Cayman’s construction industry will face a new set of building rules in February as government planners move away from outdated “Southern Standard” regulations to a new International Building Code.
While some of the changes may increase costs, others are likely to reduce them, producing a largely revenue-neutral set of codes that the industry hopes will revitalize the struggling sector, Cayman’s third-largest, and long beset by a sagging economy.
The move is expected to update 14-year-old Southern Standard Building Codes Congress International, streamlining many provisions that are no longer relevant and offering flexibility to contractors working under varying regional conditions.
“We have been using the SSBCCI since about 1999,” said Director of Planning Haroon Pandohie. “I don’t think, actually, it exists anymore.”
The new International Building Code, he said combines three US “legacy” codes: the National Building Code, developed by the Building Officials Code Administrators International and used on the East Coast and Midwest of the US; the Uniform Building Code, developed by the International Conference of Building Officials and used on the West Coast and much of the Midwest; and the Standard Building Code, developed by the Southern Building Code Congress International and used across the southeast U.S.
In the mid-‘90s, the three groups combined their efforts, forming the International Code Council to create a set of broadly unified regulations. Completing the project in 2000, the Code Council dropped further development of the legacy codes.
The new code, Mr. Pandohie said, will “cover all regions, allow you to tailor it with local amendments,” and include 14 sets of international codes covering plumbing, fire, gas, energy conservation, mechanics and others.
“We are moving towards a February implementation,” the director said. “We have already started training courses on it, and are now focusing on staff and their professional development, getting them prepared.”
Each staffer must sit a certification exam, ensuring familiarity with – and consistent application of – the codes. The previous quarterly exam, he said, had been only a couple of weeks ago, in late August, with the next scheduled for November.
The International Building Code’s February introduction is likely to be accompanied by a new effort to activate the old Builders Law, originally passed in 2007 and set for implementation in 2008, but never promulgated because of dissension within the industry and a lack of uniform regulations.
Both Mr. Pandohie and president of the Cayman Contractors Association Heber Arch were hopeful the dual events would help spark a recovery in the sector.
“We are going to have a new building code, probably in February,” Mr. Arch said, vowing to reach out to smaller contractors who had felt left out of the Builders Law. “Once [the new code] is in place, I think the contractors will fall into place.”
Mr. Pandohie said “a lot of the little guys have gone dormant,” waiting for an uptick in the industry. “It would be good to get [the new] system in place and get the economic recovery going.”
Both the director and leading local architect Burns Conolly anticipated few new costs as part of the International Building Code.
The code, Mr. Conolly said, “is up to date and used all over the U.S. They have stopped updating the SSBCCI. I don’t think you can even get a copy now.
“It’s probably less restrictive in some areas, maybe a little more in others, but it won’t have a big impact. It’s just up to modern codes,” he said.
The new code recognized developing technology, building materials and new construction methods, Mr. Pandohie said, and costs “probably balance themselves out.”
As an example, he pointed to construction of fire walls: “They call for a fire wall to be good for two hours, but as we get more experience, we may find that one hour is sufficient.
“Accessibility has grown,” he said, “entrances and better building materials” have proliferated, all affecting costs.
“We are going to see efficiency gains, and with the training and certification and engineering methods, we will all be on the same page. There won’t be any disconnect between us and the people we are talking to,” he said, “and maybe with the efficiency gains, we can redirect some of our resources.”