Building code

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Code Violation: This fire-rated concrete block wall is penetrated by cable trays and electrical cables. The hole should be firestopped to restore the fire-resistance rating of the wall. Instead, it is filled with flammable polyurethane foam. Puf canadian paper mill.jpg
Code Violation: This fire-rated concrete block wall is penetrated by cable trays and electrical cables. The hole should be firestopped to restore the fire-resistance rating of the wall. Instead, it is filled with flammable polyurethane foam.

A building code (also building control or building regulations) is a set of rules that specify the standards for constructed objects such as buildings and nonbuilding structures. Buildings must conform to the code to obtain planning permission, usually from a local council. The main purpose of building codes is to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures. The building code becomes law of a particular jurisdiction when formally enacted by the appropriate governmental or private authority. [1]


Building codes are generally intended to be applied by architects, engineers, interior designers, constructors and regulators but are also used for various purposes by safety inspectors, environmental scientists, real estate developers, subcontractors, manufacturers of building products and materials, insurance companies, facility managers, tenants, and others. Codes regulate the design and construction of structures where adopted into law.

Examples of building codes began in ancient times. [2] In the USA the main codes are the International Building Code or International Residential Code [IBC/IRC], electrical codes and plumbing, mechanical codes. Fifty states and the District of Columbia have adopted the I-Codes at the state or jurisdictional level. [3] In Canada, national model codes are published by the National Research Council of Canada. [4] In the United Kingdom, compliance with Building Regulations is monitored by building control bodies, either Approved Inspectors or Local Authority Building Control departments. Building Control regularisation charges apply in the event that work is undertaken which should have had been inspected at the time of the work if this was not done. [5]


"Sutyagin's skyscraper" (Neboskriob Sutiagina) - supposedly world's tallest wooden single-family house - found to be in violation of fire codes by the city of Arkhangelsk, Russia, and was demolished. Sutyagin house 1.JPG
"Sutyagin's skyscraper" (Небоскрёб Сутягина) – supposedly world's tallest wooden single-family house – found to be in violation of fire codes by the city of Arkhangelsk, Russia, and was demolished.

The practice of developing, approving, and enforcing building codes varies considerably among nations. In some countries building codes are developed by the government agencies or quasi-governmental standards organizations and then enforced across the country by the central government. Such codes are known as the national building codes (in a sense they enjoy a mandatory nationwide application).

In other countries, where the power of regulating construction and fire safety is vested in local authorities, a system of model building codes is used. Model building codes have no legal status unless adopted or adapted by an authority having jurisdiction. The developers of model codes urge public authorities to reference model codes in their laws, ordinances, regulations, and administrative orders. When referenced in any of these legal instruments, a particular model code becomes law. This practice is known as 'adoption by reference'. When an adopting authority decides to delete, add, or revise any portions of the model code adopted, it is usually required by the model code developer to follow a formal adoption procedure in which those modifications can be documented for legal purposes.

There are instances when some local jurisdictions choose to develop their own building codes. At some point in time all major cities in the United States had their own building codes. However, due to ever increasing complexity and cost of developing building regulations, virtually all municipalities in the country have chosen to adopt model codes instead. For example, in 2008 New York City abandoned its proprietary 1968 New York City Building Code in favor of a customized version of the International Building Code. [8] The City of Chicago remains the only municipality in America that continues to use a building code the city developed on its own as part of the Municipal Code of Chicago .

In Europe, the Eurocode: Basis of structural design, is a pan-European building code that has superseded the older national building codes. Each country now has National Annexes to localize the contents of the Eurocodes.

Similarly, in India, each municipality and urban development authority has its own building code, which is mandatory for all construction within their jurisdiction. All these local building codes are variants of a National Building Code, [9] which serves as model code proving guidelines for regulating building construction activity.



Building codes have a long history. The earliest known written building code is included in the Code of Hammurabi, [2] which dates from circa 1772 BC.

The book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible stipulated that parapets must be constructed on all houses to prevent people from falling off. [10]

Modern era


In Paris, under the reconstruction of much of the city under the Second Empire (1852–70), great blocks of apartments were erected [11] and the height of buildings was limited by law to five or six stories at most.

United Kingdom

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, which had been able to spread so rapidly through the densely built timber housing of the city, the Rebuilding of London Act was passed in the same year as the first significant building regulation. [12] Drawn up by Sir Matthew Hale, the Act regulated the rebuilding of the city, required housing to have some fire resistance capacity and authorised the City of London Corporation to reopen and widen roads. [13] The Laws of the Indies were passed in the 1680s by the Spanish Crown to regulate the urban planning for colonies throughout Spain's worldwide imperial possessions.

The first systematic national building standard was established with the London Building Act of 1844. Among the provisions, builders were required to give the district surveyor two days' notice before building, regulations regarding the thickness of walls, height of rooms, the materials used in repairs, the dividing of existing buildings and the placing and design of chimneys, fireplaces and drains were to be enforced and streets had to be built to minimum requirements. [14]

The Metropolitan Buildings Office was formed to regulate the construction and use of buildings throughout London. Surveyors were empowered to enforce building regulations, which sought to improve the standard of houses and business premises, and to regulate activities that might threaten public health. In 1855 the assets, powers and responsibilities of the office passed to the Metropolitan Board of Works.

United States

The City of Baltimore passed its first building code in 1859. The Great Baltimore Fire occurred in February, 1904. Subsequent changes were made that matched other cities. [15] In 1904, a Handbook of the Baltimore City Building Laws was published. It served as the building code for four years. Very soon, a formal building code was drafted and eventually adopted in 1908.

The structural failure of the tank that caused the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 prompted the Boston Building Department to require engineering and architectural calculations be filed and signed. U.S. cities and states soon began requiring sign-off by registered professional engineers for the plans of major buildings. [16]


The purpose of building codes is to provide minimum standards for safety, health, and general welfare including structural integrity, mechanical integrity (including sanitation, water supply, light, and ventilation), means of egress, fire prevention and control, and energy conservation. [17] [18] Building codes generally include:

Building codes are generally separate from zoning ordinances, but exterior restrictions (such as setbacks) may fall into either category.

Designers use building code standards out of substantial reference books during design. Building departments review plans submitted to them before construction, issue permits [or not] and inspectors verify compliance to these standards at the site during construction.

There are often additional codes or sections of the same building code that have more specific requirements that apply to dwellings or places of business and special construction objects such as canopies, signs, pedestrian walkways, parking lots, and radio and television antennas.

Energy codes

Current energy codes in the United States

The energy codes of the United States are adopted at the state and municipal levels and are based on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Previously, they were based on the Model Energy Code (MEC).

As of March 2017, the following residential codes have been partially or fully adopted by states: [19]

Historical energy codes in the United States


As of September 2005, the following residential energy codes had been partially or fully adopted by states: [20]

  • 2003-2004 IECC or equivalent (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington)
  • 1998-2001 IECC or equivalent (Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
  • <1998 IECC (Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee)
  • No statewide code / weaker (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming)


As of January 2004, the following residential energy codes had been partially or fully adopted by states: [20]

  • 2003 IECC or IRC (Kansas, New Mexico, Utah)
  • 2000 IECC or IRC or equivalent (Alabama, California, Idaho, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
  • 1998 IECC (Oklahoma)
  • 1995 MEC or equivalent (Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont)
  • 1993 MEC or equivalent (Delaware, Montana, North Dakota)
  • 1992 MEC or equivalent (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee)
  • No code or code not EPAct compliant (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming)


As of Fall 2000, the following residential energy codes had been partially or fully adopted by states: [20]

  • 2000 IECC rule making (Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina)
  • 1995 MEC or equivalent (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
  • 1993 MEC or equivalent (Alabama, Delaware, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota)
  • 1992 MEC or equivalent (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee)
  • No code or code not EPAct compliant (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia)


As of 1998, three states (Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia) had adopted the 1993 MEC residential energy code. The remaining states had adopted either: a state-written code; a regional code; a prior version of the MEC or American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers standards; or no code at all. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Zoning Government policy allowing certain uses of land in different places

Zoning is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones. Zones may be defined for a single use, they may combine several compatible activities by use, or in the case of form-based zoning, the differing regulations may govern the density, size and shape of allowed buildings whatever their use. The planning rules for each zone, determine whether planning permission for a given development may be granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may indicate the size and dimensions of lots that land may be subdivided into, or the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development.

National Electrical Code

The National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, is a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States. It is part of the National Fire Code series published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a private trade association. Despite the use of the term "national", it is not a federal law. It is typically adopted by states and municipalities in an effort to standardize their enforcement of safe electrical practices. In some cases, the NEC is amended, altered and may even be rejected in lieu of regional regulations as voted on by local governing bodies.

A model building code is a building code that is developed and maintained by a standards organization independent of the jurisdiction responsible for enacting the building code. A local government can choose to adopt a model building code as its own. This saves local governments the expense and trouble of developing their own codes. Many smaller governments lack the expertise to do so.

The National Building Code of Canada is the model building code of Canada. It is issued by the National Research Council of Canada. As a model code, it has no legal status until it is adopted by a jurisdiction that regulates construction.

The publication Life Safety Code, known as NFPA 101, is a consensus standard widely adopted in the United States. It is administered, trademarked, copyrighted, and published by the National Fire Protection Association and, like many NFPA documents, is systematically revised on a three-year cycle.

The International Building Code (IBC) is a model building code developed by the International Code Council (ICC). It has been adopted for use as a base code standard by most jurisdictions in the United States. The IBC addresses both health and safety concerns for buildings based upon prescriptive and performance related requirements. The IBC is fully compatible with all other published ICC codes. The code provisions are intended to protect public health and safety while avoiding both unnecessary costs and preferential treatment of specific materials or methods of construction. However, a 2019 New York Times story revealed a secret agreement with the National Association of Home Builders that allowed the industry group, which represents the construction industry, to limit improvements in the code that would make buildings more environmentally sustainable and resistant to natural disasters, prompting a congressional investigation.

Uniform Plumbing Code

Designated as an American National Standard, the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) is a model code developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to govern the installation and inspection of plumbing systems as a means of promoting the public's health, safety and welfare.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.

California Public Utilities Commission State government agency of California

The California Public Utilities Commission is a regulatory agency that regulates privately owned public utilities in the state of California, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies. In addition, the CPUC regulates common carriers, including household goods movers, passenger transportation companies such as limousine services, and rail crossing safety. The CPUC has headquarters in the Civic Center district of San Francisco, and field offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Building regulations in the United Kingdom are statutory instruments or statutory regulations that seek to ensure that the policies set out in the relevant legislation are carried out. Building regulations approval is required for most building work in the UK. Building regulations that apply across England and Wales are set out in the Building Act 1984 while those that apply across Scotland are set out in the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. The Act in England and Wales permits detailed regulations to be made by the Secretary of State. The regulations made under the Act have been periodically updated, rewritten or consolidated, with the latest and current version being the Building Regulations 2010. The UK Government is responsible for the relevant legislation and administration in England, the Welsh Government is the responsible body in Wales, the Scottish Government is responsible for the issue in Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Executive has responsibility within its jurisdiction. There are very similar Building Regulations in the Republic of Ireland.

Building officials of developed countries are generally the jurisdictional administrator of building and construction codes, engineering calculation supervision, permits, facilities management, and accepted construction procedures.

Zoning in the United States

Zoning in the United States includes various land use laws falling under the police power rights of state governments and local governments to exercise authority over privately owned real property. The earliest zoning laws originated with the Los Angeles zoning ordinances of 1908 and the New York City Zoning resolution of 1916. Starting in the early 1920s, the United States Commerce Department drafted model zoning and planning ordinances in the 1920s to facilitate states in drafting enabling laws. Also in the early 1920s, a lawsuit challenged a local zoning ordinance in a suburb of Cleveland, which was eventually reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

Deutsches Institut für Bautechnik

Deutsches Institut für Bautechnik (DIBt) is a technical authority in the construction sector. The Institute carries out its activities on the basis of an agreement concluded between the Federation and the German federal states (Länder). Its most important task is the approval of non-regulated construction products and construction techniques. The Institute is based in Berlin.

Designated as an American National Standard, the Uniform Swimming Pool, Spa and Hot Tub Code (USPSHTC) is a model code developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to govern the installation and inspection of plumbing systems associated with swimming pools, spas and hot tubs as a means of promoting the public's health, safety and welfare.

New York State Department of State

The New York State Department of State (NYSDOS) is the department of the New York state government under the leadership of the Secretary of State of New York. Its regulations are compiled in title 19 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations.

Real estate in Puerto Rico Real estate industry in Puerto Rico

As of 2012, the real estate industry in Puerto Rico constituted about 14.8% of the gross domestic product of Puerto Rico, about 1% of all of the employee compensation on the island and, together with finance and insurance (FIRE), about 3.7% of all the employment on the jurisdiction.

The United States building codes related to energy are energy codes and standards that set minimum requirements for energy-efficient design and construction for new and renovated buildings that impact energy use and emissions for the life of the building. Buildings account for 39% of United States energy use, two-thirds of electricity, and one-eighth of water. With buildings being such a main source of energy usage in the United States, along with the surrounding issues associated with high energy usage it is imperative that buildings abide by codes to ensure efficiency. Using more efficient methods and materials upfront when constructing the buildings will help to cut down on energy usage. There are building energy codes for both commercial and residential buildings.

The California Green Building Standards Code is Part 11 of the California Building Standards Code and is the first statewide "green" building code in the US.

The California Building Standards Code is the building code for California, and Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR). It is maintained by the California Building Standards Commission which is granted the authority to oversee processes related to the California building codes by California Building Standards Law. The California building codes under Title 24 are established based on several criteria: standards adopted by states based on national model codes, national model codes adapted to meet California conditions, and standards passed by the California legislature that address concerns specific to California.

The Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC) is a model code developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to govern the installation, inspection and maintenance of HVAC and refrigeration systems. It is designated as an American National Standard.


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