Last edited 28 Apr 2021

Building codes

The term 'building codes' refers to regulations that set out the standards to which all buildings and other structures must conform. They cover design, construction, alteration, repair and maintenance, and specify the minimum requirements necessary to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of building occupants and the public as well as other impacts on the environment, efficiency, community, and so on. In the UK, building codes are referred to as 'building regulations'.

In the US, building codes are established at the federal, state and local levels; although typically, rather than creating and maintaining their own codes, the majority of states and local jurisdictions adopt model codes that were first established by the International Code Council (ICC) in 2000.

The ICC’s codes include:

These codes are developed and updated in response to innovations in building technology, construction techniques, environmental considerations, changes in policy and so on. New editions are published every three years.

Individual states and local municipalities do have the authority to produce their own building codes in addition to those issued by the ICC. For example, in the state of California, Seismic Building Codes are issued which contain stricter measures on minimum requirements due to the greater seismic risk in California compared to the rest of the US. Other states have also developed or adapted building codes to suit their own particular situation or policies, for example, relating to environmental protection.

Construction projects are required to submit plans for review by the local building department to verify that they comply with the relevant building codes. The plans will either be approved or sent back for revision and resubmission. Building code inspections will then take place at key stages during the construction works. Inspectors will evaluate the work and either sign it off, confirming that it is ‘up to code’, or instruct changes. Typically, inspections are carried out after the following phases:

Large fines can be imposed for failure to comply with building codes, as well as instructions to re-build part or all of the building, or even to demolish it.

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