Happy Birthday Building Code

This year is the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Barbados National Building Code (BNBC) for use by designers, building contractors and government regulators.  It has largely been ignored by its intended users.  Yet, it contains critical information necessary to design and build a house that should be safe during natural hazards.  Barbados is very fortunate to have had the BNBC at a time when so many expensive houses were being built.  Tragically, almost every house built during this time has been substandard.  The reasons follow.

For hundreds of years, proper building methods were passed from masters to their apprentices.  The last building boom in Barbados started around 1996.  It was fueled by mortgage institutions offering 95% to 100% to build houses.  This created a high demand for artisans in the residential construction sector.

The master artisans were generally working in the commercial and public sectors where quality control inspections by structural engineers were required by law to protect the public from unsafe buildings.  However, in the residential construction sector, such quality control inspections were not required, resulting in inexperienced and unsupervised artisans receiving masters’ wages for substandard work.

The building boom also provided an opportunity for designers to prematurely leave the employment of their mentors and start their own design practises.  However, while the structural designs of their commercial and public building projects were required by law to be designed by engineers, there was no such requirement for their residential projects.

This breakdown in mentor-ship created the perfect storm for houses to be both designed and built in a manner that left them vulnerable to significant damage during earthquakes and hurricanes, and attracting higher than normal maintenance issues.  A visit to any new (post 1996) housing development in Barbados will likely find no houses built with the critical life-saving shear walls as specified in the BNBC.  A visit to any residential construction site will likely find persons bending steel reinforcement to the point of failure, and then installing this useless material in the house.

To design the safety shear walls, and to bend steel safely, costs the designer, building owner, and contractor no additional money.  So why don’t they do such minimally responsible actions?  Incomplete mentoring results in persons not knowing that they do not know what they ought to know.

To address this knowledge deficiency, Walbrent College trains construction supervisors to build safe and durable houses in the Caribbean.  Any person building in the Caribbean should check Walbrent.com to ensure that their contractor’s foreman is among the approximately 250 persons already trained to build properly.

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