The Code Council ensures building codes meet safety requirements
The International Code Council, a nonprofit association that provides a wide range of building safety solutions — including product evaluation, accreditation, certification, codification and training — develops the International Codes (I-Codes), which are the most widely used and highly regarded set of building safety codes in the world. These codes are currently adopted and used in all 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories and in many other countries. The I-Codes provide a minimum safeguard for people at home, at school, at play and in the workplace.
The I-Codes are a complete set of modern, correlated building safety codes that regulate the architectural, structural, fire protection/life-safety, plumbing, mechanical, resiliency and energy conservation designs and systems of today’s modern buildings and structures.
“Due to both the vast and niche nature of building safety, the importance of involving the entire professional design community – including architects, home builders, plumbing and mechanical system engineers and certified plumbing designers – in the code development process cannot be stressed enough,” said Shawn Strausbaugh, senior director of PMG technical resources & Pennsylvania government relations representative at the Code Council. “After all, the development of the I-Codes, including the legacy codes that created the backbone of the current I-Codes we use, would not have been possible without the input and guidance of these frontline workers.”
The I-Codes are revised on a three-year cycle through the Code Council’s consensus code development process that draws upon the expertise of hundreds of plumbing, mechanical, building and safety experts from across North America. Through a governmental consensus process, the final determination of code provisions is placed in the hands of public safety officials who, with no vested financial interest, can legitimately represent the public interest. With updates every three years, building codes allow for ongoing consideration of new technologies and scientific understandings.
“What I find to be the most refreshing step in the Code Council’s code development process is the ability for professionals across the building industry to become involved in the deliberations of the next cycle of codes. While having to stand in front of a committee and argue your justification to change a code that has been around for many years can be intimidating — by attending and participating in the code development process, I have not only been able to learn more about the intent of the code but it has also helped immensely in being able to apply the code to all sorts of projects as well as help in explaining the intent to other designers,” said Eirene Knott, director of code services at BRR Architecture.
Specifically, the International Building Code (IBC) establishes the minimum requirements for all materials used in the construction of buildings and structures. As such, resilience and safety are at the core of its goal, ensuring that all materials used in construction are rigorously tested and vetted.
“As a former code official, I thought I knew a lot about the Code Council. Instead, I have learned more in the past nine years since I moved to the private side than I did in the 15-plus years I served on the public side, including understanding how the ‘why’ to the code language can help someone develop language, which could further define the intent,” Knott continued.
The IBC also regulates and specifies the standards for how materials may be used within fire-resistance-rated walls plus roof and floor assemblies. For walls rated at one-, two- or three- hours of fire resistance, all materials within the assembly, including pipe and fitting materials, must meet the same standard for the fire-resistance-rating specified. For materials that are a permanent part of a structure and remain in place, its lifetime is critically important; this applies to PVC, cast iron, copper, galvanized steel, and brass pipes and fittings.
Codes for safe use of piping
Extensive code requirements for the safe use of metallic and nonmetallic piping systems have been developed through the Code Council’s open and transparent code development process. The requirements, testing, and inspections for construction of fire-rated assemblies are thorough. The building requirements are based on type of construction and more stringent requirements are found for combustible materials in Type I and II construction, which require specific building elements to be noncombustible by nature. All relevant parts of the building and its structure must also be inspected to verify compliance with the code and applicable referenced standards.
“Understanding the necessity of having up-to-date and modern building codes, it is the designers who work daily with the plan review and inspection staff throughout varying jurisdictions and who have first-hand knowledge to apply new technology, material, methods and system designs, that consistently work with the Code Council to implement only the safest standards into each new cycle of I-Codes through the Code Council’s code development process,” Strausbaugh said.
As a further measure, in the 2012 edition of the IBC, special inspections of specific fire-resistant penetrations and joints were required. Specifically, if a high-rise building (greater than 75 feet from the lowest level of fire department access) or Risk Category 3 or 4 building has the specific fire-resistant assemblies, then a special inspection agency must inspect or examine these installations. These include, but are not limited to, fire-resistant penetrations and joints, penetration firestops and fire-resistant joint systems. Special inspections are over and above the typical inspections that a local code official would perform as part of normal building construction.
As its mission, the Code Council provides the highest quality codes, standards, products and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment. In particular, the IBC ensures all materials used in construction are at their core safe and are installed correctly in many different structural settings. It is the smart and ongoing regulation of these materials and installations that allows the built environment to run safely.
“In order to continue ensuring we have not only up-to-date but the most effective codes, the design professional community must also mentor and encourage coworkers and others in their environment to become involved in this process,” Strausbaugh concluded.