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What is a Building Code?

Background:

A building code is a legal doctrine creating a minimum set of building standards to provide minimum requirements to safeguard life or limb, health and public welfare. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in (Veeck vs. SBCCI) that, "when codes are adopted and enforced by governments, they become to that extent "the law" of the governmental entities". The state of Texas adopted its first ever building code Sept. 1, 2001 under SB 365 and the ICC set of building codes became law.

A Code is a borderline minimum standard just above substandard.

A Code is not, "good, better, or best" building practice.

A code does not tell one how to build a structure nor is it a blueprint on how to build. A published building code covers a portion of the overall structure but it does not cover workmanship, quality or construction management. A building code does not follow a "what if" path of decision-making and only assumes good and workmanlike construction.

The ICC codes are prescriptive codes which mean they prescribe what needs to be done in order to comply with the minimum building standards to a limit of conventional understanding and then furthered by engineering design using standard engineering practices in higher wind speed areas. For example, the IRC Code is a book of Tables of construction design limits. Hence, what is not covered or prescribed in the ICC codes are required to be engineered by a professional engineer using standard engineering practices. Such is the case with the Texas Dept. of Insurance that requires buildings in the 14 first-tier coastal counties to be "engineered structures" for windstorm insurance. The Texas Dept. of Insurance dropped its own set of "hurricane codes" in February 2003 soon after Texas adopted its first-ever statewide building code as the ICC codes were more stringent.

Importantly, areas outside the 14 first-tier coastal counties of Texas but within the same wind speed zones should be "engineered structures" according to the requirements of the ICC set of codes and built to the high wind standards. As the Texas Dept. of Insurance does not monitor codification outside the 14 first tier coastal counties enforcement is lacking. Cities do not provide engineering services to wind limitations (IRC R301.2.1) or inspect for the high wind standards of engineered structures.

In essence, many homes being built in areas of wind speeds greater than 110 m.p.h. and outside of coastal counties do not comply with the building code as they were not designed by a professional engineer to the wind loads to be imposed using standard engineering practices. Why? The marketplace does not penalizes poor workmanship and construction.


Where there are building codes and standards in effect, the general public assumes that contractors and builders are are required to follow the rules. The "let the buyer beware" attitude clearly goes against public intent codifying and systematizing building regulations. Also, it is proven that codes attain the highest percentage of success where training, monitoring, and inspection, plus pressure from insurers and lenders, work together to enable and enforce code compliance In a market driven industry, there is no formal training seen with the field supervisors that are increasingly more of a "construction production expediter" than builder. Clearly, very few, if any, are code certified, construction knowledgeable and experienced. Listening to some you would think that claiming the structure "passed city inspection" was some marvelous milestone implying the connotation of some greatness when in fact it's not.

What makes up a building code?

1. The statewide adopted building, mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes.

2. Referenced Codes and Standards (IRC Texas Bldg. Code R102.3) from organizations such as AAMA, ACI, ACCA, AFPA, AGA, AHA, ANSI, ASCE, ASHRAE, ASME, ASSE, ATSM, AWPA, CDA, CGSB, CISPI, CPSC, CSA, CSSB, DOC, EWA (APA), FEMA, FM, GA, HPVA, ICC, NCMA, NFPA, NFRC, NSF, NSPI, RMA, SAE, SMACNA, TPI. UL, ULC and WDMA) which the building codes are partially based on in each of the referenced provisions.

3. Other laws (IRC Texas Bldg. Code R102.2) - the provisions of codes shall not be deemed to nullify and provisions of local, state, or federal law.

4.Manufacturer required installation instructions. (IRC Texas Bldg. Code R102.4)

5. Code of Federal Regulation (Federal Law) - (one example: the acid etched labels on safety glass are required to identify them as safety glass)

6. Ordinances of local or state jurisdictions. (Local laws) Cities may adopt ordinances to be added to the codes for a more stringent regulation or purpose but cannot make them any less stringent. (example: most cities have ordinances outlawing use of aluminum wiring and most have ordinances stating that a higher ampacity of wire (#12) be used in residences other than the minimum (#14).

Cities do not per se have individual "city codes". The city code is the statewide building codes and local ordinances can be added to make the building code more stringent. City Codes are the International Code Council Codes. In residential dwellings it is the International Residential Code (IRC).

What are the building and mechanical codes for Texas?Click Here

Building Codes: The Failure of Public Policy to Institutionalze Good Practice

The Failure of Building Codes

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