Why are Building Codes Important?

Often, it is easy for a client to have a negative view of the building codes; most of the time, because of their financial impact. So, we need to address the importance of building codes so that an understanding exists from which we base our actions.

The first item we need to address is the purpose of building codes in general. Building codes exist in order to protect the life, health and safety of the individuals who will inhabit the buildings and structures that are created within countries / states / regions / districts / cities. Building codes are as old as the Bible, where there were instructions related to the need to insure that people did not fall off of roofs. This protection was accomplished by way of constructing parapets. The modern building code still carries this ancient requirement today.

Additionally, the modern building code is legally binding. According to the 2006 CBC, the building codes, “…have the same force of law…” (page iii). Therefore, in a civilized society that recognizes the importance of and need for laws, the building codes exist as a part of the same legal system that protects our lives, our property, our right to bear arms and our right of freedom of speech.

The process, though, of determining which laws are applicable can be complex, depending on the use that the building will take. This process of code compliance, though sequential in the steps of assessment, is an iterative process – meaning, after certain portions of the building have been subject to the code, the new conditions spawn other requirements, which may create more requirements, etc. Each requirement may have potentially adverse affects to the cost of the building… though, each effect will be within the acceptable range of the minimum requirements to protect life, health and safety.

Which is another issue to briefly mention… the protection of life, health and safety that the codes require are minimal protections. Additionally, even if a building complies with the code, there is no guarantee that some other condition may arise that was unanticipated when the code was created.

Therefore, the building code requirements are in a state of fluctuation. There may be consistency from year to year, or certain requirements may be escalated or removed completely. It is truly a mixed bag.

At times, though each plan checker tries, to the best of his or her knowledge, implement the purpose of the code, the client should realize that at best, he is dealing with a human being who has limitations. In the worst case scenario, some plan checkers have even taken bribes and participated in all kinds of graft and other forms of corrupt practices. May their kind perish.

Knowing this about human nature, our attitude still should be one of basic trust coupled with accountability.

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