An Intl. Building Code Update

Nov. 2, 2006
Learn why (and how) the Intl. Building Code is well on its way to becoming the universal model code

With widespread adoption throughout the United States and the support of numerous building-industry associations, the Intl. Building Code is well on its way to becoming the universal model code.

The Falls Church, VA-based Intl. Code Council (ICC) published the first complete set of Intl. Codes (I-Codes) in 2000, followed by the 2003 and 2006 editions. As 2007 approaches, you will find one or more of the I-Codes in use within 47 states and the District of Columbia, either enforced statewide or at the local level.

The Intl. Building Code is one of more than a dozen codes offered by the ICC. The ICC has also developed the Intl. Fire Code, the Intl. Plumbing Code, and the Intl. Mechanical Code, just to name a few. A state or municipality can choose to adopt one or more of these codes, and jurisdictions that have adopted only one of the I-Codes have not necessarily selected the Intl. Building Code for adoption. At this time, the Intl. Building Code is reportedly enforced statewide in 42 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Numerous cities within the states that currently use I-Codes also enforce the Intl. Building Code.

The Purpose of a Uniform Code
The Intl. Code Council was developed in response to demand for a nationally uniform system of building regulation. Its three founding members - Building Officials and Code Administrators Intl. (BOCA), the Intl. Conference of Building Code Officials (ICBO), and the Southern Building Code Congress Intl. (SBCCI) - brought together their resources and experience in developing regional codes to create the I-Codes.

On its website, the ICC proposes that uniform adoption of its codes would encourage more quality construction. Uniform code adoption would allow manufacturers to provide to a national market and dedicate more resources toward research and development instead of meeting multiple requirements. Code-enforcement officials, architects, and contractors would be able to comply with a uniform set of codes as well; reduced construction costs and higher-quality products could then be passed on to the customer. The ICC also proposes that uniform adoption of a single set of codes would encourage stronger code enforcement. The code organizations could use more of their resources to promote code adoption and enforcement, and to provide better service to their members.

In contrast, competing model codes can be considered a problem because they negate the advantages listed above. Resources that could be used to enforce codes must be diverted to evaluating competing codes and any technical incongruities between those codes. In an advocacy statement made by the Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Intl. in support of the Intl. Mechanical Code and the Intl. Fuel Gas Code, the association states, “Entities that are subject to the codes deserve a fair opportunity to understand those requirements without protracted appeals, hearings, and multiple interpretations from different agencies in the same jurisdiction.”

The I-Codes: Key Strengths
More lawmakers across the nation are adopting the I-Codes. So, which qualities make the I-Codes so appealing?

1. They are comprehensive and compatible with each other. The ICC has developed a family of codes to regulate each of a building’s various systems. The I-Codes are designed to be compatible with each other when adopted as a set. A requirement set forth in the Intl. Building Code will not conflict with a requirement of the Intl. Fire Code, for example. Adoption of a single family of codes would reduce the need for code comparisons that could delay the construction process.

2. They are compatible with other legislation. To help ease compliance, the ICC recently made available a matrix comparing the 2006 Intl. Building Code’s referenced accessibility standard (ICC/ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities) to the 2004 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The ICC states on its website that it works to equal (and even surpass) ADA-accessibility requirements. Advocacy groups and other federal agencies working to raise safety or accessibility standards can participate in the ICC code-development process.

3. Their consensus-based code-development process is inclusive and efficient. The ICC uses a governmental-consensus process to develop its codes. It offers a centralized forum for all parties whose interests are affected by regulatory codes to make proposals or participate in code hearings.

To begin each code-development cycle, the ICC seeks proposed code changes from the public. Each I-Code has a corresponding committee that evaluates the proposed changes at the Code Development Hearing. These committee members include representatives of general interests, producer interests, user interests, or multiple interests, as well as safety officials. A committee may approve a change, approve a change with modifications, or disapprove a change by vote of a simple majority.

Next, the ICC seeks public comments on committee actions. Anyone may appeal a decision. The comments and proposed changes are reviewed again at the Final Action Hearing, where only public-safety officials vote.

The governmental-consensus process helps prevent vested interests from dominating code change decisions. At the Code Development Hearing, committee members may not vote on a change with which they have a conflict of interest. Leaving the final decision in the hands of committee members who are public-safety officials in their respective jurisdictions helps assure that code changes are made in the public’s best interest.

Developing Fair and Balanced Codes
It would be inaccurate to imply that “codes equal high cost,” stresses Dave Johnston, a member of BOMA’s Building Codes and Voluntary Standards advocacy staff. BOMA is a supporter of the Intl. Building Code and a participant in the ICC code hearings.

Buildings are relatively safe today, but accidents or fatalities sometimes occur - even in buildings that utilize the most modern safety technology. Johnston described the importance of considering the cost-effectiveness of a proposed code change: “You just can’t, on a willy-nilly basis, adopt a code change that costs a lot of money because it may fix a defect that may be perceived as a fire hazard. You’re just spending money needlessly,” he explains. “That’s why we participate in the code hearings of the ICC, because we don’t want some of these codes. They’re well-intentioned code changes, but they cost a fortune, they’re not needed in most cases, and they’re not cost-effective.”

The idea is to strike a balance by making code changes that will positively increase the safety of a building without negatively impacting the rental market.

Johnston cautions, “Municipalities have to be careful about amending building codes because they can adversely, indirectly affect the tax base of a municipality.” Commercial real estate makes up a large portion of many jurisdictions’ tax bases, so adopting a code that is not grandfathered, or a code that a building does not have the funds to comply with, could potentially put a building out of business.

Practical Application
The I-Codes have no power until they are adopted as law. Jurisdictions may amend the I-Codes upon adoption, incorporating different provisions or setting higher minimum standards. Once adopted, the effectiveness of a code is dependent upon the resources that a municipality has to enforce that code.

The I-Codes do not necessarily become more stringent with each successive edition. A newer edition of the code may increase certain minimum safety requirements yet omit other previous requirements.

Code changes may or may not be “grandfathered.” A building must normally comply with the code provisions that were in effect when the building was constructed unless it is being renovated or updated for a different occupant. However, the new code may require all buildings to make certain updates.

What Adoption of the 2006 Intl. Building Code Means to You
F. Joshua Millman, a founding principal at Harrisburg, PA-based Facilities Planners + Architects Inc., authored “Intl. Building Code 2006 Edition: How It Will Affect Facility Management.” In the article, he outlines how adoption of the IBC’s 2006 edition could affect your capital plans to build a new facility or renovate an existing building. Consider the following ...

When a jurisdiction adopts a new code, it will set a future effective date allowing construction plans to be set in accordance with the code change. Once adopted, the right to use the older code may be waived. You may also be able to use the new code before its effective date, meaning that code officials should accept the 2006 code as long as a construction plan complies with its provisions.

Millman suggests that taking the time to determine how using the older code could affect your budget and time schedule compared to using the newer code. Complying with the updated code will not necessarily be more expensive. However, older codes are better understood, having already been interpreted by courts and code officials. The 2006 Intl. Building Code will undergo the same test of time, but at this point it might be a better decision to comply with the code that is better understood.

Did You Know?
Intl. Code Council Facts

  • Forty-seven (47) states and the District of Columbia use the I-Codes at state or jurisdictional levels. Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State, reference the Intl. Building Code in the construction of their facilities. The State of California and the City of New York are two major-population areas that have not adopted the I-Codes.
  • Intl. Code Council members include code-enforcement and fire officials from local through state levels. Architects, builders, manufacturers, and other construction-industry professionals also serve as members.
  • Other coordinated codes developed by the ICC include the Intl. Energy Conservation Code, the Intl. Existing Building Code, the Intl. Fuel Gas Code, and the Intl. Zoning Code.
  • The ICC publishes a set of revisions between each I-Code edition. Code Development Hearings for the upcoming 2007 supplement concluded in October of this year. The Final Action Hearings will take place in May 2007.

For more information on the ICC, its products, and services, visit the Intl. Code Council at (

Staying Ahead of the Game: The Benefits of Exceeding the Building Code
Making upgrades that are not required under existing codes can protect your investment and be good for business. In “Intl. Building Code 2006 Edition: How It Will Affect Facility Management,” F. Joshua Millman, a founding principal at Harrisburg, PA-based Facilities Planners + Architects Inc., explains that exceeding the building codes might be your best bet for the following reasons:

  • “Deferring code compliance can be as risky as deferring maintenance,” Millman says. “The cost today of maintaining code conformance may be less than when the facility is transferred to a new occupant.”
  • Consistently meeting or exceeding minimum building requirements can help deter regulatory problems. In the event that you do face charges of negligence, a history of complying with or exceeding codes can help strengthen your defense.
  • “Future code editions will likely continue with the philosophy of requiring upgrades of existing and previously permitted conditions,” says Millman. Keeping in compliance now can make future code changes easier to comply with later.
  • Making your building accessible by meeting or exceeding current handicapped-accessibility requirements can make your building more inviting to prospective employees and clients with special accessibility needs.

Maureen Orsborn is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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