772 BC. The Code included five building-specific rules such as “If a builder builds a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.” By ensuring that the structures that were built were sound and safe, ancient rulers who were in charge of the well-being and safety of the people could regulate how, and how well-built, buildings would be.

More contemporary Building Codes are largely the result of great disasters; those events which had the effect of calling attention to certain failings of structures that then caused significant loss of life and property. Examples include man-made disasters such as the Chicago Fire of 1871- which helped to spur the regulation in fire-safe construction and requirements for fire suppression – or natural events like the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992-which resulted in scientific analysis of how buildings could better withstand natural disasters and codes that then were implemented as a result of the findings. 

While other Codes exist and have bearing on built structures, it is the Lakewood Building Code that most Lakewood residents will come into contact with. While many of these City regulations deal with important, life-or-death matters, others are the result of decades of research and experience that have determined those maintenance standards that will ensure the continued safety and stability of the Lakewood’s existing housing stock. It is these, usually maintenance-specific Building Codes that are often of primary importance in talking about older and historic structures.

In 2011 Lakewood undertook a citywide housing survey that examined the existing housing stock for compliance with the City’s Building Code. While approximately a third of the homes surveyed meet the current Code guidelines, sixty-seven percent of the surveyed homes either “almost meet” current Code - meaning that the home is beginning to show minimal wear--or were listed as “needs work”-- which indicates that there are multiple minor code violations or a few major violations present. These Code violations are issues that must be taken seriously and remedied, as the City has the ability to pursue further legal action or leverage fines. 

The exterior violations that were noted in this survey could be anything from a small portion of missing handrail on the porch to a larger problem such as missing roofing material. Issues such as exterior paint failure, damaged gutters and the condition of the porch floor might seem like minor and frivolous matters for the City to be concerned about.  However, it is these small, routine maintenance-type issues that can have a huge impact on the long-term stability of the historic housing stock that makes Lakewood such a distinctive place to live.

On May 5 the Lakewood Heritage Home ProgramSM, a program operated by the Cleveland Restoration Society with the support of the City of Lakewood, will make a presentation at the Lakewood Old House Fair about why issues such as paint failure and proper drainage systems are vitally important to the long term stability of older homes. Come and learn about the common deterioration processes of old buildings, and about how the way homes are built and maintained (with guidance from the Building Code) helps to keep them standing strong as the decades roll on. Find out about why you might want to think twice about using "quick fixes" such as vinyl siding to achieve the look and compliance that the City expects. Get tips on how to make your paint job last, and how simple tasks can extend the longevity of the home's architectural features and materials. 

While this presentation will address some of the inquiries that homeowners of older homes may have about Code violations and maintenance requirements, this presentation is not associated with the City of Lakewood Building Department or intended to resolve current Code-related issues or concerns of residents. If you have specific questions about your Lakewood home's status, please contact the City of Lakewood Department of Housing & Building for further assistance.

In addition to educational presentations like the one happening at the Lakewood Old House Fair, the Lakewood Heritage Home Program also offers FREE technical assistance and low-interest loans for homes that are 50 years of age or older.  New for 2012 is a lower interest rate (currently at 2%), increased availability, and lowered fees. Please contact Jessica Ugarte at 216-426-3101 or jugarte@clevelandrestoration.org to find out more about these services.

The Cleveland Restoration Society will present at 12 and 2 p.m. at the Old House Fair on Saturday, May 5 held at Harding Middle School.

Jessica Ugarte

Jessica Ugarte is one of the newest employees of the nonprofit Cleveland Restoration Society. She holds both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science in the field of Historic Preservation, and has worked on restoring and rehabilitating a wide variety of historic resources (everything from gravestones to train depots). Her job as a Heritage Home Program Assistant at the Society entails working with the residents of historic homes, both in Lakewood and beyond, to help them maintain and restore these important architectural and historical treasures.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 9:41 PM, 04.17.2012