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The purpose of building codes is to govern the construction of public buildings, commercial buildings, and places of residence and to regulate construction and thereby provide occupants with a safe and healthy environment. Building codes are an imperative part of the design and construction process. They define minimum standards for safety and comfort that must be met in new construction and major renovations. Prior to having obtained a building permit to construct a commercial property, the developer is required to produce design plans that conform to the building codes in effect at the time.

Existing properties are not normally required to conform to newer code requirements unless major renovations are performed. When older properties are to be updated, local regulations dictate the conditions when compliance with newer codes is required. Typically, when interior renovation includes reconstruction of 25 to 50 percent of a floor, local regulations require compliance with existing life-safety code requirements. It is therefore important to determine the functional obsolescence of all major life-safety elements. This is particularly relevant to office buildings and hotels, where interior renovations and reconfigurations are periodically performed.

Building codes are essentially local laws, and each municipality (county or district in sparsely populated areas) enforces its own set of regulations (Figure 11.1). A strong and sustained movement has been underway for many years to unify the various local codes around the nation in response to the building industry's continuous requests for a single unified building regulatory system. The majority of states have already moved in that direction, and the three main code organizations have come together to form the International Code Council (ICC), whose cardinal mission is to unify the code system into a single set of comprehensive building codes that can be used anywhere in the United States.

Building Code Hierarchy
Figure 11.1 Illustration showing overlapping code structure and complexity of current regulations (source: Specifications for Commercial Interiors by S.C. Reznikoff).

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