Contribution to Building
Frank G. Ross
One of seventeen
children born in Boston to a soap and candle maker, Benjamin Franklin became
the most famous American of his time. Although he only had two years of
formal education, his spirit of life-long learning drove him to study a wide
variety of topics including fire safety, public sanitation, improved heating
methods, and of course, electricity. He played many roles in his 84 years
of life such as writer, inventor, diplomat, businessman, musician, humorist,
civic leader and scientist.
constantly trying to find ways to improve himself intellectually, morally
and physically. He was mindful of the “greater good” and made major
contributions to modern building codes and the discipline of building
Building codes exist
to safeguard persons and property. The strict fire, plumbing, electrical
and building codes of today were unknown in Franklin’s time. Much of what
was believed about nature was based in superstition and folklore. Benjamin
Franklin’s work challenged these beliefs.
For example, the
link between health problems and exposure to lead was first observed by
Franklin. As a young man he obtained a position in a printing office in
London. While there he found that working with the lead type caused his
hands to stiffen limiting his use of them. When he asked others in the
profession he found that they experienced the same thing. And those
printers who warmed the type before setting it sometimes lost complete use
of their hands. Ever afterward he worked only with cold type and encouraged
others to do likewise. This finding by Franklin and others is the basis of
our modern day codes and safety guidelines regarding lead paint in homes.
As a practical
inventor, Benjamin Franklin built devices designed to solve every-day
problems. In the spirit of sharing and improving conditions for all
mankind, he never patented his inventions. Because of his love for swimming
and a desire to swim faster, he invented swim fins. An avid reader, he also
invented a more comfortable reading chair and a mechanical arm for
retrieving books from high shelves. Among his other developments were
street lighting, the odometer, and bifocal glasses. He is also credited
with the idea of Daylight Saving time although he presented the suggestion
in a humorous article to the Journal of Paris and probably did not intend
for it to be taken seriously.
experiment with the kite and the key led to his invention of the lightning
rod which remains largely unchanged in its design and is still in use
today. Many aspects of what he discovered about the nature of electricity
can be found underlying modern practices. More on this topic will be found
in a future article.
The design of the
Pennsylvania Fireplace (later called the Franklin Stove which is also still
in use) arose from a concern for the disappearing supply of wood in the
Philadelphia area and a desire to make a more efficient heating device.
Along the way Franklin learned much about fire safety which has also been
passed down to us and will be addressed further in a separate article.
was one of the most extraordinary human beings the world has ever known. His
contributions are still alive in today’s building codes and are perpetuated
by the various organizations that maintain them and the people who enforce
those codes. As a home inspector I am influenced by his legacy with each
home I inspect, evaluating its various components and noting safety
concerns. I like to think he would have been pleased with how those who
lived after him built on his ideas and improved our homes and buildings for
the greater good.
Ross is a Certified Utah Home Inspector for Pillar to Post Professional Home
Inspection and a full member of the National Association of Certified Home
Inspectors and a member in good standing with the Utah Better Business
Bureau. Readers may contact Mr. Ross at (435) 867-6400 or