Building code pros and cons: Is the system in need of an overhaul? (2023)

Editor's Note: The following is a guest contribution fromCarla Williams, who works in customer and media relations for the Williams Brothers Corporation of America.​

Building codes affect every member of modern society, from contractors and their clients to students, office workers, and anyone who spends time indoors. These regulations shape our buildings and infrastructure, and they determine the decisions that construction professionals make.

However, the building code system has evolved significantly over the past few centuries, and its influence on industries has changed as well. As the impact of these regulations becomes more obvious in our homes and businesses, some argue that the system needs a serious overhaul.

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A brief history of building codes

Of course, to many, building codes are unquestionable safety measures that prevent repeats of historic disasters. American's relationship with building codes has always revolved around disasters, starting with the original Boston building code that outlawed thatched roofs and wooden chimneys in 1631. Fire safety also inspired new building codes after the disastrous fires in London in 1666 and Chicago in 1871.

Over the years, new codes were created and enforced to protect neighbors from unsafe structures and address the relationships between different buildings. By 1940, three regional code organizations had emerged in the United States. In 2000, the three organizations merged and consolidated into the International Code Council (ICC), which is still active today.

The ICC has been responsible for publishing and enforcing all building codes (known as I-codes), which address specific issues such as energy use, plumbing access, and fire escapes. Today, I-Codes continue to reflect the lessons we've learned the "hard way." For example, utility outages during Hurricane Sandy prompted New York City to convene a special task force and create new codes to increase and maintain access to water and electricity in residential buildings.

But if building codes prevent health and safety hazards, why are so many construction insiders wary of them? Well, there are two sides of the building code argument.

The argument against building codes

The argument against building codes isn't a haphazard attempt to loosen restrictions. Instead, it's often made by experienced contractors and other industry veterans who are frustrated by certain trends and aware of hazards or risks that the general public may not realize.

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Bare minimum standards

When construction teams "build to code," what does that really mean? Unfortunately, it often means complying with the bare minimum of legal requirements. No reputable builder will defy codes intentionally, but if builders’ only goal is to make sure a property isn't illegal, they may not have incentive to go above and beyond with quality or safety.

You don't have to see into the future to know what happens when builders stick to the bare minimum requirements. Martin Holladay, who serves as a Green Building Advisor (GBA) Senior Editor, points to historic Vermont homes with rotten sills, undersized rafters, and bulging foundations as an example of corner-cutting craftsmanship that only barely complied with the building codes of the time.

Shortage of skills

Code opponents also argue that the construction industry would benefit more from well-trained master builders than strict code enforcement. As codes have gotten stricter and enforcement more common, requirements for training and special skills has actually decreased, and the shortage of construction workers has grown too.

While this isn't necessarily a cause-and-effect phenomenon, it does reflect one truth about modern construction work: though building code compliance is required and enforced, formal training is not. Some contractors take advantage of this, hiring untrained construction workers and using cheap materials to increase profit margins. Young people aren't gravitating toward these low-paid positions, and there are fewer incentives today to pursue the career path of an experienced master builder.

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Safety over quality

Of course, safety is still the primary purpose of building codes. However, because training isn't required and homeowners aren't necessarily savvy about the best materials and building practices, construction teams can continue to neglect the quality of their work. Today's codes will surely evolve in the years to come, making these margin-minded choices more obvious to future homeowners.

The argument for building codes

Even if building codes don't guarantee high-quality craftsmanship, they do serve an important purpose. So what is the argument in favor of building codes?

Learning from mistakes

Every new code is a response to a prior failure. Natural and manmade disasters have revealed our weaknesses in safety standards as well as ways to improve. The evolution of building codes over the years has prevented mass casualties from building collapses, fires, and flooding. As society moves forward, building codes will continue to move forward too, reflecting the lessons learned about the materials we use and how we use them.

Energy innovations

Energy waste is one of the most expensive consequences of older building codes. As energy conservation becomes more important for financial and environmental reasons, new building codes are being enforced specifically to address this factor. Energy efficiency is now a main priority for builders and the agencies that regulate them.

Energy codes aren't just designed to protect natural resources; they also make buildings safer and more efficient. For example, public health improves when indoor air quality is more strongly regulated and sustainability incentives have given homeowners more control over their utility costs.

Long-term impacts

Code supporters say it's also important to protect the future of our civilization. While many original features and construction materials can be changed to accommodate new information about safety or energy efficiency, some elements will impact many generations to come.

For example, building foundations often last at least half a century, so it’s important to get them right from the beginning. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) recommends building codes that make foundations and other long-term structures more sustainable than currently seems necessary for a more positive long-term impact.

Where the arguments overlap: A happy medium

So, is it possible to satisfy both parties? Fortunately, the building code debate isn't an all-or-nothing argument. There are a few simple ways to correct current issues and satisfy those who love building codes just the way they are.

Stricter licensing, training, and testing standards

If education were just as important as code enforcement, there would be new requirements for training and testing the skills of construction workers. Not only would this increase the quality of construction work, but it would also increase the incentive for young people to pursue skilled construction work. Attracting more young people to the field will produce more master builders in the generations to come.

More accountability for homeowners

Unfortunately, too many homeowners are unable or unwilling to spot the differences between a well-built home and one that barely meets construction standards. One builder told GBA about an open house he attended, during which three different couples looked right past ripped housewrap, missing caulk, builder-grade windows, and other construction flaws to focus on the large closets and granite countertops. Educating homeowners and raising their accountability will help them to become more involved in the process and inspection.

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Building codes for the future

Short-sighted priorities lead to uninformed hiring decisions and sub-par standards in every industry. However, because construction affects everyone, it’s important to take the building code debate seriously.

If building codes can truly evolve to raise quality standards rather than setting the bar as low as it can safely go they aren't the only standards that need to be changed. Improving our current building codes will require a change in the way homeowners, young people, and government regulators think about construction.


What is an advantage of a performance-based building code? ›

By holding buildings to a performance target, performance-based codes allow building owners the flexibility to try new (and modify existing) energy conservation measures or, more likely, bundles of conservation measures that are designed to achieve optimal energy performance [1].

What is a catch all phrase for all building officials who ultimately issue building permit? ›

The term “code official” is a catch-all name for a variety of duties. In small communities and rural areas, a single code official may be responsible for building inspections, plumbing inspections, fire prevention inspections, mechanical and electrical inspections, building and zoning administration, and the like.

What is the importance of construction codes? ›

Building codes are the minimum design and construction requirements to ensure safe and resilient structures. These codes reduce casualties, costs and damage by creating stronger buildings designed to withstand disasters.

Which states have the toughest building codes? ›

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the most strict building codes exist on the coasts, according to a working paper that surveyed over 2,400 primarily suburban jurisdictions in America. Areas around San Francisco and New York City top the list with the most heavy regulations.

What are the three main types of codes? ›

Common styles are imperative, functional, logical, and object-oriented languages. Programmers can choose from these coding language paradigms to best-serve their needs for a specific project.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of PEB structures? ›

The pre-engineered buildings are about 30% to 35 % lighter than the conventional steel structures. The foundations of PEB are made up of simple designs and are easy to construct with lighter weights. In the case of PEB, the buildings can be easily expanded in length by adding additional bays to them.

What does a Building Code regulate? ›

Housing laws and building codes are sets of regulations governing the design, construction, alteration and maintenance of structures.

What makes a building high performance? ›

A building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations.

What reason would a building control officer inspect a site? ›

Inspections are carried out to ensure compliance with the minimum standards of the Building Regulations. Client specifications on other issues are not commented upon provided the minimum standards of the Building Regulations are met. Inspections will also be used to check suitable materials are used.

Why do we need to secure a building permit before we proceed to construction *? ›

A building permit allows you to legally begin construction on your home project. Having a permit proves that your project drawings have been cleared and met all necessary specifications. It also gives you satisfaction that your new home improvement is safe and compliant.

What is issued after a building has been inspected and found to have complied with all provisions of the National Building Code? ›

A Certificate of Occupancy shall be issued by the Building Official within thirty (30) days if after final inspection and submittal of a Certificate of Completion referred to in the preceding Section, it is found that the building or structure complies with the provisions of this Code.

What is the main purpose of codes and standards? ›

Codes and standards establish minimum acceptable levels of safety, quality, and reliability. Understanding the codes and standards at both the industry and government level will allow you to better understand the expectations of your chosen field.

What is the objective of building codes? ›

Why are Building Codes important? Building codes are very important because they ensure that architects and contractors are making their structures as safe as possible. Safety and the wellbeing of tenants and residents is the ultimate goal for these regulations.

Which is codes used in building construction? ›

IS: 456 – code of practice for plain and reinforced concrete. IS: 383 – specifications for fine and coarse aggregate from natural sources for concrete. IS: 2430 – methods of sampling. IS: 4082 – specifications for storage of materials.

What state has the least building codes? ›

Missouri. The Show-Me State has no state building codes. Many unincorporated areas in Missouri's 114 counties have not adopted building codes, and they don't require building permits.

What state has the best building code? ›

Florida received a near-perfect score of 99.1 percent because the state adopted the latest building codes, which every county and municipality must follow.

Who enforces building codes in the US? ›

Codes are adopted and enforced by state and local jurisdictions. Rather than create their own codes, many states and local jurisdictions adopt building codes maintained by the International Code Council and amend them if needed.

What are the 3 R's of coding? ›

When it comes to deciding when it's appropriate to use a consultation code to describe an inpatient service, physicians face some confusion. For the latest on coding read our June 2017 article ICD-10 surprises in the hospital.

What are the two main coding systems? ›

The medical coding systems currently used in the United States are ICD-10-CM/PCS and HCPCS (Level I CPT codes and Level II National Codes).

What is the disadvantage in fabricated structure? ›

Fatigue and Buckling

Steel structures tend to get fatigued over a period of time. After being exposed to different kinds of pressures, there are variations in the tensile strength of the frames. This can lead to buckling of the steel structure. Metal fabricators usually prefer steel over any other metal.

What are the advantages of PEB structure? ›

They offer time savings. With materials and designs pre-chosen, erection of a facility can be much quicker and more efficient than a conventional building. In addition, finding a building firm which can self-perform erection can further shave off time. They are versatile and offer architectural options.

What is the disadvantage of pre fabrication work? ›

One of the widely known demerits of a prefab building is that it does not offer the same level of quality as traditional. "These techniques have limited customisation and service areas.

Who is responsible for building regulations? ›

Meeting the requirements of the building regulations is the responsibility of the person carrying out the building work and, if they are not the same person, the owner of the building.

What is the difference between building regulations and building codes? ›

Unlike a code or standard, a regulation does not necessarily require any industry consensus or knowledgeable body to put it in affect. For example, the Connecticut Legislative Regulation Review Committee approved to implement the 2017 NEC starting October 1, 2018. They also adopted 2015 building and fire safety codes.

What is the difference between a code and a regulation? ›

Statutes also referred to as codes, are laws written and enacted by the legislative branch of government (e.g, U.S. Congress, state legislators). Regulations also referred to as rules, are written by agencies (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency) to supplement laws that were passed by the legislature.

What are 5 important elements for building high performing teams? ›

5 Key Characteristics of High Performing Teams
  • Clarity of Shared Vision. High-performing teams are built on the foundation of clarity. ...
  • Defined Roles and Responsibilities. ...
  • Clear and Respectful Communication. ...
  • Trust and respect. ...
  • Continuous learning and improvement.

What are the 5 factors of performance? ›

Below are 5 key factors.
  • 1) Emotional Commitment.
  • 2) Ability to Leverage Strengths.
  • 3) A Strong Work Ethic.
  • 4) Ability To Build Strong Relationships.
  • 5) Advanced Self-Leadership Abilities.
Jul 13, 2021

How much does it cost to get building regulations approval? ›

An initial fee (for sites other than those classified as large) of £268 (Exclusive of VAT) is payable and must be sent together with your application. An initial fee of £407 (Exclusive of VAT) is required for larger sites.

What are two examples of when a building control officer would need to visit a new construction development? ›

Foundations: They will look to check ground conditions to ensure that the foundations are sufficient to carry the load of your construction. This is before any foundations concrete is poured. Oversite Materials: Another inspection will be made to ensure materials and insulation over the site are suitable.

What happens if building control get it wrong? ›

Building Control in the local council is responsible for dealing with breaches of building regulations. They'll ask a builder to rectify a contravention. If the builder doesn't rectify what's wrong with the work, the council can take legal action.

Do we need building permit for house renovation? ›

Yes, a building permit is required to proceed with the construction of a certain facility.

Who are exempted in applying building permits? ›

The National Building Code of the Philippines states that an exemption to the National Building Code of the Philippines states that traditional indigenous family dwellings and public buildings are exempted from building permit fees.

What are some things a builder needs to consider before beginning construction? ›

4 Steps to Take Before Starting General Construction on a Project
  • Create a detailed plan. Building plans are known as schematics and they usually include a floor plan and possibly imagined views of the exterior of the building project. ...
  • Make sure you are realistic with your budget. ...
  • Choose your contractor carefully.

What is a major defect in a building inspection? ›

A major defect is a damage or inconsistency in any of the major components or a major element of a building. It is likely to render a facility unusable for its intended purpose, and can even cause destruction or collapse of all or some part of the building.

Can building regulations be enforced after 10 years? ›

Despite the fact that there is no time limit on the local authority's right to apply for an injunction, it is generally accepted that if 10 years or more have passed since the work was carried out then there is no serious risk of action fro breach of building regulations being taken.

How long does a builder have to fix defects act? ›

A homeowner has statutory warranties (6 years for major defects and 2 years for minor defects).

Why are codes so important? ›

Programming helps children learn to problem-solve

Understanding computers and learning the basics of coding helps children to develop an appreciation of how things work. It also teaches them how software engineers use math in order to solve problems in a logical and creative way.

Why is code compliance important? ›

It is their job to make sure the health, safety, and welfare of the public is protected through ensuring adherence to building, electrical and plumbing code in residential and commercial electrical and plumbing code in residential and commercial buildings.

What does a building code regulate? ›

Housing laws and building codes are sets of regulations governing the design, construction, alteration and maintenance of structures.

What are two major types of legal requirements that affect building design? ›

Codes typically contain two types of requirements—prescriptive and performance. Prescriptive requirements provide minimum standards for building materials, products, systems, etc.

What code must the builder abide by? ›

The International Building Code®(IBC®) is a model code that provides minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare of the occupants of new and existing buildings and structures.

What is a coding system in construction? ›

A construction code may be defined as a set of rules of procedure and standards of materials designed to secure uniformity and protect public interest, usually established by a public agency. Codes used in the chemical process industry include the American ASME VIII2 for pressure vessels and ANSI B. 31.33 for piping.

What are standard cost codes in construction? ›

What Are Construction Cost Codes? Construction cost codes are the fixed set of codes used for managing, tracking, and reporting all costs, quantities, and profits associated with a particular project. Cost codes are used to simplify project data management across all levels of a job.

What are the codes and standards? ›

A code is a model, a set of rules that knowledgeable people recommend for others to follow. It is not a law, but can be adopted into law. A standard tends be a more detailed elaboration, the nuts and bolts of meeting a code.

What are the two major building codes in the United States? ›

In the USA the main codes are the International Building Code or International Residential Code [IBC/IRC], electrical codes and plumbing, mechanical codes.

What is the most widely adopted building code? ›

The I-Codes are the most widely accepted, comprehensive set of model codes used in the United States. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and many other countries have adopted the I-Codes at the state or jurisdictional level.

What are the three major model building codes used in the United States? ›

THE PRINCIPAL MODEL CODES 15 3 THE PRINCIPAL MODEL CODES The three principal model building codes used in the United States are the Uniform Building Code (published by ICBO), the Standard Building Code (formerly the Southern Building Code and published by SBCCI), and the National Building Code (formerly the Basic ...

What are the five basic building classifications? ›

The Five Types of Building Construction
  • Fire-resistive.
  • Non-combustible.
  • Ordinary.
  • Heavy timber.
  • Wood-framed.
Mar 29, 2022

Which country has the strictest building code? ›

In Japan, where earthquakes are far more common than they are in the United States, the building codes have long been much more stringent on specific matters like how much a building may sway during a quake.

What are the three types of building regulations approval? ›

There are 3 main types of building control applications: full plans application, building notice application and regularisation application.

What is the oldest building code? ›

Building codes have existed since antiquity. The earliest known building code is actually found in the Code of Hammurabi, dating from roughly 1772 BCE.

What is the latest version of the building code? ›

International Building Code 2021 (IBC 2021)

What are the 4 types of building system? ›

The 7 Types of Building Systems Engineering
  • Civil. Civil engineering related to building systems primarily deals with the routing of site utilities, such as storm water piping and retention, sanitary, natural gas. ...
  • Electrical. Everyone thinks of the obvious here: lights. ...
  • Energy. ...
  • Mechanical. ...
  • Plumbing. ...
  • Structural. ...
  • Technology.
Feb 2, 2016

What are the 3 types of building systems? ›

Building systems refers to the mechanical (HVAC), electrical, and plumbing systems found in modern buildings.

What are the three components of efficient building operation? ›

Three Ways Facility Managers Can Improve Energy Efficiency of Building Systems
  • Proactively manage energy-using equipment. ...
  • Effectively use lighting and HVAC controls. ...
  • Retrofit existing building systems.
Oct 3, 2019

What is a Class 7 building? ›

Class 7 buildings. Class 7 buildings are storage-type buildings. The Class 7 classification has 2 sub-classifications: Class 7a and Class 7b. Class 7a buildings are carparks. Class 7b buildings are typically warehouses, storage buildings or buildings for the display of goods (or produce) for wholesale.

What is the best construction type? ›

Type I buildings are the Cadillac of construction types and are made of high-quality non-combustible materials, such as poured concrete and steel framing that's protected or insulated from fire, and are rated to withstand fires for two to three hours. This rating provides the highest levels of safety.

What are the 4 main elements of a building? ›

All buildings are built with the same components such as foundations, walls, floors, rooms, and roofs.


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