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Which Code Is Which?

During a recent work session on AWCI’s new Exterior Envelope—Doing It Right a question was asked about how we will deal with the building code. All of AWCIs’ Doing It Right programs are based on the applicable codes and standards. Until recently we only had to be concerned with the building code and primarily fire rated partitions. With the advent of the new International Energy Conservation Code and the International Green Construction Code, all of that is changing. That light you see at the end of the tunnel is in fact a freight train barreling down the track.

When I first came to AWCI there was a great deal of talk about establishing a nationwide building code, a very laudable goal and not at all new. Herbert Hoover, who became the U.S. president in 1929, was a professional mining engineer prior to becoming president; he wanted to establish a national building code. It didn’t happen. Up until 2000 there were several building codes across the country. This was a very confusing situation for architects and engineers who practiced in several different geographical locations. When I came to the Washington, D.C., metro area in the early 1970s to work for a major A/E firm, we potentially would be working under the requirements of four different building codes. Counties in Maryland adopted the code of their choice; the District of Columbia has a different code. The only saving grace was that the Commonwealth of Virginia had several years earlier adopted a uniform statewide building code and all jurisdictions within the commonwealth used the same basic code. There are also other states that have adopted a uniform statewide building code.

The International Code Council along with the American Institute of Architects had high hopes that the International Building Code and the International Residential Code would be adopted as written by all jurisdictions in the United States. What happened was that jurisdictions adopted the IBC and IRC with, in some cases, major changes to the model codes. The Commonwealth of Virginia reportedly had 95 pages of amendments to the 2000 IBC when the code was adopted. This same situation happened in many other jurisdictions across the country.
Another problem with the codes is that since the ICC has a three year revision cycle currently in place, many jurisdictions are several years behind in the current 2012 editions of the IBC and IRC. In Virginia the current code in force is based on the 2009 edition of the model code. The situation will become even more problematic when the IECC and the IgCC are adopted. Again, the current edition for these two codes is the 2012, but most jurisdictions are working under the 2009 IECC. This is because states that received TARP money during the bailout were required to adopt the 2009 IECC.

Yet another potential area of concern with the IECC is that the U-factors for exterior walls are based on climate zones. There are seven climate zones in the continental United States. The zones were established by county lines and not states lines. So if you are working in two different but adjacent counties in the same state, there is the possibility of having to conform to two different editions of the IECC.

So how will we structure the program to take into account the variations in the building codes from one jurisdiction to another? The only course that I can see to dodge the oncoming freight train is to build awareness of the code requirements in their strictest forms. Also, AWCI will reinforce the need to become familiar with editions of the code adopted in the areas where you do work. (Maybe you are lucky and work in states with a statewide building code.) It might also be prudent to assign a project manager to follow the codes and be aware of the ever-changing requirements for the type of work you perform.

Earlier I mentioned the IgCC. This code has not been adopted by many jurisdictions as of yet. When it is, there will be conflicts between the IECC and the IgCC. The only method of resolving these conflicts is through your local building official. As I understand it, the ICC will not be making interpretations on a local level unless it is directly through local officials. Since these officials are not accustomed to dealing with subcontractors, this might be a good time to get to know them. AWCI tries to seek out building officials and invite them to attend our Doing It Right programs. The instructors welcome these individuals and their input.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to [email protected], or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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