Author Topic: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?  (Read 27322 times)

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Offline OlJarhead

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Re: Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #25 on: April 04, 2011, 01:47:55 PM »
Last I checked we did not live in a Democracy but rather a 'Representative Republic' but I'm splitting hairs I suspect.

The home I live in now would not pass many of today's codes (the windows would, as well as the extension I put in but that's it) and was not inspected or permitted when it was added to TWICE.  However, it still stands, is sound and will likely stand for another 58 years all things being equal.

This demonstrates that while codes may be good, they are not always, in all cases, about safety or common sense and thus the 'over regulation' of today's codes are inhibiting both common sense and liberty.

For one, 2x4 walls are every bit as safe as they need to be for single family dwellings however exterior walls are mandated at 2x6 because of energy savings potential and nothing more.  Just as rafters of 2x6 may be perfectly fine for a 12x12 pitch but must be 2x12 for energy reasons and again, a floor may be safely framed with 2x6 joists however codes demand 2x12 for energy reasons.

Now before we get crazy about forcing people to be more energy efficient I might add that there is no provision for someone building off the grid.

Lastly, I'll say it again: do we live in a free nation or not?  If you think so, then perhaps you could define what you think free means.

The founding fathers and son's of liberty were pretty clear about their reasons for fighting the American Revolution and it started with 'Life, Liberty and Property' which was a rallying call.  They were upset over 'taxation without representation' (coined by James Otis Jr - a relation) and 'A man's home is his castle'.  If asked today they would tell you, almost assuredly, that if you wanted to build a straw shack you would be welcome to do so provided it would not, could not and did not infringe on someones Natural Rights to 'Life, Liberty and Property'.

This would not and does not include FUTURE claims (meaning that if you failed to inspect a home properly later it's your fault -- which by the way is the case today anyway).

Back to my home:  we bought it, we own it...it has some issues....guess what?  Liberty = Freedom to fail.  We own a home we have had to fix because someone did some things that weren't quite up to code.  Oh well, we bought it.

You see, codes have a place, but forcing them on people who in no way possible could hurt anyone but themselves is not freedom but rather oppression through over-regulation.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #26 on: April 04, 2011, 03:19:41 PM »
My original question was ‘Why do we have building codes?’

I am not hawking building codes, one way or another. Some readers might not be required to comply with a particular building code, some readers will have to, and some seem more interested in the ongoing fight about whether another party should be able to make you comply with any building and zoning and sanitary requirements however remotely you think your actions may affect others. I do not want to get into that here in this section. As I said before we have places that will fit better. In good part what I would like to do here, in this forum, is suggest that at least studying and making an attempt to understand the intent of the IRC, and to use many of its tables and details, may help us build a better building in any code enforcement environment. I am not telling you what to do, I am suggesting that if we understand why things are codified the way they are, some of us may make wiser decisions about how to do what we want to do, with minimum hassle and best long term results. The IRC is simply another tool. I hope these topics will make it easier to understand codes and to make wise decisions on building, code or no code; to that end it would be easier to follow if the subsection topics had less unrelated content. Thanks.
« Last Edit: April 04, 2011, 05:24:51 PM by MountainDon »
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline Squirl

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Re: Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #27 on: April 05, 2011, 03:59:40 AM »

Like them or not we do have building codes to deal with in most places around the country. If the location where we are building has lax enforcement that is another matter. I would like to think that all of us would like to build a strong, safe, long lived structure. Part of my reasoning behind starting this topic stems from my belief that some owner-builders make mistakes out of ignorance that even the most corner cutting pro would shy away from. Some 'errors' are made because someone saw pictures of 'it' posted someplace on the internet. "It worked over there, so...."  


Along those same lines the problem comes when it is after the fact.  When the money is spent and the work is done and the pictures are posted, if you tell someone it is wrong or dangerous, some react poorly.  The answer that tends to come out is "It hasn't failed yet."  Or "I haven't noticed any problems yet."  Things don't tend to fail catastrophically right away.  Buildings are expected to have a usable life over a life time.  Many best practices and codes are for the long haul, not that it hasn't failed yet and it in 1 to 10 years.  Like I said earlier, I like to rely on the large amounts of testing and engineering that goes into the code.  There is usually a consensus among professionals for the broad strokes of what the best practices are.  Just because it hasn’t failed when violating those, doesn’t mean it is the best practice or even a good one.

I apologize. I didn’t want to come across as political; I just wanted to discuss the structure of codes in government.  Now I think I understand the goal.  This section is to discuss provisions with best practices for people that have to follow codes and why people even when not required should follow good practices outlined in them.  I have an idea for a visual discussion of one of the more misunderstood or overlooked code problems that I have seen by new builders.  Should I put it under this post or start a new one under the IRC and good practices section?

Offline MountainDon

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Re: Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #28 on: April 05, 2011, 06:21:37 AM »
Thanks Squirl.  I think we should have a Suggestion / Question Box where things like you have in mind can be deposited.
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Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #29 on: April 20, 2012, 05:47:48 PM »
Thomas Jefferson with a proclamation regarding what would be one of the first American Building Codes. Yes, that Thomas Jefferson.  I think his buddy George Washington was in on this too.

President Jefferson lays out the new building code for the District of Columbia proclaiming that all new houses should be built of brick or stone, and “….that the wall of no house shall be higher than 40 feet to the roof in any part of the City, nor shall any be lower than 35 feet on any of the Avenues.” Present day D.C. has changed little from this original code–there are no tall buildings in the city other than the Washington Monument. The President’s Proclamation appears on page one of the National Intelligencer, Washington’s premier newspaper.


Source:  The Mitchell Archives

Click on image link, then click again to enlarge
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #30 on: April 20, 2012, 06:26:41 PM »
Thomas Jefferson with a proclamation regarding what would be one of the first American Building Codes. Yes, that Thomas Jefferson.  I think his buddy George Washington was in on this too.

President Jefferson lays out the new building code for the District of Columbia proclaiming that all new houses should be built of brick or stone, and “….that the wall of no house shall be higher than 40 feet to the roof in any part of the City, nor shall any be lower than 35 feet on any of the Avenues.” Present day D.C. has changed little from this original code–there are no tall buildings in the city other than the Washington Monument. The President’s Proclamation appears on page one of the National Intelligencer, Washington’s premier newspaper.


Source:  The Mitchell Archives

Click on image link, then click again to enlarge

Imperfect men make imperfect documents.  Siting Jefferson as some sort of proof that free people should be forced to build a certain way is like siting Adams to prove the Constitutional right to free speech is meaningless.  It holds no water at all.

The problem isn't always the codes (though I have a real problem with many of them frankly) but the idiocy some use to enforce politically motivated codes.  (like forcing a cabin builder to build a 2x12 floor for an 8 foot span and stuffing R38 insulation in it for part time use -- seriously).

Again I ask the question:  are we a free people?

I might also point out that Jefferson had slaves and yet wrote a document most decidedly anti-slavery.  The man wasn't perfect by any means and neither was Washington (another slave owner who wanted to end slavery).  I think both men were hero's frankly but one of the most important gifts that our founders gave us, perhaps, was Madison's 'imperfect men' (he was explaining that imperfect men make imperfect documents but that no man is perfect and therefore no document is perfect).

The codes are not perfect, they are written by imperfect men and then enforced by imperfect men and often for imperfect reasons.

Anyway, while I support many codes and the reasons behind them I refuse to blindly follow ALL codes simply because some bureaucrat decided it would save the planet (which in reality is just a scam to force socialism down your throats).

Aslinsky said (roughly):  there is no cause, only the fight [to gain power].  My point?  Global Warming is a tool and nothing more and those forcing cabin builders to build to newer 'energy friendly' standards (which by the way ARE CODES) are full of it.

Sorry for the rant but I'm just not a government loving builder who believes all codes and code enforcement is good, much less the sort of thing 'free' people are subjected to.

Liberty equals the freedom to fail and frankly, if that's what I choose as a free man then by god let me choose it.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #31 on: April 20, 2012, 09:27:16 PM »
You may be surprised, but I place myself as being closer to a  libertarian than either a democrat or a republican.


On the one hand I was having fun with the Jefferson article/proclamation. On the other I am deadly serious.

But first, whether or not Thomas Jefferson or George Washington had slaves has absolutely nothing to do with building codes. Nothing. Bringing that into the discussion is smoke and mirrors, nothing more, nothing less. The document I quoted does show that Jefferson did believe that not all laws had to be directly spelled out in the Constitution. Does it not?

That seems quite clear to me. If I am wrong, show me how. (On the slavery thing, I believe it is generally now agreed that in general, the Founders thought slavery was wrong, but they believed that insisting on the abolition of slavery at that point in time would have made the Union effort fail. So they decided to overlook that and to “fix” things later. Separate matters, separate emotions, nothing at all to do with building codes.)

No one that I know of is stating that the codes are perfect. The latest iteration of the IRC, with the residential fire sprinkler requirements is a classic example of an idea that may have merit, but that was too hastily written with too little thought to all the implications.  There have been previous problems that were corrected in subsequent versions of the IRC. So yes, the works of mankind are imperfect. We keep on trying to get it right.

If we did not have building codes, we, that is the average person who has zero knowledge of “how things work” would be at the mercy of the contractor/builder who builds the majority of the housing in this country. We would totally be relying on the integrity of the hired builder. Totally. 100%. Are you comfortable with that? (By “you” I mean the generic “you”; no one in particular, just the current reader.)

How do you balance "freedom" with protection from the scumbags, the robber barons....  ?  ???

Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #32 on: April 21, 2012, 05:14:47 AM »
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(like forcing a cabin builder to build a 2x12 floor for an 8 foot span and stuffing R38 insulation in it for part time use -- seriously).

That may be a good point. Especially if the owner is using harvested firewood from their own land. So what do we do> Write an exception of some sort?  As soon as that would be done though, I think we'd have the same people who try to slide a 120-200 sq ft "cabin" through as a shed, trying to make out that their cabin was only part time use, when it was not. So the laws cover the broadest area.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline Squirl

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #33 on: April 21, 2012, 05:25:59 AM »
It is up to the people of a state.  I believe you made a good point about the intention of the founders.  They believed certain rights were inalienable.  Everything else, including very specifically building codes, people could come together and decide as a group with representation.  Many states do have exceptions for energy codes.  NY has a seasonal residence exception, PA has a camp provision, it is based on the people deciding what they want as a group. Sometimes that goes the way we want, sometimes it doesn't. 

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #34 on: April 21, 2012, 07:08:52 AM »
You may be surprised, but I place myself as being closer to a  libertarian than either a democrat or a republican.


On the one hand I was having fun with the Jefferson article/proclamation. On the other I am deadly serious.

But first, whether or not Thomas Jefferson or George Washington had slaves has absolutely nothing to do with building codes. Nothing. Bringing that into the discussion is smoke and mirrors, nothing more, nothing less.
The point was merely to point out that a great man like Jefferson has flaws and therefore could be wrong.

Quote
The document I quoted does show that Jefferson did believe that not all laws had to be directly spelled out in the Constitution. Does it not?

Actually, this is not so easily answered or dismissed.  For one, the Constitution was not spelling out laws at all, but rather limiting they type and scope of laws the Federal government could pass and enforce to prevent the loss of liberty.

What the founders wanted was to prevent a recurrence of the English style of governing the people and realized that one of the keys to this is to prevent the Federal government from making laws on things other then what was specifically authorized for them in the Constitution.  To make that point they inserted the 10th Amendment so that it was VERY clear:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Clearly stated and succinct, this Amendment says "if it ain't in the Constitution, then you can't do it".

So in that sense you're right, he didn't want the Federal government to be the source of all laws (god forbid).  But let's also not forget that it is Madison who we now call 'the Father of the Constitution'.  My point being that Jefferson played a smaller role (though was actively communicating his thoughts to Madison) then others.

On side note, Jefferson is one of my hero's so please don't get me wrong about him.  I think he's one of the greatest founders.

Anyway, so laws should be local, this is the point, and the reason for this is so that those most effected by them, can change them.  It's much easier to vote in a new city council or state government then it is a National one.  The founders knew this and wanted a Republican style of Government to ensure it remained that way (for Democrats out there reading this, please don't feel slighted or insulted, your party, as well as the Republican party, has nothing to do with Democracy or Republicanism.  Those are merely names like 'Hoosiers' or 'Cowboys' today).

Quote
That seems quite clear to me. If I am wrong, show me how. (On the slavery thing, I believe it is generally now agreed that in general, the Founders thought slavery was wrong, but they believed that insisting on the abolition of slavery at that point in time would have made the Union effort fail. So they decided to overlook that and to “fix” things later. Separate matters, separate emotions, nothing at all to do with building codes.)

Yes, yes, but my point was merely to show that men, even great men, are flawed.  Though one could argue that those men were less so because their wisdom in NOT dealing directly with the slavery issue was the better decision of the time.  If anyone thinks otherwise, I'm willing to debate them but I'd suggest they read about the 100 years from 1760 to 1860 first.  Paying close attention to the Abolitionist movement, number of working class free men (hint, there were virtually none in 1776), the balancing of free states to slave states for nearly 100 years and the resulting war....yes the Civil War was fought after nearly 100 years of wrangling by the Abolitionists to end slavery.  You might also read some Frederick Douglass to understand was a former slave thought of the Constitution once he read it (point being that the Declaration and Constitution were ANTI-Slavery documents contrary what the popular media wants you to believe today).....but I digress.

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No one that I know of is stating that the codes are perfect. The latest iteration of the IRC, with the residential fire sprinkler requirements is a classic example of an idea that may have merit, but that was too hastily written with too little thought to all the implications.  There have been previous problems that were corrected in subsequent versions of the IRC. So yes, the works of mankind are imperfect. We keep on trying to get it right.

And as such his affect on the liberty of others should be restricted heavily so that he cannot enforce his imperfect laws and rules on his fellow man unless absolutely, I repeat ABSOLUTELY necessary.

Quote
If we did not have building codes, we, that is the average person who has zero knowledge of “how things work” would be at the mercy of the contractor/builder who builds the majority of the housing in this country. We would totally be relying on the integrity of the hired builder. Totally. 100%. Are you comfortable with that? (By “you” I mean the generic “you”; no one in particular, just the current reader.)

How do you balance "freedom" with protection from the scumbags, the robber barons....  ?  ???

First off, 'Robber Barons' is a Fairy Tail told by socialists/progressives who hated the rich and powerful and wanted their wealth and power.  Just the name 'Robber Baron' makes my blood pressure rise!  Rockefeller did more for the poor and middle class then any socialist wannabee progressive politician in this country before or after him.  Just look at Johnson's war on Poverty and compare that to Rockefeller's lowering of the price of Kerosene from $160/barrel to $17/barrel and the raise of wages by the working class vs. the rise in the cost of living (or the reduction thereof) and you'll see why I get upset.  It's pure bullcrap fostered on the American people to try to convince them that working hard and becoming rich is bad but working hard and staying a working man for society is good.

But let me answer your question with this statement by Benjamin Franklin:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. "

The point being that you must balance Liberty (freedom) carefully or you will lose it -- and we have and are. 

Forcing a cabin builder to build 2x12 floors is a loss of liberty and it could easily be argued that forcing a home builder to use 2x6 walls is too.  It's about energy consumption not structural strength and it's wrong.

As for the unsuspecting buyer I suggest you consider how he got that way in the first place becuase that my dear friend is the key.

Offline Don_P

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #35 on: April 21, 2012, 08:58:15 AM »
We have a national "model" code, the ICC's Residential code in this case. The ICC is a non governmental organization. Each state reviews and adopts or ammends it. We have gone from localized codes through a long period of three simultaneous pretty similar model codes to one basic model code. New proposals are voted on during the code development process, one man one vote, have at it.

The building code is adopted by the state not mandated by the fed.

At least in my area a 2x6 floor joist would satisfy the energy codes, I cannot think of an example where what you have now twice stated would be required.... not that I totally agree with energy codes. For a floor, structural requirements would almost always give the required depth to use fiberglass insulation and meet energy code. Walls are not as simple to meet energy code in a minimal wall, but y'all are leaving 2x4's in the dust structurally anyway.

I remember someone using 2x6's for floor joists cantilevered over an undersized girder and trying to attach a porch floor to that nailed on cantilevered rim. What is obvious today was unplowed ground such a short time ago, are you really ready? Is the next guy? Is it wrong to outlaw construction that has been shown to maim and kill people repeatedly?

Quote
If we did not have building codes, we, that is the average person who has zero knowledge of “how things work” would be at the mercy of the contractor/builder who builds the majority of the housing in this country. We would totally be relying on the integrity of the hired builder. Totally. 100%. Are you comfortable with that? (By “you” I mean the generic “you”; no one in particular, just the current reader.)

How do you balance "freedom" with protection from the scumbags, the robber barons....  ? 

 

Lets be fair, I see no reason not to add owner builders and designers to your list of undesireables  :)

How do you protect people from ignorance is the more common question. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the freedom to fail personally, but get beyond a world of one and the ignorant tend to take the innocent with them, their children, their neighbors.  You have no neighbors so you are no danger? I didn't have neighbors 25 years ago. You have no clue what the area will look like a century down the road. I was helping clean up after one storm, the second floor of the house was gone. A class A motorhome from down the street was upside down in the top of a white oak in the back yard. The house would have survived the wind, the neighbors flying debris took it out. Some of you are trying real hard to be in that motorhome. That gets you and the neighbors. In a disaster if a large number of avoidable failures clog the emergency response, lives are lost needlessly. Are you advocating for the death tolls you see in undeveloped countries? These are real human lives, nothing abstract in the equation, it is linear, as you loosen life safety codes people die, as you strengthen buildings by law, people survive. Compare the quakes in strict code Chile and no code Haiti. They still don't have reliable water in Haiti and lost over a hundred thousand people. They were opening up shops in Chile the next day, stronger quake... The problem with allowing the full exercise of freedom in areas where ignorance kills is that we live in a world full of downright deadly ignorant people.  The discussion then revolves around what we consider to be acceptable loss of life vs intrusion of personal liberty... In order to keep you out of the ER do we, as a society, have the right to require that you put a seatbelt on? I can see both sides of the issue, but your car is getting seatbelts if I have anything to do with it. I'd much rather folks run to my houses than from them.

I haven't had many inspector problems even though I have built under many inspectors and according to some of you, an absolutely unknowable variety of codes. Rarely, very rarely, have I failed an inspection. Why? I don't trip over the low bars. You folks are niggling and arguing over insanely stupid stuff. Does a house go on a solid foundation?...Come on, this is a no brainer. Look at the Kobe picture, where did the failure initiate? A soft foundation. The American style platform construction survived intact. That is not what you all are building, look again at the collapse, that is what you are building. Read up on soft stories, y'all are not just building them, you champion them at any opportunity, foisting them on unsuspecting newbies. They have a long and rich history of failure, not just here in nothing but a rain, but throughout time in relatively mild events.

If you are in an unenforced area, have insurance, but did not build to code. If a claim can be tied to the non code work, do you have insurance? I know I don't.

 Work within the long agreed upon confines of materials. If that is a problem use another material rather than adjusting your perception as to how you expect this one to perform.  A 2x2 is not a rafter I don't care how free you are, that is just ignorance rearing its' head. Tear the mistake out and try again. That others corroborate bad judgement is not a good thing at all. Who is going to ride that thing to the ground when you are gone? I've ridden 2 floors and a set of stairs to the ground, stepped out onto a deck only to have it detatch from the house, worked over broken rafters and hips. If you've never been under a pier and beam house trying to relevel it when it spits a jack out, you have likely never really spoken sincerely to your maker. An unsuspecting carpenter gets the sticking end of your freedom down the road as often as not. What happens when it is your kid's wedding party or a funeral when the thinking problem shows itself.  A good carpenter makes mistakes, the difference is he owns and fixes them rather than taking pictures and bragging about what a fine job he did.

Where several folks made comments here recently, materials were not a little bit overspanned.  The structural codes that we are most concerned with in these writings have not appreciably changed in my lifetime, or my father's, spans are essentially the same, pier and beam was not prescriptive in my '68 codebook, and a 2x2 was not a rafter then. The engineering I have posted on here is about 2 centuries old.  I have had to answer the lawyer's question "You knew better didn't you?" Be honest in your assessment of your capabilities. I have noticed through life that people who cannot be honest with others and themselves, also cannot see clearly. Self installed blind spots. One reason for these laws is a feeble attempt at keeping these kinds of thinking problems from harming others.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #36 on: April 23, 2012, 09:41:43 AM »
First I apologize for the use of the term "robber barons". Unscrupulous contractors would be a more accurate term. There are some of those in my area.  I've seen some of their handiwork.  NM_Shooter is also familiar with some of the shortcuts taken by some contractors. And that is with a permit and inspection system in place. No system is perfect. But think about what the state of affairs might be without guidelines/codes/inspections.

Wow! Great response Don_P.  I agree with everything stated.  And, Yes, to be fair I should have added owner builders and designers to my list of undesirables.    ;D ;D

« Last Edit: April 23, 2012, 11:49:02 AM by MountainDon »
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #37 on: April 24, 2012, 05:53:02 AM »
Confessions of an Owner-Builder

This was composed in my head during the drive back from our cabin yesterday.

Today I know a lot more than I did when I came to this forum back in 2006. Up to that point everything I had built was on a poured concrete slab, either a monolith or a slab with a separately poured stem wall. The frost depth I had to deal with was only 14 inches; the state stretched that out to a conservative 18 inches. I also never built anything taller than a single story, everything was quite straightforward. I had books I learned from. For a few years I worked for a small custom home contractor as the finish carpenter. I think I possibly learned more from the red tags I saw on various structural, electrical, plumbing and mechanical work than from the books.

When we bought our mountain property I was told by the state BO that I’d have to go 36 inches deep for the foundation. The thought of digging a 36 inch deep trench for a perimeter foundation was daunting. At that time it was dig by hand or hire it out. Our budget was such that hiring out was not financially practical. I also did not want to use a lot of concrete, so a slab was out. The transit mix companies would not venture far enough into the woods and would not drive the final hill, so all concrete would have to be mixed on site.

I looked all over the internet for cabin plans and cabin projects. I found lots of pier and beam foundations. I found the IRC code book at the library and spent a few hours looking through it. Nothing in there on pier and beam foundations. Hmmm. There was lots of information on foundations involving a lot of concrete and a lot of digging. But I did not want to dig a lot. I did not want to mix concrete. I did not want to spend a lot of money. So I turned a blind eye to the obvious and continued my quest for a “doable” pier and beam foundation. There had to be a good one, the problem must be that I was not looking in the right place. That’s what I told myself.

My plans, my desires, were complicated by the fact that the best spot to build on was sloped. Sloped enough that if the corner closest to the ground was set at 12 inches the opposite corner would be three and a half feet above the ground. At that point in time I knew enough to know that a pier that high was not really a good thing without some substantial bracing. I wasn’t quite sure what substantial meant though. So I didn’t want to build on the slope. We selected a site that was flatter, though without the great mountain view of the other site.

Fortunately, as time passed we became good friends with the neighbor down the hill. He has a skidsteer and would level the preferred spot for almost nothing. He did a great job. Now then, if I had still not been wearing my blinders I would have thought to ask him about digging a perimeter foundation trench. As I learned later he has a skidsteer attachment that he could have used to dig a trench easily. I would have still had to mix concrete, maybe lay blocks? Maybe I would have thought of a permanent wood foundation? Maybe I would have done a continuous poured concrete footing and built block piers to support the beams as in a raised floor? But no, I was blindly single minded, at that point, convinced that I could build a good pier and beam foundation on my own. Hey, there were lots of them done by others, albeit some were rather shaky looking. But I wasn’t going to build one like that!

So here we are a few years later. Our cabin has been through three winters. Everything still seems solid, level and plumb. The doors and windows work smoothly. The few diagonal measurements I have recorded at different points have remained the same. I’m happy about that. In part I believe this success is because I did set the 6x6 piers 40 to 44 inches in the ground, on top of steel reinforced poured in place concrete pads and that I have only 13 inches of pier above grade. That provides a short lever arm for lateral forces to act on. Our soil is a thin layer on top of well compacted pumice that drains well. That helps. I rammed that pumice back into the pier holes to make it at least as compacted as the undisturbed pumice.

In the past few years I have learned more about why things are done a certain way and why things are not done, or should not be done, in certain ways. I have learned some of this from studying and understanding more. I have learned by reading and re-reading parts of the IRC and coming to an understanding that the basics laid out in that “cook book” approach has solid engineering behind it. I have learned by listening to people who actually build as a profession. I have learned by conversing with professional structural engineers. I have also leaned from personal observation of other projects. My education was helped along the way by removing the personal blinders I was wearing back when my cabin project started. Since the conception of our cabin building project I have also discovered that our area has more seismic activity than I thought it had. Nowhere near as active as much of the west coast, but more active than much of the country. Food for thought as is a better understanding of the manner one structural component interacts with others.

With what I now know I have a remedial project planned. Not because something is failing, but because I see deficiencies in my design. This has been on my mind, in the back of my mind, for months now. It’s not something I’m looking forward to doing because it is not an easy project. Lots of crawling in the dirt and rocks under the cabin, an awkward place at best. There are other things I’d rather do, other things that would be much more fun. I’ll get into details of this later, another time, another place.

So what’s the point of this treatise?  If I had not been blind to the obvious, not been bull headed, I would have most likely built on a different foundation. I’m still not absolutely sure what I’d use if I was doing this today; maybe/probably a PWF as that would minimize the concrete work.

Not everyone reading this will agree with me, but there ya’ go. Like it or not it is my opinion that observing the prescriptive practices of the IRC has more benefits than possible disadvantages. Some may think I've sold out to "the man", that I have been brainwashed. Not so, say I. They are entitled to their opinion, though.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline John Raabe

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #38 on: April 24, 2012, 06:53:25 AM »
Nice write-up of your story Don. You built a cabin that is solid and appropriate to your knowledge and experience at the time. Since then you have gained more knowledge and experience and would do things differently if you built it now.

That is certainly true of my own house and probably every house that has ever been built by a thinking-learning builder.

This is also going to be true of the thinking-learning builders here at this site. They will look back at their projects ten years from now and find things they would do differently. All of us will do that.

It is perhaps humbling to keep in mind that we all build with the knowledge and skills we have available to us AT THE TIME. And, this knowledge and our opinions will keep changing.

Sharing our opinions and suggestions in order to help others find their right way to build is one of the unique features of this forum. However, I don't think there is one building solution here that is right for all projects or all builders.
None of us are as smart as all of us.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #39 on: April 25, 2012, 04:54:25 AM »
Don et al,

Great confession and while I haven't done the reading and research you have, it far from my own thoughts on my foundation.  However, I've often said (and probably more then once here) that 'Liberty is the Freedom to Fail'.

I'm not completely opposed to building codes (though some may be shocked to hear that), what I am opposed to, however, is forcing a people (who are therefore not free) to follow them at all times in all cases.

Liberty/Freedom is something not to take lightly, lest you lose it and my constant fight is to save it from those who would willingly give it up for a little safety.

Here is my personal opinion:  You, as a private and free citizen, should be left to build (and do) as you please as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.  This means that if your post and pier foundation will not infringe on my 'Life, Liberty and Property' then you should be free to build it.  Period.

Those who enter your cabin are free to do so but entering any home or structure that you personally have not built takes a certain amount of faith and while all the codes in the world might be enough to ensure a strong structure it matters not if the inspector turns a blind eye.

In the end it's about freedom or the lack thereof.  I beleive in freedom and doing so means that I respect your right to fail and I ask that you respect mine.  This means that forcing me to use 2x6 walls is taking away my freedom.

As for the question raised (perhaps by Don or Scott) about my R38 floor etc let me say this:  I called the county inspector before doing any work and asked what I would be required to do if I wanted to build a cabin, a hunting cabin, an off grid cabin in the woods and I was told:

1.  No plumbing unless you have a septic tank fit for a 1500 square foot home.
2.  Destroy well if you do not put in septic.
3.  Septic will be required EVEN if you use a Composting Toilet and Grey Water drain system.
4.  State codes may allow a 900 gallon septic for grey water drains but the county does not.
5.  Floors my be 2x12 framed and R38 insulated, walls must be 2x6....I never got to roofs.
6.  Stoves must be low particulate

The list went on and on.

I questioned all of this and was told that the state didn't have regulations specifically for cabins so the county came up with the following:  you can get a 60 day use permit but must build to code and cannot stay longer then 60 days in the year (as if they would know).

I tried to explain time and again that I was just building a small, very small, cabin that wouldn't have utilities etc etc etc....I was told 'doesn't matter' it must be approved, inspected etc etc.

IN the end I discovered that NO ONE in my area has a permitted or inspected cabin or home.  Perhaps this is why.

In the end, I don't disagree that many codes are good and wise and when it comes to structural codes I'm certain they are all well thought out with significant engineering behind them.  However, I am opposed to you or anyone else forcing me to use them if I choose not to on my own land for my own dwelling.

Freedom is my right to fail.  Please don't take that away from me.
Erik

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #40 on: April 25, 2012, 05:30:42 AM »
Just one thing, or maybe it's two. You mention 2x6 walls and 2x12 floors repeatedly. This was addressed before regarding the 2x6 walls, and the same thing applies to the 2x12 floor. It is a misinterpretation or simplification of sorts and is not true.

The inspector did not know what he was talking about and at the time you took him at his word because you trusted him.

Structural code state 2x4 would be accepted for the walls. Period. (We covered this somewhere before) Code would also accept less than 2x12 for a floor your size. (I'm lazy, don't want to bother looking it up).  The energy code adopted by WA states walls need R20 or 13+5 insulation. This is where confusion about wall framing stems from. The footnote explains 13+5 as... h. "13+5" means R-13 cavity insulation plus R-5 insulated sheathing. If structural sheathing covers 25 percent or less of the exterior, insulating sheathing is not required where structural sheathing is used. If structural sheathing covers more than 25 percent of exterior, structural sheathing shall be supplemented with insulated sheathing of at least R-2.    For the floor the energy code calls for R30 (don't know where the 38 came from?  ???). BUT, it also goes on to state "g. Or insulation sufficient to fill the framing cavity. R-19 is minimum."     An inspector or BO stating that 2x6 and 2x12 are needed is plain wrong. Taking a short cut maybe, thinking that the only way to get the insulation numbers is to use larger framing members. Not true.

I think one must know the regulations at least as well as the enforcement people should, as we all know; nobody is perfect.

So if you had done your homework you could have correctly challenged the inspector on that.  I don't know about the other items.

http://energycode.pnl.gov/EnergyCodeReqs/?state=Washington

Maybe some readers see this as nit picking between what code calls for what. But I see it as very different as there are different solutions to the issue of reaching a certain R value.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2012, 06:16:31 AM by MountainDon »
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #41 on: April 25, 2012, 09:17:53 AM »
My experience with State officials has taught me that (in their words) "we interpret the code to mean this" and you can't argue.

My wife ran a day care for 16 years.  It was state licensed.  When she challenged them on several items they shut her down.

You see the problem isn't always the code (something I've said repeatedly) but the politics behind it or enforcing it.  In the case of the DEL they would say something like:  You cannot have an accordion gate -- where the code doesn't even specify this at all.  Then when you challenge them they investigate you for that or for something else...it goes on an on.

Eventually you either spend thousands on lawyers or you give up -- my wife gave up (wasn't worth the thousands she'd need to fight them in court)....I see the same thing here.  Sure, you're most likely right and my 2x6 R19 floor may well be within 'code' but remember the guy I was talking to is the same one that told me I'd have to destroy a well (that was permitted I might add) because I didn't want to have a septic tank but preferred a composting toilet and small grey water drain.

Again, the codes might be just fine in many cases but when you give someone the power to enforce them and make them the law then all sorts of possibilities can occur.

My experience, I repeat, is that fighting bureaucrats is often a losing battle no matter how right you are.  Therefore, in my Libertarian mind, the solution is simple:  don't give them the power to enforce the codes and don't make the codes the law unless they are specifically there to protect someone elses right to life, liberty and property.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #42 on: April 25, 2012, 01:19:30 PM »
It's interesting that you mention the accordion gate, which I take to be those expansion gates made from criss-cross wood slats, somewhat like a lattice. Karen's been in the child care business continuously since 1985. We had one of those gates for a while and one day were advised it was not considered safe. The top points make good hooks for children to get caught on. Something a child could possibly get hung up on and choke. IMO, that was not too likely and there was no specific regulation banning them in our rule book either. It did sound reasonable though, so I made a cap rail for the top points and that was fine with "them". Other than that in the 27 years we've operated the inspectors hardly ever find anything to complain about. And when they do it's something fairly minor and easily rectified. As much as they annoy me with the paperwork required they pretty much leave us alone except for the annual "surprise" inspection; that usually happens the month before license renewal.



So we'll have to agree to disagree on some matters regarding codes and rules. No rules doesn't work in a world crowded with people. Some don't make sense in some situations. That may be better than having a myriad collection of special rules for every contingency.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2012, 05:18:45 PM by MountainDon »
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #43 on: April 26, 2012, 04:34:06 AM »
Some inspectors are great, some come along with a chip on their shoulders and watch out!  The Jack Boots come out.  Trust me.

I'm no anarchist Don so no worries there!  I don't for a minute believe in no rules at all.  The problem I have is with excessive rules.  Even the founders realized that they had to have SOME rules and created the Constitution because the Articles of Confederation didn't work because they didn't have enough power to enforce rules etc behind them (in a nutshell).

But the problem today isn't a lack of rules, it's excessive rules.

One of the founders (perhaps Franklin) said that people wanted a King and frankly, today, I see that clearly.  Sure they don't see it that way but they didn't in his time either.

Offline Don_P

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #44 on: April 26, 2012, 11:24:41 AM »
One thing you learn early on in dealing with folks, if they say "trust me" you had better look more carefully at what they are slipping by you. Not a personal slight, just an observation of a tactic. Lets look at that statement and the old sarge that made it. Your demeanor would require a strong response if you are in the wrong. I can hang some people with a soft rope, others need a little crowbar around the skull to get the rope past their big head. You aren't going to like it, but that doesn't make you right or them a jack booted thug. I'm the same way, it takes drive to get things done. It also takes a powerful jerk to tug that personality back into the road if it gets off track. And lord knows we have all met some jerks with power.

Quote
My experience, I repeat, is that fighting bureaucrats is often a losing battle no matter how right you are.  Therefore, in my Libertarian mind, the solution is simple:  don't give them the power to enforce the codes and don't make the codes the law unless they are specifically there to protect someone elses right to life, liberty and property.

We agree, that is what those laws are there for.

My Dad was abroad volunteering to help some folks out. The host family he was staying with lived in the town on a small plot. The infrastructure had failed, no sewers, no water, no refrigeration. And no minor regulations. The family like all the others around had improvised. There was a dug well and a privy out back, just like the neighbors on each side. They had planted or kept small livestock on every available inch. The well refilled after every rain. 

Jarhead, if your toilet facilities pollute my well, we are going to have a problem. The man that demanded you seal your well until you had approved sanitary facilities, is a neighborhood hero. If you want to put in an alternative, get it passed through legal channels because no I don't have any reason to believe that you or any fly by night supplier know what you are doing, or that you will, or will be able to, accept responsibility when you pollute the local water supply. The laws are rightfully there to protect life and property.

One of the things that came out of FDR's administration was a push to get everyone to use an outhouse and to wear shoes. Poor rural folk were picking up parasites that affected them for life. Studies were done on how far a worm could travel without finding a host before perishing, standard outhouse designs and depths were drawn up. That sounds to me as if great consideration and experience has been brought to bear on doing things their way. On the other hand we have those who's only qualifications appear to be that nobody can tell them anything. There is no knowledge or experience behind what they are doing, it has great potential for affecting others and they want free reign. That is exactly the person who screws up things for everyone else and causes excessive regulation to protect others from their intentional and well practiced ignorance. We can blame one group for regulating, or the other for needing regulating.

My state chose not to protect our section of the New River, the states on both sides did. As a result the floodplain was developed heavily. There was no infrastructure, the lots are on their own for water and sewer. Many are quite small with campers. I can pretend that all these folks are not polluting the river but the water quality takes a real hit passing through our state. The water that leaves here supplies towns all the way to New Orleans. Should we protect those people or simply consider it their poor judgement for living downstream.

I am speaking about building codes in general not just wells and water, that simply provided a good example. Most novices do not know enough to build a safe structure that will not harm others without someone looking over their shoulder. If we are talking about true free thinkers here, there is a 99% chance that this is uninsured and the community will get stuck footing the bills for anything that goes wrong. That same libertine mind will not allow the person to acknowledge that they have wronged another or have any duty to right that trespass, the blinders go to full flaps.  By the same token I also do not really think it is a good idea to trust me to build you a safe structure without having someone looking over my shoulder. I don't need to agree with every detail to agree with that overall idea. I don't enjoy dealing with inspectors. I have spent a healthy chunk of the past two days dealing with one.  Work within the confines of what you're dealing with, there is a 99% chance that the guy on the other side of the counter is human, I probably should have stopped and talked for another hour or two but I doubt I'm the messenger he'll listen to, the goal is to proceed. He gets paid the same whether I want to argue about physics or work.

We have laws and methods of redress. We can tell yarns and complain about it but unless we are actually pursuing changes, I can tune in pros at those arts on eight different stations. You can act on your beliefs and change the world, and when you complete that task the world may be a better place. Start a thread on code change proposals, recruit support. Fighting bureacrats is a losing battle? I haven't been invited to any fight. Are you going to win with an army of one and no clue about the terrain? Don't go bear hunting with a switch.

Anyway, I live and work in the real world, the world that is, not the world as I would like it. Until that time the goal in my mind revolves more around how to complete a given task in the world that is. For most of what we talk about regarding code, structure, the easy path is to build prescriptively. If you wish to build something that is outside of code the law simply asks that the non prescriptive elements be shown capable of safely supporting all design loads. That normally involves an engineer, the alternative path is rarely the cheapest route. If you choose wisely, they will be well paid to err conservatively . The easy path is the tried and true, that is why those prescriptive minimums were put in the codebook. Yes you can propose new prescriptive procedures to get time proven methods out of the engineer track and into the prescriptive one. ICF's, Steel joists, Log construction, timberframe is working on it, feel free to try to draft a prescription for pier and beam based on fact.

 If you want to think outside the box that's fine but you do need to show that it is safe within the community, and yes, even when you color outside the lines, you are a member of the community.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #45 on: April 26, 2012, 12:31:20 PM »
Nonsense.

A Composting toilet does not pollute the ground water let alone get into a 200' deep well encased in iron.

A composting toilet, at worst, allows urine to drain into a french cess pit which must be installed  near the unit for the occasional overflow from heavy usage.  Otherwise the water waste is dehydrated in the unit or evaporate.  The units are environmentally safe and in this case 200 feet from the well.

In the same location I'm authorized to install a privy CLOSER to the well if I were to choose to do so AND could keep the well.  So exactly how is using a composting toilet going to be worse then that?

Furthermore, I have NO NEIGHBORS within 1/2 mile of me as the crow flies so again, no chance of polluting someones water with my composted waste -- which by the way is allowed to be used to fertilize trees.

It is simply nonsense to insist that I destroy a well because I don't want to use a Privy or a septic tank and it's also nonsense to insist that I install a septic tank in order to keep the well just because I want to plumb water into the cabin and use a grey water drain system -- which again, is environmentally safe.

FDR was one of the countries worst presidents ever (Obama is working hard to change that) and the loss of Liberty under him was deplorable and still impacts us today.

In the end, my friend, I agree that if you can prove that anything I am doing is going to affect or restrict someones right to life, liberty or property then I'm all ears.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #46 on: April 26, 2012, 12:58:33 PM »
Quote
Fighting bureacrats is a losing battle?

A few years ago the state department that licenses child care facilities in NM came out with some proposed rules changes. One in particular made little sense and would have directly affected Karen's preschool in a manner that woulkd have cost us time and money. She got her thoughts organized and talked on the phone to people in the department. She had a couple conversations with the head of the department and presented her case verbally and then in writing. In the end they modified the rule. That was a win for the little guy, and she did it all herself.   :)

Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.

Offline Don_P

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #47 on: April 26, 2012, 01:58:11 PM »
Quote
In the end, my friend, I agree that if you can prove that anything I am doing is going to affect or restrict someones right to life, liberty or property then I'm all ears.

I've already done that.  However, the burden of proof is not upon me. The burden of proof is not upon the state. Their methods are time proven. You desire to do something that has potential to harm, it has apparently not been cleared with your state, the burden of proof is upon you and if there is potential for groundwater contamination the well is sealed. I agree with that.

The toilet is apparently not approved. You can work to rectify that.
Apparently the privy has gotten that approval...the prescriptive path, probably cheaper too.
Or we can simply do it your way, everyone is free to poop wherever they please. Not what you were saying? Precisely what you were saying, their is law or anarchy, you advocate anarchy whenever law is disagreeable.

No neighbors... ahh we have different laws for the well landed. Is that line drawn at 1/4 acre, 10, or 100. That approach probably isn't going to sit well with the common folk. And it doesn't work in the real world. I didn't have neighbors 25 years ago either. I'm not seeing that approach as the solution.

The point regarding FDR was that in that short amount of time we have forgotten how wicked bad sanitation can be. If one does not understand the subject and its history, why things are done the way they are done, should one be given free reign? I've watched 2 episodes of Marcus Welby, I think I can get to your appendix without too much trouble, trust me? In this regard I do not trust the you's of this world and so I do agree with the state that some protections are in order. The system is largely working, it is flawed but much less than what I see you advocating. If it isn't working for you, feel free to work for change.

I cannot prove anything to a closed mind and have no need. We've had this dicussion before. There are others reading and there has been much to dispel. Now, do you think for one moment the jarheads of this world are going to feel in any way responsible if they do cause another harm... not voluntarily. In that world the burden of proof will fall upon the victim won't it.  Not personal, it just happens to apply every time.

Offline OlJarhead

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #48 on: April 27, 2012, 06:09:51 AM »
You really don't have any idea what Liberty is do you my friend?

I'm sorry you feel the citizen has to prove everything to the State -- that's terrifying to me that anyone would think that way.  Indeed the very fact that the Privy is approved should demonstrate to you that this is ridiculous.

The very thought that you are not free to live you life without being 'ruled' by the state is proof of my statement that we are not free and that people want a king (you sir, want a king).

In a free country I would be FREE to put in my Composting Toilet (which is far safer then a privy -- seriously) and if for some reason I did it so poorly (like say dumping my waste into a pond) that I contaminated the water that others drink then, sir, in that free state I would be charged with something like "Contaminating the ground water" or whatever and if indeed I was in the wrong a jury of my peers would convict me.

However, sir, in your state controlled world you would instead regulate your citizens into compliance with every command the bureaucrats of the state deem required regardless of how idiotic (that's where we are today).

As for MD's wife and the state -- that's wonderful Don, but don't assume that the entire world works that way.  Doing so is naive and foolish.  Yes of course there are good people in government and government bureaucracies and those are the ones your wife worked with.  However, my good friend (because I think of you that way) it is NOT how all of them are and it takes only ONE to take away the freedom of others.

Try this:  pull out your codes, find something you've been accused of violating and challenge it to those people.  IF they are good and decent people that guess what?  You'll win.  If they aren't and they are power tripping (which so many of them do -- need I pull of something off the net?  Seriously?) and you will find yourself in the fight of your life over a stupid gate, or toothpaste in the bathroom or who knows what else?

Fact is a free people wouldn't be required to have a state licensed day care.  No sir, a free people would simply run their day care and god forbid free parents would either choose or not choose to use them and it would be the parents responsibility to make sure the daycare met their standards -- not the states.

Building codes are fine, forcing them to be used by all and giving low level bureaucrats the power to force them to be used is not.  It's really that simple but it's clear that some do not understand what Franklin was saying -- and that my friends is very very sad.

You've given up Liberty for Safety and you will have neither and deserve neither.

Offline MountainDon

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Re: 01 - Why Do We Have Building Codes?
« Reply #49 on: April 27, 2012, 01:07:40 PM »
Quote
....or toothpaste in the bathroom....

Hmmm. ??? Talk about thread drift.  ;D  Should I?    ???

OK. Why not?   

Toothpaste tastes good, or at least okay. The manufacturers go out of their way to offer tasty toothpaste, no baking soda and salt yuck taste!  Kids will eat anything that tastes good to them; not all kids but some are more adventuresome than others. Kids are also curious, many have no qualms about having a peek at what may be in the drawer or cabinet. Been there, dealt with that. Toothpaste has fluoride added. Most do anyways, except for ones like those special ones they make without fluoride for kids; training toothpaste I think they call it. Reason? It's possibly not good for kids to ingest much fluoride into their tiny bodies. Okay, there's a whole separate debate on fluoride, either you believe in poison or you don't believe it is an issue, real or potential and I "wishy-washed" on whether or not it is or is not a problem. My toothpaste tube has a warning on the back. Something about if more than a normal amount is swallowed you should contact medical care or the poison control center. And I believe it states children under 6 should be supervised. I remember a tube of Crest I once had that actually had the word poison on the back; small print. So I guess the child care rule makers added toothpaste to the list of things like drain cleaner, that should not be accessible to children. It sort of seems like regulation overkill, but on the other hand it does make some sense. So we have another rule on the books. Good or bad idea? I don't like excessive numbers of rules, but I think a reasonable person can see the point. Maybe I'm wrong on that. ???

Place me squarely on the side of the brainwashed if you will, but I can see the reasoning behind a toothpaste rule when it comes to home child care rules. But that's silly libertiless me.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn’t mean it is good design.