Remembering Common Sense

A house is meant to be a shelter from the weather, a small, controlled subsection of the planet earth where a family can live safely and comfortably. Caves worked but they were hard to keep warm. But they mostly kept the rain off and blocked some of the wind. House design has advanced over the years becoming safer and more protective. Most of the time. There have been problems with chimneys, for example. A hole in the roof works to let some of the smoke out, but it was an improvement to enclose more of the smoke and guide more of it out. But there was a problem with wooden chimneys. Common sense dictated that chimneys be built of fireproof materials. In fact, many of the improvements in building science were dictated by common sense, wisdom, and skill. The problem came into it when unskilled builders decided that it couldn’t be all that hard and there was money to be made by ignoring some of the details. So rules and codes and standards were created.

Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with having rules and codes and standards. The problem is that the focus tends to drift from why the rule or code or standard was created in the first place to developing rules and codes and standards just to regulate the rules and codes and standards. Let’s face it: we’re not perfect. And our rules and codes and standards won’t ever be universally perfect either no matter how hard we tweak and tinker and debate. Some people like a airconditioned thatchlittle more salt on their meat and some a little less. And some don’t like meat at all. One rule that covers all the ways to eat a steak simply wouldn’t work. We could have committees and conferences and technical papers ad nauseam but we would still never come up with the perfect rule. When a committee or a society or a club self-perpetuates by simply constantly making changes to a set of rules, the original point is lost. No doubt we are learning more and things change, but we’ve lost the link to common sense. There is no room in our rules or codes or standards for the application of common sense! And we need to just stop and try to remember why the rule or code or standard was written in the first place!

What is the fundamental, bottom line point for the existence of the ASHRAE 62 Standard, for example? (Having been on that committee for over ten years now, I feel that I have a right to use it as an example.) The Standard says, “This standard defines the roles and minimum requirements for mechanical and natural ventilation systems and the building envelope intended to provide acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) in low-rise residential buildings.” That sounds pretty reasonable. The basics of the standard are great – segmented and detailed to define important stuff. Why can’t we just finish it? Maybe tweak it a little once in a while as we learn more and technology improves. But a huge amount of brain power and hours of discussion and tons of paper go into the constant adjustment of the standard.

When a 747 is landing, it is important for the pilot to line the plane up with the runway accurately so that that little or no adjustment is need to keep the plane rolling straight when it touches the ground. At those speeds, any moderately radical change of direction would be disastrous. A consensus standard is the result of general agreement about diverse views. Can you imagine what would happen if a 747 was landed by a committee? A compendium of diverse views doesn’t always allow room for common sense.


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful. Publishing date is June 1, 2015.  Add your name to stay in touch.  Thanks.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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