• Ackerman Estvold

Building Code Overview

October 12, 2020

Scott Huber, AIA

Senior Architect


Building Codes establish a building’s quality, safety, and energy performance for many years to come. There are code requirements, such as fire safety codes and structural standards that we can see the obvious affects, but others such as light quality, acoustics, and indoor air quality have major effects on the public health and welfare.

The regulation of building construction can be traced through history back to more than 4,00 years to the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first translatable Babylonian legal documents. This code, written in stone, established harsh penalties for people who are designing and constructing buildings for others are accountable for their work.

Portions of the Code of Hammurabi are paraphrased below:

  1. If a builder has built a house for a man and his work is not strong, and if the house he has built falls in and kills the householder, that builder shall be slain.

  2. If the householder’s son is killed, the builder’s son shall be slain.

  3. If the slave of the householder is killed, the builder’s slave is to be given to the householder as payment.

  4. The builder shall repair or replace any properties damaged by the collapse of his work at his own expense.

The Code of Hammurabi might seem harsh in today’s standards, it does show that there was some control of building safety.

The great fires in London (1666) and Chicago (1871) led to building codes that addressed the risks of one building posed to adjacent buildings and public safety. The San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 left the city in ruins. The primary concern was the integrity of building structures during and after an earthquake. The other concern was the resulting fire from the earthquake and the inability to provide water to put out the fires.

Early attempts to prevents fires included widening streets, placing limitations on building spacing & heights, and eliminating the building construction of thatched roofs and wooden chimneys in cities. Sanitation was also a major concern for providing early codes. The public health and safety concerns lead to plumbing standards, light and ventilation requirements, fire escapes, water supply, toilets and sanitary drains, and stairs and railings.

In 1905, the National Building Code was created to minimize risks to the property and public. This code led to the formation building official organizations. By 1940, there were three regional building code organizations within the United States. These three code organizations were consolidated into the International Code Council (ICC) in 2000. The ICC codes include International Building Code (IBC), International Residential Code (IRC), International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), International Existing Building Code (IEBC), as well as mechanical, plumbing, fire, and other codes.

Each State regularly updates the Building Code every three years, which helps to ensure that new building methods, materials, technology, and updated public health & safety standards can be incorporated into the next generation of buildings. The adopted Building Code will usually have amendments added by each state, which makes changes to the code as deemed necessary by that State’s Building Code Advisory Committee. Building codes are transformed into local law when they are enacted by state legislature or local governments, and thus becoming local building codes.

The building codes are enforced by local code officials, building inspectors, and plan reviewers. Code enforcement can improve public health and safety, as well as preserving a high quality of life throughout the community.

In 2020, North Dakota State Building Code adopted the 2018 International Building Code (IBC), 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), 2018 International Mechanical Code (IMC), 2018 International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC), 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), 2018 International Existing Building Code (IEBC).

The International Building Code (IBC) is the base code standard used by must jurisdictions in the United States. The IBC intent is to protect the public health and safety by focusing on fire prevention requirements for building systems.

The International Residential Code (IRC) contains information and regulations applying to residential construction, including both new construction and remodeling practices.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) contains minimum design and construction requirements for energy efficiency for the building envelope, mechanical systems, light systems for new and remodeled construction.

The International Existing Building Code (IEBC) provides requirements for repair and alternate approaches for alteration and additions to existing buildings, without requiring full compliance with the new construction requirements of the current building code.

Scott brings over 29 years of experience to the design team including project coordination, building code studies, construction drawings and specifications, and construction administration. If you have any questions throughout this series or would like more information on a particular topic, please feel free to reach out to Scott.

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