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6 essential functions of building codes

Mar 12, 2020 6:51:48 AM

For professionals in land development, it’s not uncommon to have partial comprehension of building code and their scope, though they might lack the big picture. Whether you’re a long-time industry stakeholder or you’re just dipping your toes into building development, the basics of building codes are always relevant and present in your plans, designs and execution of a land development project. 

While zoning codes ensure that the lands used are legal, building codes ensure that the physical structure itself is safe and meets the requirements set by the legislative jurisdiction.

By definition, Building codes are a set of laws, regulations and ordinances adopted by a government legislative authority that governs the physical construction of  a building. They set formal rules for the design of buildings -- how they’re to be built, the materials used and the design and overall performance of buildings. 

Not limited to one singular collection, building codes are an agglomeration of the core building codes constituting the electrical codes, the plumbing codes and mechanical codes. These group of codes are known as “the building codes” for that location. 

Designed to establish minimum requirements to protect the occupants in the building structures. They are referred to as “the worst you can build a building by law,” compliance with these codes are the bare minimum. 

But even with such importance, the reasoning/rationale behind them are often forgotten:

Ensuring public safety

The effects of public safety transcends the building owner. From concerns of contamination of the public water supply to the safety of the general public within or near buildings, the construction of a singular building has a large impact on others too. 

Codes reduce potential hazards, eliminating the threat of poorly designed or executed plans,  mitigating the risk of fatal flaws that could harm the inhabitants of a building. For example, In the case of a natural disaster, the legislative jurisdiction will establish a code that protects the welfare and safety of people in and near the building’s reducing the risk of harm and damage.

Providing public services

Building codes additionally facilitate the provision of public services. As local jurisdictions provide emergency services like firefighters, building codes also ensure the safety of these respondents in the case of an emergency. 

They also ensure buildings engage well with its environment, taking into consideration of the building appearance, the stormwater runoff, noise, fire spread and the backflow prevention in water systems. Building codes also ensure a safe working environment for the construction teams in creating a sense of community, well-being and unity. 

Developing accessible structures

Federal law requires buildings to provide equal access regardless of an individuals limited capability. Thus, the building codes facilitate the general public’s use of a building in spite of ones disabilities.  

While not an official building code, The American Disabilities Act (or ADA) provides guidelines a property owner can take to ensure accessibility for individuals that may have different disabilities. The ADA covers everything from elevators, ramps and handicapped restrooms, providing  technical requirements for the construction of specific buildings depending on use and design.

Establishing reasonable insurance

In order to insure one’s property at a reasonable rate, insurance companies rely on the use of building codes,using it as a guideline to follow specific  standards and regulations. Trying to find insurance for a building that doesn’t meet code requirements is often expensive (or impossible), and even if a building was compliant with code when it was built doesn’t mean it’s still compliant with the current codes. 

With changes constantly being made to building codes, a building that would have initially been compliant does not necessarily mean it is today. Additionally, the search to acquire insurance for a building that does not meet code requirements are often expensive (or impossible). 

Natural disasters often bring this into the public eye -- when Superstorm Sandy struck the west coast, hundreds of residents in flood zones were required  to elevate their homes to claim insurance should restorations be necessary after the storm. But, because their houses weren’t up-to-date with the newest code, their insurance wouldn’t cover the damages or rebuilding costs. It’s scenarios like this -- and other non-compliance problems that happen over time -- that ultimately lead to an increase in insurance prices. 

Ease of ownership

Buildings will likely be bought and sold several times throughout their life and new buyers need to know their purchase is kept up to building regulations. Building codes make this transaction easier because there are basic standards in place for property owners to comply with, setting the bar and threshold for what (and what not) to purchase. 

As many existing features of the building are hidden and impossible to inspect, building inspectors are necessary when evaluating compliance of the property. Additionally, buildings are likely to fall out of codes over time. As a solution, best-practice would depict a re-evaluation of the property and require current owners to disclose those issues to future owners or buyers of the property. 

Standardization across designs

Buildings are complex and intricate structures -- it takes expertise and insight to ensure that a building is executed properly. Overall, this uniformity of building practices improves the quality of construction, lower construction costs and provides a level playing field for all contractors and land developers. 

As building codes establish a minimum level of requirements a property must have, it makes building and approving easier and more predictable. Builders and designers currently use a framework that ensures safety and accessibility features are integrated into developments, and holds developers accountable for the high standards set in place to guarantee well-being and desirability of the community. 

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