Up to Code
By Dan Maginn / Published by Dwell

When planning her family’s new house in the Olde Seahorse Farmes sub­division, Penny McWhistle hired a talented architect who was familiar with the residential building code and the zoning ordinance adopted by her city’s planning department. She and the architect quickly developed a program to suit her needs. Because the architect had a strong understanding of the site’s constraints, he was able to abide by the numerous setback and height restrictions out­lined in the zoning ordinance. He developed a full set of construction documents, and after the contractor came back with favorable pricing, he dropped off three sets of the CDs with the city’s plan review and permitting department.

After about a week, the building official reviewed the CDs and, finding them to comply with the minimum standards outlined in the building code, she issued a building permit, which the architect picked up, paid for and delivered to the contractor. The contractor had developed a good relationship with the department over the years. He was always well prepared, friendly, and direct in his interactions with them, which they appreciated. In fact, he had even presented them with a handsomely framed enlargement of the Termite Infestation Probability Map one Christmas, which was prominently displayed in their office.

During construction, the contractor called in the building inspector at different stages to review progress. The inspector reviewed the foundation; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing rough-ins; fire-stopping, insulation, and other critical work scopes. Unlike most inspectors, who pride themselves on being helpful and fair, he was a mirth­less man who derived satisfaction from finding deficiencies in the houses he inspected. One of the deficiencies he noted on Penny’s house came during the final inspection, on an interior stair guardrail. Wielding his shiny chrome measuring tape like a pair of nunchaku, he noted that the gap between the vertical rods that formed the guardrail was four and one-eighth inches, a clear violation of the four-inch-sphere rule. The contractor noted with great sincerity that he would have his right-hand man Kenny fix this egregious violation immediately.

After all the deficiencies were duly corrected, the building inspector dolefully issued a certificate of occupancy. Penny and her family were overjoyed, and they moved into the house later that week.


Dan Maginn


Dan Maginn is an AIA-member architect who lives and carpools to work with his wife, Keri, in Kansas City. Although he and his partners at El Dorado Inc. are extremely interested in promoting sustainable design on all scales, he does not consider himself to be an "eco-warrior." Instead he prefers the term "eco-tainment specialist"

Everybody loves feedback. Be the first to add a comment.
The author will be notified whenever new comments are added.
Dwell Life © 2016Download our iOS App

We’re inviting you to join us to create a place where we can inspire and share with each other every day, collaborate on collections, projects and stories, ask questions, discuss and debate ideas.

Log in