Building Codes in History

Building Codes from history form a basis for today's codes

Building Codes in Stone

So, you think it is hard to deal with city hall? Then, you gotta check this out.

The beginning of documented building codes came from Babylonian king Hammurabi, who reigned from 1792 to 1750 B.C. The black stone stele containing the Code of Hammurabi was carved from a single, four-ton slab of black diorite.

Most of us know that dealing with a slab of stone weighing in at four tons, measuring 7 feet 3 inches high, with a circumference at the base of 6 feet 2 inches and at the top of 5 feet 4 inches is no easy feat.

And those of you who deal directly with stone know diorite is difficult to sculpt because it is hard, its composition is variable, and it has a coarse grain size. Leaves you wondering why this type of stone was chosen.

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, this stele is a phallic symbol which Hammurabi used to declare more than the simple fact-of-the-matter laws.

Building Code preamble

I mean, check this out. This is what Hammurabi had the stone masons carve as the preamble to the laws:

“When the lofty Anu, King of the Annunaki and Bel, Lord of Heaven and Earth, he who determines the destiny of the land, committed the rule of all mankind to Marduk, when they pronounced the lofty name of Babylon, when they made it famous among the quarters of the world and in its midst established an everlasting kingdom whose foundations were firm as heaven and earth – at that time Anu and Bel called me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, the worshipper of the gods, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, to enlighten the land and to further the welfare of the people. Hammurabi, the governor named by Bel, am I, who brought about plenty and abundance.”

Hell—low! Ego much?

And, remember I noted above that this stone is hard to carve. It isn’t likely Hammurabi was trying to make life difficult for those carving the laws into stone. It is more likely Hammurabi was doing his best to make it difficult for anyone to pick up a “stone eraser” and change the law. So yeah, there is the difference between “let’s do it this way for now,” and “sorry buddy, this stuff is carved in stone.”

The down and dirty of the Building Code

While there are a lot of other laws on the stele, this is a short list of the laws we would construe as building code. (With my thoughts and notes following in parentheses.)

  1. If a builder builds a house for someone and completes it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface. (Area measures are based on the sar, which is one square nindan or about 36 square meters. That’s about 387.50078 square feet if you’re wondering.)

229 If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then the builder shall be put to death. (Doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room here. Like, never mind trying to blame the subs!)

230 If it kill the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death. (So, I guess we’re just assuming the builder has a son. And, if he didn’t, I’m not sure where daughters might fit into the picture. Kind of makes me glad – again – I’m a girl.)

231 If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house. (Rather than eye-for-eye it looks as if, when it came to slaves, it was good enough to provide value-for-value. Although you do have to wonder if it was the less-than-attentive slave who caused the “falling in” in the first place.)

And there is more

232 If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that is ruined, and in as much as he did not construct properly this house which he build and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means. (And, he darn well better hope he gets it right this time! Although, it could have been worse – see laws 229, 230, and 231)

233 If a builder build a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it, if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means. (Kind of puts the kibosh on today’s nonsensical business “wisdom” of fail fast, fail often.)

Of course, Hammurabi’s isn’t the only ancient documented set of laws we know of. Yet, it is often touted as the first to have guidelines for contractors.

Building Codes in a newly formed country

In 1788, the Constitution of the United States of America was working its way through the ratification process one state at a time. Georgia became the fourth state to ratify on the second of January. By June 21st New Hampshire provided the needed ninth ratification and the Constitution went into effect. (It wasn’t until May 29, 1790, that Rhode Island voted to ratify the document. It was the last of the original 13 colonies to join the United States.)

In June of 1788, Old Salem (now Winston-Salem) North Carolina adopted the first known building code in the United States. Yet, confusing matters just a bit, North Carolina didn’t ratify the Constitution until November 21, 1789.

If you check the Constitution, you’ll find there is no official language mandated in the United States. Yet, it is intriguing that in a (mostly) English speaking nation, that the first building code was written in German.

The Building Code of New Salem

You can find an introduction to and a translated copy of the Code of New Salem here.

Go check it out. It is rather short – I mean, there are only 11 Building Regulations in the document. I know! Right?

And, I love the preamble:

“We are not going to discuss here the rules of the art of building as a whole, but only those rules which relate to the order and way of building in our community. It often happens, due to ill- considered planning, that neighbors are molested and sometimes even the whole community suffers. For such reasons, in well-ordered communities, rules have been set up. Therefore our brotherly equality and the faithfulness which we have expressed for each other necessitates that we agree to some rules and regulations which shall be basic for all construction in our community so that no one suffers damage or loss because of careless construction by his neighbor, and it is a special duty of the Town Council to enforce such rules and regulations.”

Beware of peeping neighbors

The tenth regulation in which there is mention of “peeping neighbors” as well as instruction concerning fences and window placement is perhaps my favorite. Here it is in its entirety.

“10. Since experience has taught us that so many complaints and quarrels and damage can arise from access between lots, so that often one cannot enjoy his own piece of land and work on it, it is mandatory that henceforth every lot must be completely fenced in. No gates or openings shall be left for communication except with the knowledge and permission of the community government. A house that is placed near the side line of a lot shall not have any windows that look into the neighbor’s yard and in general all gable windows shall be well considered as to whether they are necessary, so that the aforementioned molesting can be avoided.

For the lower floor there is not too much objection because of the fences, and in kitchens and service porches only high windows can be used anyway. However, a common rule cannot be fixed and decisions must be made from one case to the next. There are no objections at all to windows facing the street. The people will have to take care of peeping neighbors in the usual way.”

So yeah, today’s codes are much more complex. Yet, it is in these early codes where we find the concepts of standards, zoning, and enforcement that have reached down to our present-day building codes. Think about this the next time you’re dealing with permits, inspections, and all things code.


Schulte and Schulte provides Accounting and advisory board level Strategic Counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors. You can learn more about us here.

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5 Features You Must Rock in Your Construction Business

Rock Your Construction Business

Rock Your Construction Business

Have you ever looked around and wondered how you got to where you are? You may have inherited your construction contracting business. Or perhaps you’re among those who one day picked up your hammer and saw a better way of doing things. So you started your own business and now you’re on your way!

Whichever path you were on when you began “doing business as . . .” you’ve discovered a big road in front of you and it is time to move to the business side of being a successful construction contractor.

You Must be the Visionary

Your vision is where you want to see your company in terms of culture, market standing, reputation, and customer satisfaction. As a certain four-year-old amongst my associates puts it, “Ya gots ta own it!”

Only when you create and own the vision can you make it work. Stumbling along on the path of start-up contractors won’t get you where you need to go.

Your vision will be felt across the spectrum from employees, to subs, to clients, to pre-clients, not to mention the neighborhood at large.

Here is an example of how to move from path to highway:

You want your company to be known for the philanthropic endeavors it takes part in.

  1. You give of your time and resources to charities or individuals you feel need your help.
  2. You encourage your employees to do the same by giving them one paid day a year to take part in a charitable event.
  3. You recognize (perhaps in a formal setting) the employees and subs in your circle who are giving to others.
  4. You pay for your employees to complete a task on a philanthropic endeavor which takes multiple days to complete. You also ask them to contribute monetarily.
  5. You chair the committee at your local trade association which chooses a charitable endeavor and encourages others in your field to make donations of time and funds then sees the project through from beginning to end.

Making your vision exciting will also make it easier to pass on to those around you. Examples of exciting visions might include: to be the construction company everyone turns to when there is a difficult project, to be known as the company which completes their jobs faster than the competition, to be recognized as the area leader in customer service, to be the technical projects go-to company, or to become known for your philanthropic contributions.

While there may be other objectives concerning your vision these four are a good place to begin putting together your vision for your company –  your company culture, your company’s market standing, your company’s reputation (among both customers and employees,) and your customer satisfaction ratings.

You Must Make Decisions that Impact Multiple Functions

Your job is to run the business, not the projects. You need to be concerned with strategic planning and being sure it does not become an operational fix-it list.

A few of the basics you’ll be concerned with:

  • Making go/no-go decisions when deciding whether to take on a project.
  • Building a dependable team.
  • Deciding what your scope of services will be.
  • Becoming knowledgeable in sales and marketing.
  • Understanding changing technology trends both in the office and in the field.
  • Implementing efficient operating systems and successful training programs.
  • Determining what type of equipment is needed and when to purchase or lease it.
  • Knowing your numbers.

Remember, this is a journey. You may not have all these components cleaned up and ready to be put to use at this very moment, yet with determination and time you’ll find these things become part of your routine, become easier to accomplish with practice.

You Must Provide the Resources Needed Across the Organization

This is much more than buying the right computers for the office or the correct tools for the sites. This is about being sure you’re taking care of business in a well thought out and productive manner. You’ll find you:

  • Are constantly learning more about your trade as well as the industry as a whole.
  • Have more than one supplier on your list of go-to places.
  • Spend a minimum of 25% of your time finding projects and customers
  • Understand construction bid management.
  • Know about regulatory compliance and adhere to it.
  • Are adamant about safety standards and how they’re met.
  • Provide or find ways to train your team for their benefit as well as your own.
  • Develop the best benefits package you can afford for your team.
  • Know your numbers.

It may be necessary to pass on some of these responsibilities either through developing employees or outsourcing in some areas. Never the less, the buck will stop with you and your ability to surround yourself with the “right people” will be paramount in your decision making.

You Must Build a Culture Others Want to be Part Of

Some say, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” There is this wild thing that happens when you move from being the do-it-all guy to being a construction contractor with a team of employees and subs in your arena. Then the saying changes, “If the workers ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy – especially your customers.”

It pays not to get caught up in thinking which goes like, “I pay them to do a job, they should just do it.” Motivation comes in many forms. Making your construction contracting business fun, or exciting, or glamourous, or fast paced, or challenging is up to you. Your vibe will indeed attract your tribe. This is where hiring for attitude rather than experience can pay off big time. Bring in the guys and gals who can be taught the necessary skills because they have the right attitude about your customers and your business.

And guess what? Your employees want you to be generous. They want you to be generous with information. Let them know not only how you want things done, but why you want it done that way. They want you to generous with your time and your praise. A real pat on the back, a handwritten note, an awards dinner for “job done well,” all come to mind. They want you to be generous in training and coaching them in ways that will move them up the ladder in your company.

One last caveat concerning being the boss. Being “liked” by your employees is not a good or healthy goal. Being “respected” by your employees is a goal worth striving toward.

You Must Deliver Performance

Set high expectations.

Bring in systems as well as talent to execute each phase or portion well.

Figure out what your people need to do their job better, and help them get it. It could be tools, training, or knowledge. It could be advice or intervention. It could be as simple as targeted feedback.

Know your own strengths as well as your weaknesses and build your team using that knowledge.

At every turn, ask your customers how well you and your team are doing. Use that information to grow your business to be the best it can be in every way.

Your call to action

Determine to Rock Your Business by putting this information into action. Print it. Reread it. Save it. Use it.

Build A Bigger Business – Think big; act bold

This is part two in a five-part series concerning Steps to Scaling Your Construction Contracting Business. You can see the introduction to the series by clicking here.

Are you among those who’ve figured out the simple way to deal with a puzzle maze is to begin at the end? The misguided and errant paths become much less of a problem to be dealt with when working a maze backwards. Same thing holds true when trying to figure out the puzzle which is all the moving parts of your construction contracting business.

When you start preparing to grow your business begin with the end in mind. Decide what matters to you in the long-term and formulate a big vision. Another term for this step is deciding on an exit strategy. Here are four typical scenarios:

  1. You determine your business will only exist until you retire or die.
  2. You plan to sell your business assets including the name.
  3. You choose to create a legacy firm which your children and later generations will own and run.
  4. You decide to develop a construction contracting firm designed to scale into and beyond the long-term, and which others (not your family) will manage.

Get ready to take “next steps”

Acting Bold becomes easier when you know which outcome you’re working toward. It allows you to focus on today’s steps, the ones which are getting you and your team to the end.

Some suggested next steps:

  • Be proactive.
  • Step back and look at the bigger picture.
  • Develop plans with concrete actions concerning how growth will be achieved.
  • Create realistic growth targets.
  • Decide to think big now hiring out as much of the daily work as possible.
  • Work to surround yourself with the right team members, various mentors, and good connections.
  • Create a model that doesn’t solely depend on you.
  • Think about autonomy for those working for you in order to test weaknesses and holes concerning moving toward your big vision.
  • Learn how to separate your ego from the big vision – trust the vision to do the heavy lifting.

Get ready to step aside

In case you missed it – all four of the above options will have you stepping aside – not being “boss” anymore. In his article in The Harvard Business Review, Noam Wasserman discusses The Founder’s Dilemma in which he states you can choose to be rich or you can choose to be king. He goes on to say it is rare indeed for a business founder to be both.

Whichever route you choose to take (whichever ending you’re working toward) you’ll find it easier to know which “next step” you need to take depending on where you intend to end up.

Your call to action:

Determine your exit strategy. Now begin taking steps to achieve it.