How can I support adoption of model building codes and standards in my community?
Contact your local building or permitting office to learn how to support adoption of modern building codes and standards in your community.
What are building codes?
Building codes have been in use in the United States for more than 100 years, when major cities began to adopt and enforce building codes in response to large fires in densely populated urban areas. While early building codes were in place to reduce fire risk, today’s building codes are the minimum acceptable standards to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of building occupants.
Building codes can be classified as either “prescriptive” or “performance” based. Performance codes provide a technical objective which leaves the method of achieving the objective up to the architect/engineer and builder. Prescriptive codes specify the method for designers and builders to achieve the objective. Some model codes, like the International Residential Code (IRC) have both prescriptive and performance based provisions, although the IRC is a prescriptive-oriented code.
What is the process and timeframe for developing model building codes?
The International Code Council (ICC) through the governmental consensus process develops the IRC for One- and Two-Family Dwellings. The IRC is revised every 18 months and new editions are published every three years. Most United States jurisdictions that adopt a residential code adopt an edition of the IRC, sometimes with amendments.
Model building codes developed by the ICC, like the IRC, establish minimum regulations for construction. They are a starting point—not a guarantee that a structure is impervious from natural disaster. The analysis contained within the Texas Leadership Toolkits is based on the notion that modern, model building codes reflect the best available minimum building materials and practices; nonetheless, certain building materials and practices beyond these minimum standards should be considered for optimal resiliency.
Why are building codes important?
Modern, model building codes that are consistently enforced by well-trained professionals are important steps to becoming a disaster-resilient community. Building codes protect the public health and safety. The increased burden from weak building codes or lax enforcement falls on taxpayers – through property losses, higher insurance premiums and lost economic opportunities. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), structures built to higher standards are 77 percent less likely to be damaged.
Do stronger building codes make a difference when severe weather strikes?
Modern, model building codes reflect the best available building practices to build to minimum regulations. Homes built to modern, model building codes will have the advantage of better wall bracing, improved roof tie-downs and overall stronger connections. For example, wind-resistant building practices like those included in the 2012 IRC can dramatically improve building performance during hurricanes and tropical storms. Moreover, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences, for every $1 spent to make buildings stronger, the American taxpayer saves $4 in federal disaster assistance.
Who is responsible for adopting and enforcing building codes?
It is the responsibility of state and local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce building codes. Many communities are at risk of severe damage from floods, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and other disasters. Adoption and effective enforcement of building codes creates a crucial line of defense against severe weather events.
Does it cost more to build to modern, model building codes?
The most cost-effective and efficient means of strengthening buildings is at the time of new construction. Modern model building codes ensure that new construction takes advantage of continuous innovation in building design, products, methods and technologies. Often, there is only a marginal increase in costs to build better.
Communities with model codes that are well-enforced experience less damage and lower insured losses from severe weather events and rank better on the Building Code Effectiveness Grading Scale (BCEGS). Communities that adopt model codes also compete more effectively for large employers who bring jobs, economic vitality and an overall stronger business climate.
What is the link between discounts on homeowners’ insurance premiums and building codes?
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) provides windstorm and hail insurance coverage to coastal residents when private insurance companies exclude such coverage from their residential policies. TWIA currently provides this coverage in 14 Texas coastal counties as well as parts of Harris County.
TWIA offers premium discounts ranging from 19% to 33% for meeting or exceeding applicable building codes depending on the location of the insured property and which building code the risk is constructed to meet, including discounts for existing or new homes that:
- Have retrofitted all exterior openings such as windows, doors, garage doors and skylights;
- Have impact-resistant roof covering; and
- Are constructed with an insulating concrete form system.
To learn more, check out the Mitigation Incentives section in the Leadership Toolkits.
Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Building Codes Toolkit, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1902-25045-9664/building_codes_toolkit_faq_508.pdf; 2012 International Residential Code for One- and Two- Family Dwellings® (International Code Council, Inc., 2011) , vii.