Monday, Sep 23, 2019
HomeIf Your Home Could SpeakThe law and common sense

The law and common sense

So this woman says, “I hear they’re makin’ it law you have to have solar water heater in any new house.”

I replied, “I hope not.”

She was surprised. Knowing how passionate I am about solar technology, she assumed I’d be happy that people were being forced to use solar. I tried to explain, “You can’t legislate common sense.”

The building code is designed to make certain that buildings don’t pose a threat to the health or safety of either building owners or the general public. It should not become a tool by which any particular administration forces its idea of good sense down the throats of the public. Good parents raise their children in the hope that when they leave home – that is, when they assume responsibility for themselves in adulthood – they make beneficial choices. Those parents resist the temptation of forcing their choices down their adult children’s throats. In the same way, governments should resist the temptation of making personal choices for their citizens. They should instead encourage their constituents to make “adult” choices while respecting the choices they make.

The design and construction of a house is an intensely personal experience, requiring a multitude of choices and the management of a serious set of priorities, especially for spending money. The prospective owner must take responsibility for those choices if the idea of being a responsible adult is to make sense. They will live with those choices for a long time.

For example, the first choice to be made is the process for designing the house. Many houses have been built from a catalogue of houses or from a builder’s files. But for someone whose personal space needs to “fit” their routine, habits and the site, the service of an architect is important. The choice to be made is the process; the priority is the spending of pre-mortgage money. Of course, the actual cost of the process is not seen until after the choice is made.

The second set of choices has to do with the site. Its location, for example, determines the need for transportation to access education, shopping, work and entertainment. The elevation of the site determines the need to worry about flooding or filling. The slope and shape of the site determines the ease and cost of building on it. A “cheap” lot often makes for an expensive project.

Building materials determine the cost of maintenance. Layout, especially of openings, determines the need for air conditioning. And the use of alternative sources of energy may determine the need for utility power.

The point here is that these choices should be conscious “common sense” choices made by people taking responsibility for their own welfare, not forced by law. Following the last hurricane, numerous television broadcasts showed buildings devastated by the storm, with no evidence of the legally required hurricane straps or, in some cases, bolted plates. Those buildings had been completed and occupied, despite the law, the owners obviously thinking the law was not in their best interest. Most of them had also avoided the installation of proper shutters. Ironically, many of them are still waiting for the state to repair their buildings for them.

They say common sense is not common. Attempts by the government to solve that problem by law is like calling your 30-year-old back into the house to put on his helmet, as you did when he was nine, before he leaves for work on his Harley-Davidson. It might make you feel good, but it does nothing for your child.

While this article focuses on building matters, the need for the exercise of “common sense” in the development of our country is an urgent issue. We have become far too dependent on the government to make decisions for us. The taking of personal responsibility is rare. Adults are expected to have and exercise common sense if the society is to advance beneficially. That will not happen if governments make those common-sense choices for their citizens.

You can’t legislate common sense.


  • Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the Northern Caribbean. Visit its website at, design blog at and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at or The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.


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