Understanding Building Codes in the United States

Building codes are laws that establish minimum requirements for how structural systems, piping, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), natural gas systems, and other aspects of residential and commercial buildings should be designed and constructed. These regulations are put in place to ensure the safety, health and general welfare of the public, including structural integrity, mechanical integrity (including sanitation, water supply, light and ventilation), means of escape, fire prevention and control, and energy conservation. Virtually all residential construction must comply with comprehensive building codes and standards that are governed by local and state laws.The application of building codes depends on local jurisdictions. Most of the adoption of building codes in the United States is carried out at the state level, where each state will have its own building code that will be applied throughout the state.

The city of Decatur, for example, has its own set of high-performance construction requirements that go beyond the state building code. However, many local jurisdictions have adopted the building codes specified by the Alabama Construction Commission.The International Council on Codes (ICC) is a major source of model codes for building regulations. The ICC also has model codes for a variety of other construction requirements, such as mechanical systems, piping and energy conservation. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) creates the model codes of the Uniform Mechanical Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code (which compete with the ICC mechanical and plumbing code).

Prefabricated homes are built according to HUD safety regulations, not local code requirements (although, generally, they must meet local zoning requirements).The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which creates codes related to fire protection, as well as the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70), which almost every jurisdiction has adopted for electrical requirements. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), for example, has lobbied widely (and successfully) for states to eliminate fire sprinkler requirements in their codes for single-family homes.In some countries, government agencies or quasi-governmental standards organizations develop building codes and then enforces them throughout the country by the central government. Georgia has a state building code that covers all building construction in the state. The purpose of building codes is to provide minimum standards of safety, health and general welfare.Because of the cost and complexity of developing and maintaining such codes, state and local governments often adopt nationally recognized model codes and often modify them to reflect local construction practices, climate, and geography.

The communities adopt the codes I of the International Council on Codes for this purpose. The building code becomes the law of a particular jurisdiction when it is formally enacted by the appropriate governmental or private authority. A model code can also base its code provisions on a standard without referring to that standard directly.

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