What Is a Building Code?

A Building Code is a set of standards

Building code is the set of standards your local government imposes on construction. Before issuing a “certificate of occupancy” pronouncing a building as fit to inhabit, the government’s building department inspects the house to make sure it complies with the code. If the building comes up short of the code standards, the problems will have to be fixed before the certificate is issued.

Building Code History

Construction laws date back to ancient Babylon, but those rules emphasized penalties for faulty construction, according to the Alameda, California, city website. In the 19th century, cities began drawing up codes that set requirements for new construction and hiring inspectors to make sure the codes were met. The first building code in California was the 1909 State Tenement Housing Act.

Building Code Features

One of the first American building codes, New York’s Tenement Housing Act of 1867, required fire escapes on every building and a window in every room, Alameda says in its history of building codes. Later guidelines required interior toilets and windows that face outside, not just a hallway. Modern building codes go into far more detail, covering construction materials, window sizes, the placement of electrical outlets, building height and the space required between one building and its neighbor.

Building Code Uniformity

Although local governments pass their own building codes, they don’t have to do it from scratch. Organizations such as the International Code Council work to draw up “model” codes incorporating what have been found to be the best rules. State groups such as California’s Building Standards Commission then adopt model codes as the state standard, the BSC states, giving cities and counties a basis for their own rules.

Building Code Considerations

The use of model building codes doesn’t mean rules are the same everywhere. California, for example, imposes rules for earthquake-resistant construction that aren’t needed in other parts of the country. Likewise, Florida’s building codes set standards for coastal buildings to resist hurricane-force winds, a set of guidelines that aren’t necessary in Nebraska or Iowa.

Building Code Procedure

It may take several inspections at different stages of construction to ensure that your building meets local codes. San Francisco’s building department, for instance, states that it inspects construction at multiple points, including when reinforcing steel is in place, rough framing is up, insulation is installed and sheetrock is in place. The same applies to inspections to approve the electrical and plumbing systems.

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