building codes

Many of the restrictions encountered in building design are imposed by legal regulations. While all must be met, those in building codes are the most significant because they affect almost every part of a building.


Building codes are established under the police powers of a state to protect the health, welfare, and safety of communities. A code is administered by a building official of the municipality or state that adopts it by legislation. Development of a local code may be guided by a model code, such as those promulgated by the International Conference of Building Officials, Inc., Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc., and Southern Building Code Congress International,Inc.

In general, building-code requirements are the minimum needed for public protection. Design of a building must satisfy these requirements. Often, however, architects and engineers must design more conservatively, to meet the client’s needs, produce a more efficient building system, or take into account conditions not covered fully by code provisions.

Construction drawings for a building should be submitted to the building-code administrator before construction starts. If the building will meet code requirements, the administrator issues a building permit, on receipt of which the contractor may commence building. During construction, the administrator sends inspectors periodically to inspect the work. If they discover a violation, they may issue an order to remove it or they may halt construction, depending on the seriousness of the violation. On completion of construction, if the work conforms to code requirements, the administrator issues to the owner a certificate of occupancy.

Forms of Codes. Codes often are classified as specifications type or performance type. A specification-type code names specific materials for specific uses and specifies minimum or maximum dimensions, for example, ‘‘a brick wall may not be less than 6 in thick.’’ A performance-type code, in contrast, specifies required performance of a construction but leaves materials, methods, and dimensions for the designers to choose. Performance-type codes are generally preferred, because they give designers greater design freedom in meeting clients’ needs, while satisfying the intent of the code. Most codes, however, are neither strictly specifications nor performance type but rather a mixture of the two. The reason for this is that insufficient information is currently available for preparation of an entire enforceable performance code.

The organization of building codes varies with locality. Generally, however, they consist of two parts, one dealing with administration and enforcement and the other specifying requirements for design and construction in detail.
Part 1 usually covers licenses, permits, fees, certificates of occupancy, safety, projections beyond street lines, alterations, maintenance, applications, approval of drawings, stop-work orders, and posting of buildings to indicate permissible live loads and occupant loads.
Part 2 gives requirements for structural components, lighting, HVAC, plumbing, gas piping and fixtures, elevators and escalators, electrical distribution, stairs, corridors, walls, doors, and windows. This part also defines and sets limits on occupancy and construction-type classifications. In addition, the second part contains provisions for safety of public and property during construction operations and for fire protection and means of egress after the building is occupied.

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