Building Code Basics

From differing interpretations to single family code this blog post highlights some basics regarding building code and what is important for you to know as an owner.

One of the first things to understand about the building code is that it sets safety and construction quality standards and is always considered a minimum standard. Depending on the building location and type will determine which building code is required. Every city in Tennessee for example has adopted codes listed on their city website. In addition to adopting codes many jurisdictions change parts of the international code through local amendments. While cities in Tennessee override the international code with city ordinances, Kentucky overrides the international code with the Kentucky Building Code (KBC). The KBC is simply the international code with revisions to specific sections to accommodate their own standards. These adoptions change often, usually every few years a new code is adopted with new changes. Some cities, like Chicago for example have there own building code separate from the international standards. At the end of the day the health, safety, and welfare of the public is above all the most important factor.

Differing Interpretations:

The building code is rarely crystal clear and often times requires interpretation. The architect, contractors, and building officials are all interpreting the code. It is not uncommon for the interpretations to vary. The final call is always the most strict of the differing interpretations. The building code is littered with exceptions and references to different parts. In addition to building code you will find references to energy code, ANSI (which are American Disability Act requirements), and other documents to clarify the minimum standards. There are a lot of codes out there, be sure your up-to-date on the latest in your area.


So How Complex is the Building Code?

The big parts of the building code include construction typology, use, number of occupants, size, fire protection, egress, and accessibility. Depending on all of these factors can determine how safe the building is. In general the more occupants the more strict the building code. Code strictness can also increase with the type of occupants. Occupants in a prison or in a hospital are at a higher risk simply because it is more difficult for those occupants to egress the building during an emergency. Hotels for example are at higher risk compared to an apartment due to the transient nature of the occupants being unfamiliar with the egress routes. Depending on the number of occupants, the type of occupants, and the hazards associated with the building can increase the code complexity.

The approach to the code, like design, starts with the general and works to the specific. The overall code review in concept design looks at general building heights, area, occupancy calculations, and overall egress systems. As we move closer to the construction drawings more detailed code reviews are used to determine specifics from fire protection to handrail requirements, and ADA requirements.

Single Family Code

Regardless of the size of the project, building code always applies. For single and two family structures most firms use the residential code (IRC). The IRC is a much simpler version of the building code written to establish standards for small residential projects. The IRC is organized very different than the International Building Code and is much less robust. There are ways to allow for projects like town-homes to be filed under the IRC. Even though the project has more than two families certain fire rating specifications can allow for each town-home to be treated as a separate home. This could save thousands to avoid additional requirements.

Let us know if your interested to know more about the building code. Our pre-design service looks at the general requirements of the code to give you an idea of what to expect.

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