Building Codes

When people gather together for activities, building functions become more complex, and there is a greater chance that someone will be injured. Governments respond to concerns for safety by developing building codes. These codes dictate both the work of the interior designer and architect, and the way in which the building's mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and other systems are designed and installed.

Around 1800, many of the larger U.S. cities developed their own municipal building codes in response to a large number of building fires. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the National Board of Fire Underwriters provided insurance companies with information for fire damage claims, resulting in the National Building Code in 1905. This became the basis for the three model codes we use today.

The Building Officials Code Administrators International (BOCA) publishes the BOCA National Building Code (NBC). The Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) publishes the Standard Building Code (SBC), and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) publishes the Uniform Building Code (UBC). Each state or community either adopts one of these three model codes or bases its own code on one of them. Because different parts of the United States have their own environmental and climatic issues that affect building construction, each model code is somewhat different from the others.

For interior design use, the three model building 5Q-codes are very similar. Each includes chapters relating ^ to the design of the building's interiors, including Use or Occupancy Classifications, the Special Use or Occupancy Requirements, and the Types of Construction sections. You will find yourself referring often to the sections covering Fire-Resistant Materials and Construction, Interior Finishes, Fire Protection Systems, Means of Egress, and Accessibility when laying out spaces and selecting materials.

The ICC International Performance Code (IPC) is a fourth model building code that attempts to unify code requirements across geographic barriers. Introduced by the International Codes Council (ICC) in 2002, the IPC is in the process of being adopted by states and other jurisdictions.

The model building codes frequently refer to other codes and standards. Each model code organization also publishes other codes, including a plumbing code, a mechanical code, a fire prevention code, and an existing structures code.

The jurisdiction of a project is determined by the location of the building. A jurisdiction is a geographical area that uses the same codes, standards, and regu lations. A jurisdiction may be as small as a township or as large as an entire state.

Most jurisdictions have strict requirements as to who can design a project and what types of drawings are required for an interior project. Often, drawings must be stamped by a licensed architect or licensed engineer registered within the state. In some cases, interior designers are not permitted to be in charge of a project, and may have to work as part of an architect's team. Some states may allow registered interior designers to stamp drawings for projects in buildings with three or fewer stories and below a certain number of square feet. Working out the proper relationships with the architects and engineers on your team is critical to meeting the code requirements.

Another important task is keeping current on code requirements. Some states have statewide codes based on a model code, while others have local codes, and sometimes both state and local codes cover an area. Not every jurisdiction updates its codes on a regular basis, which means that in a particular jurisdiction, the code cited may not be the most current edition of that code. The designer must check with the local jurisdiction for which codes to follow. When codes are changed, one or more yearly addenda are published with the changes, and incorporated in the body of the code when the next full edition of the code is published. Designers must make provisions for acquiring these addenda, through a code update subscription service or other notification process.

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