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Last edited 28 Apr 2021
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:
- International Building Code (IBC): This applies to practically all types of new buildings.
- International Residential Code (IRC): This applies to new one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses which are no taller than three storeys.
- International Existing Building Code (IEBC): This applies to all existing structures.
- International Zoning Code (IZC): This regulates minimum zoning requirements for new buildings.
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:
- Laying foundations.
- Erection of framing.
- Installation of building services.
- Installation of insulation.
- Completion of drywalling.
- Final inspection and certification of occupancy.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building official.
- Building regulations.
- Certificate of occupancy.
- Consultation opens for code of practice for fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction.
- Dangerous buildings.
- Design review.
- International Building Code (IBC).
- International Code Council ICC.
- International Existing Building Code (IEBC)
- International Residential Code (IRC).
- International Zoning Code (IZC).
- Licensed contractors in the USA.
- Miller Act.
- Performance specification.
- Planning permission.
- Office of Construction Services.
- Rights to light in the US.
- Structural engineering codes.
- The role of codes, standards and approvals in delivering fire safety.
- What approvals are needed before construction begins.
- Zoning in the United States.
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