“What’s the applicable building code?” This question is often asked in the field of forensic architecture and engineering, and it’s often one of the most important questions one could ask. Asking the question is simple but finding the answer can be much harder.
The first question we must ask ourselves before we can determine the applicable building code is “In what jurisdiction does the building exist?” A building code becomes law when a code is adopted by a governing jurisdiction. The governing jurisdiction is an entity such as a city, county, or state.
For example, in the State of Colorado, the applicable building code is established by the city (or in some cases, the county) in which the building resides. Some rural towns and counties do not adopt any building code. In the State of Utah, the state establishes the building code that is applicable to all buildings (with some exceptions) located in the state.
The majority of jurisdictions establish the applicable building code by adopting a model building code. A model building code is a code that is developed by a standards organization, the largest and most recognized being the International Code Council (ICC). Examples of model building codes include, but are not limited to, the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). Some jurisdictions may adopt a model building code, but revise the code with amendments which add, delete, and/or revise sections of the model building code; it is important to check the jurisdiction’s building department for this information.
The IBC and the IRC are the model building codes that are typically adopted by a jurisdiction. Additionally, jurisdictions typically adopt other model codes relative to building design and construction, including, but not limited to, the International Mechanical Code (IMC), International Plumbing Code (IPC), National Electrical Code (NEC), International Fire Code (IFC), and the Internal Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
The second question we must ask ourselves before we can determine the applicable building code is “What year was the building constructed?” Aside from some exceptions, the adopted building code at the issuance of the building permit is the applicable building code. If a copy of the building’s permit cannot be obtained, the county assessor may identify the constructed date of the building. Once the building’s constructed date is known, a phone call to the jurisdiction’s building department can yield the adopted building code at the time of the building’s construction.
The following are a few quick facts about building codes that you may not know:
- Some jurisdictions write their own building code, but in most cases, jurisdictions adopt model building codes, often with amendments.
- The International Code Council (ICC) publishes its model building codes every three years. The most recent International Code series is dated 2015.
- The construction of single family homes, duplexes, and townhomes are regulated by the International Residential Code (IRC). The construction of all other building types, including condominiums, are regulated by the International Building Code (IBC).
- Besides the International Code Council (ICC), other organizations that publish model building codes include the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which publishes the National Electrical Code (NEC).
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines are not building codes and building officials do not review construction drawings for ADA compliance. See this writer’s article about the ADA.
- ASTM International does not publish model building codes, although some ASTM publications are referenced in the International Code Council (ICC) series of model building codes.
More information about the Author: Jeremy A. Kozik, AIA, NCARB, LEED GA
Mr. Kozik is a licensed architect with experience primarily focused on the design, construction, and evaluation of light commercial, multifamily and single family residential projects.