Building Code – Part 1


Building codes, those onerous rules governing construction, are perhaps the oldest governmental regulations we have. The earliest known building code —the Code of Hammurabi, king of the Babylonian Empire, written in 2200 B.C.—assessed penalties if a building was constructed improperly. Hammurabi’s code said that if a builder builds a house and does not make its construction firm, and the house collapses causing the death of the owner, that builder shall be put to death.

The first building codes in the United States, established in 1625, addressed fire safety and specified materials for roof coverings. In 1630, Boston outlawed chimneys made with wood and thatch roof coverings. In the late 1770s George Washington recommended that height and area limitations be imposed on wood frame buildings in his plans for the District of Columbia. In 1788, the first known formal building code was written in the United States (in German) in Old Salem, (now Winston-Salem) North Carolina.

Today’s codes and ordinances don’t contain a death penalty but the purpose is the same: to protect the public, reduce potential hazards, provide building standards, and lower construction and insurance costs.

A familiar term, “building permits,” is merely a system of fees to help defray the costs of administrating and enforcing building codes. These permits are agreements between the City of Oakley and the applicant whereby the applicant agrees to follow all codes and the City agrees to inspect the construction to ensure that all codes are followed.

There are several reasons why you should get a permit:

  • Your home is an investment. If your project does not comply with applicable codes, the value of your investment could be reduced.
  • Property insurers may not cover work done without permits.
  • To ensure compliance with zoning regulations.
  • If you sell a home or building that has been modified without a permit, you may be required to demolish or remove the modification, or pay for costly repairs. Under State Realty Law an owner has to disclose if work has been performed without a permit.
  • If an inspector comes across work being done without a permit a ‘Stop Work Order’ will be issued. If the work does not comply with the zoning or building codes you may be required to restore the structure to its original state.
  • By obtaining permits, complying with code requirements and having all required inspections, you are ensuring the safety, health and welfare of yourself, your family and/or the public.

Generally speaking a building permit is required when any structural change or major alteration is made to an existing building or when any new construction is undertaken.

Oakley’s Building Division is responsible for the administration of building codes and the issuance of building permits. To start the process a permit application must be completed. The application is filled out by the property owner or a California Licensed Contractor. Some permits such as those required to replace a water heater, a furnace changeout or re-roofing can be obtained “over the counter”. Permits for room additions, decks, swimming pools, sheds, patio covers and similar projects require plans.

The combination and number of plans required depends on the type of application. However, you can typically expect the following plans to be required: A Plot Plan – a diagram of a lot as seen from above showing the outline of all existing and proposed structures. A Floor Plan – a diagram showing the location of rooms, doors, windows and type and uses of all rooms. An Elevation Drawing – the elevation drawing shows the exterior sides of an existing or proposed building. It should be drawn to scale and show proposed colors. Photographs may be substituted for elevations of existing buildings. A Foundation Plan – the foundation plan is similar to the floor plan but also shows the footings and foundations as if they were exposed. Framing Plans – plans for ceiling, wall and roof framing indicating dimensions, materials, sizes, spacings, and connection details of all structural framing members.

If your unsure if you need a building permit the Building Division is located at 3231 Main Street and can be reached at 625-7001. The next column will go into detail about what happens after the plans are submitted.

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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