Model Code Development Process

Codes and standards provide a common language and requirements for the design, construction, and operations of buildings. Such codes and standards have long served as the main tool of governments in setting agreed-upon norms in a jurisdiction. Codes have increased in stringency since the early focus on life and property. They address a myriad of new technigues and have expanded to include other societal values such as accessiblity, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and sustainability.

The model codes in the United States are currently developed by two organizations: the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Both organizations are on an 18-month code change cycle. The groups provide opportunities to introduce, review and comment, support or oppose, and challenge actions.

The national model codes may be adopted by state and local jurisdictions with or without modifications or amendments, depending on their needs. States and municipalities typically reserve the right to amend the model codes to assure that the requirements for design and construction of buildings are appropriate for the climatic, geographical, geological, political, and economic conditions within their jurisdiction.

The building code enacted or adopted via a legislative and/or regulatory process at the state or local level becomes the minimum legal requirements to which buildings are designed and constructed.

Model Codes

International Codes Codes Council

The International Codes Council (ICC) publishes codes commonly referred to as the “I-Codes.” Most states and local jurisdictions have opted to base their building codes on the I-Codes. PCA actively participates in the development process of the:

International Building Code (IBC) provides minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare for all buildings except one- and two-family dwellings (town homes) not more than three stories above grade. Safeguards are to be provided through structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, adequate light and ventilation, energy conservation, and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the build environment. Safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations is also part of the IBC.

International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) regulates the design of building envelopes for adequate thermal resistance and low air leakage and the design and selection of mechanical, electrical, service water-heating and illumination systems and equipment which enables effective use of energy in new building construction.

International Fire Code (IFC) establishes regulations affecting or related to structures, processes, premises and safeguards regarding the hazard of fire and explosion arising from the storage,handling, or use of structures, materials, or devices; conditions hazardous to life, property or public welfare in the occupancy of structures; fire hazards in the structure or on the premises from occupancy or operation; and matters related to the construction, extension, repair, alteration, or removal of fire suppression or alarm systems.

International Residential Code (IRC) provides minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare for residential construction limited to one- and two-family dwellings (town homes) not more than three stories above grade. The intent is “to provide these safeguards through affordability, structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment.”

International Urban Wildland Interface (IUWIC) addresses buildings within urban-wildland areas, defined as geographical areas where structures and other human development meets or intermingles with wildland or vegetative fuels. The intent is to mitigate the risk of life and structures from intrusion of fire from wildland fire exposures and fire exposure from adjacent strurctures and to mitigate structure fires form spreading to wildland fuels.

Performance Code for Building and Facilities (PCBF) provides appropriate health, safety, welfare, and social and economic value, while promoting innovative, flexible and responsive solutions that optimize the expenditure and consumption of resources. PCBF provides an acceptable level of health, safety and welfare, and to limit damage to property from events that are expected to impact buildings and structures. It provides for an environment free of unreasonable risk of death and injury form fires; structure that will withstand loads associated with normal use and the severity associated with the location in which the structure is constructed;  means of egress and access for normal and emergency circumstances; limited spread of fire both within the building and to adjacent properties; ventilation and sanitation facilities to maintain the health of occupants; natural light, heating, cooking and other amenities necessary for the well being of the occupants; and efficient use of energy. It also "establishes requirements necessary to provide an acceptable level of life safety and property protection from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions in all facilities, equipment and processes."

Other I-Codes are beyond the purview of the normal operations of the PCA Codes and Standards Department: International Codes Council Electrical Code (ICCEC), International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC), International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC), International Mechanical Code (IMC), International Plumbing Code (IPC), International Private Sewage Disposal Code (IPSDC), and International Zoning Code (IZC).

National Fire Protection Association

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develops numerous codes intended for adoption by state and local jurisdictions. Several of these codes address general building construction and requirements for special occupancy or historic structures. Other codes address a range of topics including: electrical requirements, fires on vessels, rocketry, and pyrotechnics. PCA’s involvement in NFPA Code development is primarily focused on:

Life Safety Code 101 (NFPA 101) addresses construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from fire, including smoke, fumes, or panic.

Life Safety Code 5000 (NFPA 5000) provides minimum design regulations to safeguard life, health, property, and public welfare of all buildings.

Both the International Codes Council and National Fire Protection Association develop national reference standards and guides in addition to model building codes. These standards are addressed in National Reference Standards Development.

History of Model Building Code Development

At one time nearly every jurisdiction with a building code developed the code themselves. In order to gain some needed uniformity and to reduce administrative and development costs regional model codes were developed. While some states and jurisdictions continued to write their own codes, there were three regional model building codes:

  • National Building Code (NBC) published by the Building Officials Conference of America (BOCA) used primarily in the Northeast;

  • Standard Building Code (SBC) published by the Southern Building Code Congress, International (SBCCI) used primarily in the Southeast;

  • Uniform Building Code (UBC) published by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) used primarily west of the Mississippi River.

Each of the three model codes had different provisions addressing regional climatic, geologic, and political, and societal needs. For example, seismic design and construction provisions tended to be more advanced in the Uniform Building Code (UBC) which was used by states in very high seismic design categories. More advanced provisions for protection from hurricane and other high wind events tended to first appear in the Standard Building Code (SBC). Cold weather and frost protection provisions tended to be addressed first in the National Business Code (NBC).

In addition to these regional model codes there was a model residential and a model energy code published by the Council of American Building Officials (CABO):

  • Model Energy Code (MEC)

  • One- and Two-Family Dwelling Code

In 1997, the regional codes writing organizations and the Council of American Building Officials (CABO) agreed to cease publishing their codes and to have one series of national model building codes published by the International Codes Council (ICC).

The National Electrical Code, Life Safety Code, and other codes were and continue to be published by the National Fire Protection Association. Other organizations developed other model codes, such as the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).

Who Submits Code Change Proposals?

Anyone can submit a code change proposal to a model building code or standard. Some scenarios that exist include:

  • Competing material groups, including but not limited to: steel, wood, and plastic, pursuing market share gains may propose revisions to building codes and standards.

  • Builders and developers pursuing avenues of least initial cost, often proposing, encouraging, or supporting the development of codes and standards that are favorable for alternatives to cement-based products and providing the builder or developer with increased profitability.

  • Systems manufacturers, such as those producing automatic sprinkler systems, propose, encourage, and support code and standards revisions that reduce the requirements for the use of cement-based products as passive fire protection to justify the additional costs for their systems and gain support from builders and developers.

  • Government agencies may propose codes and standards changes that reflect the results of research and development; support their issues and views; or satisfy their obligations to comply with mandates from legislative bodies.

  • Building code officials and administrators may propose changes to enhance life safety or to simplify the codes and standards or the inspection process.

  • General public and legal counsel may submit changes with the intent of increasing consumer protection.