The Green Thumb
Rule by the People (A Second Look, Part Four)
Code factorA little known fact about building codes is that, in the United States, code adaptation germinates at the local, county and state levels, having derived legal authority from legislative enactment as laws, ordinances or statutes. Our system is contrary to most other industrialized nations where code adaptation occurs typically at the national level. In effect, this means that each jurisdiction in the U.S. may make their own determination as to which codes/versions they will adopt.
Supplemental to this is the fact that nearly all jurisdictions reserve the right to add to and/or amend the codes they adapt. Because of these code provisions, local building officials have the authority to approve alternative designs/materials/methods of construction. These provisions in almost all codes are meant to deal with specifically unaddressed materials, methods and systems in the code and are considered acceptable provided they meet the intent of the building code. These provisions have come to play an important role in the adaptation of many aspects of green design and construction.
Demo-CracyAnother little known fact about building codes is how they are developed, amended and enforced. Any business, individual, interest group, etc., can participate in this open process by making formal proposals. Typically, such proposals go through a three-stage process whereby a committee reviews it, a public hearing is scheduled and then a formal vote is taken. Annually, such proposals result in very many changes to building codes each year, where they are published as a supplement to the code. Most commonly, the change to the code is consolidated into a new edition every three years.
Though it often complicates the code, this local authority to amend, adopt, etc., the building code provides a format for change which is often necessary and often exercised making the code dynamic rather than static. For example, a locality might experience high winds or unprecedented seismic activity, thus it must amend the code to recognize these natural factors. These amendments also often recognize and reflect regional/traditional building techniques, such as adobe in the southwest.
Code of HammurabiSociety uses building codes to protect individuals and the general welfare of the public to hold building practitioners responsible for their work. In 1750 B.C., the Babylonian king of Mesopatamia ("Land between the waters"-modern day Iraq) created a wide-ranging code including No. 229:
"If a builder builds a house for someone and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death."
No doubt, this first "performance code" created safer buildings but it also put a damper on innovation in building design and construction.
In 2000, the first full edition of the ICC was published. This was the result of the efforts of the council of American Building Officials to consolidate the three model codes first established in the U.S. in 1940:
Building Officials & Code Administrator International
• In the northeastern U.S.
• Produced the National
International Conference of
• In the western U.S.
• Produced the Uniform
Southern Building Code
• In the southeastern U.S.
• Published the Standard
The ICC has resulted in the creation of a single national building code/family of codes replacing the aforementioned:
• International Residential Code
• International versions of the codes for:
• Energy conservation
• International Performance Code
The ICC has helped greatly in consolidating building codes but it remains the right of states or the federal government to pass legislation and/or create programs that directly or indirectly supercede local codes. A good example of such government intervention in building codes uses the requirement of the 1992 Energy Policy Act providing for low-flow toilets.
In part five, we'll conclude this series and see how the company producing the next generation (and most promising) of preservative treatments for wood is utilizing both the ICC and local building officials to introduce its product to the marketplace. By doing so, they are circumventing the traditional route of seeking certification from the American Wood Preservers Association.