Building Codes 101

Anyone who’s ever built a new home or renovated an existing one is more than likely familiar with the concept of building codes and the term of getting things, “brought up to code.”

The way codes are developed have changed a lot over the years. We’re learning what works and what doesn’t every single day, which is why you’ll find new codes hitting the books all the time. This ever-changing landscape can cause a bit of a headache for those engrossed in a building or renovation project. The good news, however, is once a homeowner or contractor submits project plans, the codes in place at the time of approval are the ones enforced at project completion. In essence, this means even if a standard changes in the middle of construction, you only need to know what was required before. If at any point you need to submit new plans, however, all bets are off, and you are required to bring your project up to the current code.

Before building codes were put in place, contractors and homeowners were left to their own devices when constructing buildings. In some cases, this meant buildings ended up less safe than they should have been. In the early 1900’s, after a period of many disastrous fires resulted in significant loss of life, fire codes were set into motion. For the protection of the people, further building codes for other safety purposes were developed off the backs of those early fire codes. Certain regions are prone to tornadoes (like we are here in Minnesota), earthquakes, or other natural disasters. Many building codes developed to not only protect the occupants from localized problems such as faulty wiring, structural issues, etc., but larger scale natural disasters as well.

2015 International Building Code BookIn 1994, the three American safety standard groups that handled the minimum safety standards for their regions (BOCA, ICBO, and SBCCI, respectively) merged to form the International Code Council (ICC) so they could develop one national code. The first edition of the International Building Code was published in 1997, and new editions (which includes both new and existing buildings, as well as dwellings no taller than three stories) are published every three years.

Despite this emergence of the ICC, that doesn’t mean every city follows the exact same rules, though. Instead, they are there as a template for various locales to develop their own rules as they make sense in their own region. However, if any city or town adopts the ICC’s rules, it also means they must adhere to the various extended codes as well. The International Building Code is hundreds of pages long and references the National Electric Code, the International Plumbing Code, and the National Fire Protection Association standards as well as their own recommendations.

Here are just a few of the sections the International Building Code touches on:

  • Fire Prevention
  • Plumbing
  • Accessibility
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Mechanical
  • Building Heights and Areas
  • Interior Finishes
  • Materials Used in Construction
  • Foundation, Wall, and Roof Construction

Whether you’re planning to renovate or build, all plans must be submitted to the local municipality so they can be reviewed to make sure the plan adheres to the local code requirements.

In both commercial and residential projects, a building inspector will review a completed project to make sure it complies once the project is completed. Often times, particularly for a commercial project, a building inspector may even stop in to check on the site while it’s still a work in progress, to ensure codes are being adhered to.

This process of learning the codes and applying them can be overwhelming for some first-time renovators, but it’s not to be taken lightly. Some may want to forge ahead and start work without going through the proper channels for a variety of reasons. While it may seem appealing at first blush, getting caught without a permit and not following code can mean redoing portions of completed work or, in some cases, tearing everything down and having to start again. It’s always better be safe than sorry, even if you’re initially confused with the process. Luckily for homeowners unfamiliar with the local codes, the process of obtaining a building permit will tell you specifically what needs to be done to follow the building code in your area.

Ultimately, remember, building codes were put in place to make building and renovating safer for those who reside and utilize the building. Most of the time, the cost of learning what works and what doesn’t work meant at some point, someone got hurt.

If you’re looking for a construction team who knows the ins and outs of building codes and the differences from city to city, contact Baratto Brothers today by filling out our contact form, stopping in to say hello, or by giving us a call at (218) 692-1070. We’re here to help you sift through your options, and come up with an affordable plan that delivers the results you’re looking for. We’ll do everything we can to become your Builder for Life.