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Building Codes? Which one?

Home Inspector with Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington 215

Last week I did an inspection for a client who was in the process of having a new home built.  Rather than a typical home inspection, it was focusing on specific code issues that he was worried about. He was right that there were issues and, as I wrote the report over the weekend, I documented them with both the manufacturer specifications and with the International Residential Code (IRC).

That is where some confusion entered the system.  I was using the 2009 IRC – new codes are developed on a three year cycle – and he was expecting me to use the International Building Code (IBC).  This is pretty understandable since the title of the IBC has “Building Code” right in it and when we construct new homes we expect it to be built to code.

So, a brief history lesson on codes and which ones may apply to a given project.  Building codes are not written by the municipality;  a private organization called the International Code Council (ICC)writes them and then allows the various villages, towns, cities or states to “adopt” the standard.  The ICC makes its money from certifying inspectors and from sales of the books.

There is little competition in this marketplace since the merger of the three dominant code writing organizations in 1994.  They were: the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI).  Obviously having three different code writing organizations that were regionally based created a problem for builders, architects and engineers that operated on a national scale.  Manufacturers also objected since they designed and tested products that needed to meet not one, but three, standards.

Since the merger, the ICC has created an entire family of codes: 

·      International Building Code

·      International Energy Conservation Code

·      International Existing Building Code

·      International Fire Code

·      International Fuel Gas Code

·      International Mechanical Code

·      ICC Performance Code

·      International Plumbing Code

·      International Private Sewage Disposal Code

·      International Property Maintenance Code

·      International Residential Code

·      International Wildland Urban Interface Code

·      International Zoning Code

To make matters even more confusing, there are still organizations that produce codes as well such as the National Fire Prevention Association whose publications include the National Electrical Code and the NFPA 1: Fire Code.

So, back to my client.  His confusion is pretty understandable.  The governing standard for his new home is the 2009 International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings – or IRC for short – since that was the standard adopted when the project started.  For the energy efficiency aspects of the home though, the plans specified the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code.  Different adoption dates can mean different cycles of a code family are used.




Juli Vosmik
Dominion Fine Properties - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale/Cave Creek, AZ real estate 480-710-0739

UGH - and just how do you keep up with all that?  Paul - that's why I would NEVER give an opinion to my clients - I'm just not qualified enough.  

May 08, 2012 01:30 AM
Sharon Parisi
United Real Estate Dallas - Dallas, TX
Dallas Homes

Paul, most people would be shocked to learn about all of the codes that may affect building in their municipality!

May 08, 2012 03:40 AM
Paul Duffau
Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington - Asotin, WA
Caring for People, Educating about Homes

Juli, I'm just a bit of a nerd and read constantly.  Though the kids did laugh when I offered to loan them my copy of the 2012 IRC (and the ANSI 117.1 Accessibility Guide for the ADA) until their copy came in.....  :)

Sharon, you're right.  I think they might be shocked more to find out how often stuff doesn't get checked though.  And then add in the planning and zoning requirements, community development, environmental impacts, etc.  Scary.

May 08, 2012 02:23 PM