Continuing Education

Last Monday I spent the day in Bloomington attending a continuing education class. As part of Minnesota’s Contractor’s License regulations all building contractors are required to take 7.5 hours of continuing education classes each year. This is a good plan, as it keeps people informed and up to date on issues.

My class Monday focused mainly on the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC became effective in Minnesota on March 31, 2003. The IRC replaced much of the Uniform Building Code (UBC) and brought many changes. The UBC was in place in Minnesota for many, many years, being updated from time to time. Contractors, building officials and inspectors, sales people, material suppliers, and others are all working to become familiar with the IRC.

The IRC is a collaborative effort from several building area jurisdictions, including the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, the International Conference of Building Officials and the Southern Building Code Congress International. It is a real effort to bring sensible standards and quality to all parts of the county. I support the IRC intentions and hope Minnesota will also soon adopt the International Building Code…used for all buildings (commercial, schools, etc.)

We spent quite a bit of time reviewing energy issues. The IRC has prescriptive measures to deal with wind infiltration, heat loss, moisture barriers, etc. One of the good things about a class like this is there is a chance to visit with other contractors and learn what methods they are using. In many areas of building there are several ways to accomplish a particular code requirement. Talking with other builders allows me to get a feeling about the industry.

In many instances I don’t always like what I hear from other builders. For example, the building code still allows a foundation to be insulated only from the interior surface. Northfield Construction Company has been routinely insulating all our foundations with extruded polystyrene from the top plate to the footing for years. I firmly believe this is the best thing to do in our severe climate. Keeping the foundation wall on the warm side of deep frost penetration protects the wall. The rigid insulation also acts as a drainage area for water to reach the draintile. Many builders in the class still place all the required insulation in a frame wall on the inside of the foundation wall.

We also reviewed issues surrounding employees. That sounds like a simple statement, but in the construction industry it has been causing some problems. Many contractors today build homes without having any employees. I know that may sound strange to many of you…but it is the truth. It is possible in this day and age for a contractor to hire companies to perform each and every task required to build a home. This includes excavation, foundation work, carpentry, insulation, siding, etc. Essentially, the contractor just acts as an organizer, bringing together the various workers at the proper time.

Utilizing subcontractors on this basis can cause problems with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if the contractor is not very careful in his selection process. There is an established 9 point test for “Independent Contractor Status” that the IRS uses. If the subcontractor cannot answer positively for each of the 9 questions then the subcontractor is not a subcontractor….he or she is an employee. Being classified as an employee means the builder or contractor is responsible for workers compensation insurance, social security and other payroll deductions, etc. An unexpected audit can cause real problems for contractors building homes using this method.

Northfield Construction Company builds our homes with our own carpenters and laborers, as well as cement finishers, etc. We do so for several reasons. First, we can control safety issues using our own employees. Our people are trained and know what to look for on our sites. Secondly, we can control the quality. Again, we train our workers to become proficient at tasks they enjoy doing. This allows us to maintain a high standard of construction. Using subcontractors means you totally rely on their standards. Third, we control our schedule. We assign our workers to keep the project on time to meet the established schedule.

Northfield Construction Company participates in many continuing education classes in the course of each year. Our employees attend to learn about customer relations, code updates, computer operations, etc. Education is an important part of every business today.