Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How National Building Codes Will Bridge America’s Intelligence Gap.


Our Capacity To Develop A National 21st Century Mixed Energy Use Brain Trust.


Have you ever asked yourself just exactly why you were born either extremely intelligent or extremely stupid?


I mean, think about it!

Here we all are as Americans dealing collectively with an issue that has consumed virtually every one of us for almost forty years and virtually none of us have any answers as to why in fact we have not been able to build a truly sustainable 21st century mixed energy use industrial economy thus far. As there are many arguments over why, the bottom line issue which boils down to asking ourselves why we were born either extremely stupid or extremely intelligent probably should be discussed.

As a carpenter who loves working with wood, who loves to take a piece of wood as small as an eight foot two by four and turn it into a variety of end products, I consider myself as being someone who is intelligent. As an architectural designer, quite capable of drafting a floor plan, a site plan, elevation drawings, etc., I also consider myself as being intelligent. As someone who has spent his life living and working in buildings, I can comfortably state that I have become somewhat aware of the fact that the hundreds of residential, commercial, manufacturing, medical and educational environments    that I’ve been in while experiencing life have all been designed, engineered and built by intellegent people. As I am very artistic and my artistic expression spills over into all aspects of interior design, landscape design, fabric and textile design, lighting design and so forth, I can in stating that I possess these talents, also state that I am very intelligent. While all of this is very true of me, and all of this is equally true of everyone else, it should be fairly obvious that with all of our collective national creativity, none of us should in any manner whatsoever, be experiencing anything other than continued economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, this is not the case and as it is not, however I may define my intelligence, or. how others define their own has little bearing on the fact that collectively as a nation, we are stupid.

As the reason why this is so clearly has to do with the fact that there are no set of organizational laws in place to enable the economic prosperity of intellegent 21st century, mixed energy use industrial development we all dream of to indeed flourish, looking honestly and comprehensively at these laws might be to our mutual national benefit.

The laws I am speaking about are the laws that regulate just exactly how a building is built. These laws are of course, defined as building codes. Building codes essentially state that before one puts a roof on a house, the walls that support that roof should probably be built first. Building codes are common sense benchmarks that enable both intelligent and stupid people to find common ground within the dialogue required to assure a certain sense of uniform quality goes in to the entire construction process.

As building codes have been in place for quite some time, indeed throughout the greater part of our 20th century industrial history, adherence to these codes enables among other things, a certain sense of industrial conformity which in turn enables or assures a certain sense of economic growth which in turn enables a certain continuity of social dialogue related to that growth and conformity. Today in our America, there is virtually no conformity when it comes to national building codes. Even though these codes do exist and in fact are somewhat well written, the lack of conformity I am speaking about has everything to do with the manner any one of literally tens of thousands of American communities go about either enforcing them, ignoring them altogether or putting forth the effort to educate the entire population of a given community as to why these building codes are so important. As there is not this unified nationwide effort to educate, my ability to claim any form of expertise in the industry I have been professionally involved in for four decades is as inconsequential as the expertise of a young man of barely twenty who has never held a hammer in his hand but none the less is compelled to spend his weekend sanding the floors of his ancient Chicago bungalow.

This particular young man contacted me recently for advice on how to refinish his floors. Being in the trades for as long as I have, it was fairly easy for me to give him such advice and in doing so, point out to him, all the little nuances he would encounter and have to address over the course of his working weekend. As I am writing this essay on the same weekend he is refinishing his floors, I won’t know how well he did on this project until the weekend is over and he contacts me. Knowing what I know about him and knowing that he is a very intelligent and hard working, detail oriented person, I am certain that his project will have been done well and he will of course be proud of his accomplishments.

The problem however, is that in as much as this young man is intelligent and hard working, he is just as stupid as I am. The reason he is stupid is that he has chosen to refinish the floors of his newly purchased ancient Chicago bungalow before other issues were addressed. As those other issues are clearly monumental in scope and floor refinishing is of course one of the very last steps in a successful whole building renovation, demolishing the walls, completely redoing the plumbing, electrical and HVAC, applying advanced roofing and insulation technologies, integrating a combination of advanced active and passive solar technologies, integrating equally advanced wind cogeneration technologies, applying green interior wall systems, exterior surface and rainwater systems, turning the landscape surrounding his home organic, and affectively integrating a host of 21st century green technologies into his home, his work place environment and the community at large both he and I as well as everyone else who should be involved with this project remain stupid due only to the fact that the laws needed to assure broad spectrum industrial and economic growth of America's building trades, simply aren’t in place anywhere in America.

Having said the above, national building codes with strong emphasis on regional environmental issues, strong emphasis on the research and development of historic building styles, strong emphasis on community based public and private sector education og applied 21st century mixed energy use technologies are, in all honesty, the only tools we have as a nation to move ourselves entirely away from the mindset of national architectural stupidity. As I use the word "stupidity" in my essays quite often, the reason I do is that this is the one word that accurately describes why in fact we in America are so stupid. All of the potential in the world resides in virtually every single one of our minds, but due to the fact that there is no system in place to integrate individual intelligence into the broader spectrum of community intelligence, stupidity reigns. As the adoption of national building codes is for all practical purposes, the very same thing as adopting a national anthem, adopting something all of us find a collective pride in singing, should in the same breath enable us all to find a collective pleasure in building. As what we are talking of building are state of the art homes for our families, we are as well stating within the context of individual home construction, broad spectrum community social and economic development will naturally follow. While all of this might sound hopelessly altruistic and entirely beyond the potential of the average mind, one must remember that there are no average minds in America, there are only brilliant minds stuck in stupid situations that produce far less than average results.

Getting specifically to the point of this essay, community economic growth hinges entirely upon the efforts put forth in a municipality’s code enforcement department. Code enforcement departments in the cities and towns all across America today are ultimately the final determining factors of a community’s overall economic success. Economic development authorities are useless. Chambers of Commerce, useless. Parks and Recreation boards, useless. Arts and Humanities Council’s, useless. Fire and Police Protection Agencies, useless. All segments of traditional municipal government are useless if the buildings and grounds that house the services of these otherwise needed agencies are devoid of 21st century industrial knowledge as that knowledge is applied across the board to every professional business entity even remotely related to the design, engineering, construction and advanced long term environmental management of all buildings and grounds that exist within that community.


Municipal Swimming Pools.
One Argument For The Holistic Development
of 21st Century National Building Codes.


Think about this.

Why is it that of all the municipal swimming pools found in communities all across America, the vast majority of them are uncovered and used only during the summer season? When all that is needed to utilize these facilities year round is to install advanced technology retractable canopies, why aren’t these canopies being built left and right all across America?

The simple answer to this question is that municipal code administrators are stupid. The larger answer to this question is that the reason they are stupid is that they have been told for decades that a public swimming pool is nowhere near as important as the local library or the local school(s). As a child only goes to the swimming pool in the summer when school is out and the local library cuts back its hours, the swimming pool is viewed more as a pacifier for idle and bored children rather than an integral part of that child's year long continueing education. This of course is stupid, as water therapy has been proven through the decades to improve the capacity of those who swim regularly to think clearly, why is it that Americans must shut down their municipal swimming pools during the period of fall, winter and spring when it has been proven in studies for decades, that the human mind grows in leaps and bounds over the course of these seasons in manners that that same human mind does not grow in the summer?

Again, the answer to this question is that we are stupid.


Think about this.

In the summer months that students and teachers are taking off and swimming in swimming pools, most members of the building trades are working. Yet in the coldest winter months when students and teachers are working, many members of the building trades are out of work.

Does the above scenario really make any sense?

What if we were to try the below scenario instead?

As the children are supposed to be taught the science and math that guarantees them among other things, year long employment once their education reaches a certain point, would the construction of retractable municipal swimming pool roofs enable the expansion of a proactive industrial dialog throughout the community which would lead to year long enviromental health and science educational dialogue between the construction worker, the parent, the teacher and student as well as the municipal building code enforcement department? If so, would the teacher, the trades person and the child be that much more equipped to apply that science and math to the broader economic dialogue of the community in general while also being able to swim year round? If on the top of that canopy were solar collectors and beneath that canopy were greenhouses designed to grow starter seedlings for the gardens in the parks surrounding that year round swimming environment, if beneath the canopy were winter classes in urban horticulture, would not the child, the teacher, the parent, the building contractor, the manufacturer of all related technologies and the retailer of all related technologies prosper accordingly?

No matter how one chooses to characterize the plight of our current national economic dilemma, this dilemma remains benchmarked in a stupidity that clearly does not need to exist. As it does exist, this author is firm in his belief that it does so only because we do not have in place in our nation a set of building codes that demand our combined intelligence be entwined with our larger social responsibilities to excel not only in science and math but in the manner we convey scientific and mathmatical information back and forth in an intellegent economic dialogue between all who live and work in our communities.

If I can put this into another perspective, let me put it into the perspective of what I entitle "our nationwide disease of recipricating personal fear".

Within the context of this fear, is the typical homeowner who is seeking to remodel his or her home and must go into the offices of his or her local code enforcement office to apply for a building permit. As that homeowner is often met by an individual who may know far more about the building process than they themselves, and, as is often the case, the homeowner with no knowledge of the building trades has infinite knowledge of accounting, business marketing, law, medicine, public education and so on. As this homeowner’s skills have come from attending schools, gathering degrees in higher education and succeeding in professional fields that have virtually nothing whatsoever to do with swinging a hammer, their fear of going into an office run by people who do have this experience and expertise is often met by the same fear of those who run this office and do not possess higher degrees in the fields the homeowner(s) work in.

Within this whole stupid cycle of one expert in one field being defensive toward another expert in another field, the whole knowledge that could be exchanged during the building permit application process often is not and as a result, the building inspector is left feeling insulted in every bit the same manner as the professional doctor is left feeling ignored. It is within this over arching sense of fear then that the building permit application process is met with the redundancy of our greater national stupidity. But again it does not have to be and the only reason such fear exists is that education devoted to one sector of our economy is not devoted equally to all.

The young man I spoke of earlier contacted me to ask for advice on how to refinish his wood floors. As I was able to give him such advice based upon the fact that he knew my knowledge on the subject was extensive, our relationship did not begin at this point. Instead, it began at the level of what I am writing about in this essay and all others contained within my blog.

His background is in professional community economic development. He is not a carpenter and probably never will be a carpenter, but he is an activist with a remakably detailed structural mind who in all likelihood will someday be a member of the US Congress or Senate. This is the beauty of our American life. When intelligent people come together for the singular purpose of breaking down barriers of our own stupid making, knowledge seemingly useless in and of our own isolated world, expands in a remarkable manner when it includes the knowledge of others.

Incorporation of national building codes, incorporation of far reaching industrial dialogue benchmarked by dedicated enforcement of these codes is virtually the only tool we in America have to move ourselves away from the redundancy that keeps us stupid.


Mike Patrick Dahlke



For further reading on this subject, please visit my essay on: "Solyndra, Brilliant Technology Lost In the Abyss of Poorly Structured Federal Energy Legislation".


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