With lockdown orders put in place across the U.S., 2020 put a greater emphasis on building codes and thrust them into the spotlight. Model building codes are the foundation of a community and form an ecosystem of building policies that support the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhoods that adopt them. When wholly adopted and enforced by state and local governments, they can be extremely effective at reducing disaster damage, and keeping our existing structures standing and our economy healthy.
In fact, FEMA projects that if all future construction adhered to up-to-date International Codes (I-Codes), the U.S. would avoid more than $600 billion in cumulative losses from floods, hurricanes and earthquakes by 2060. Additionally, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) estimates that adopting modern editions of the I-Codes codes saves $11 for every $1 invested through mitigation benefits against those hazards. By adopting the most up-to-date comprehensive, standardized set of codes, governments can help save communities money and time in rebuilding and, most importantly, help save lives.
All buildings in the U.S. are regulated by a set of codes that ensure they are both structurally sound and safe for habitation. With constant changes in technology and society, the International Code Council’s model building codes and standards are ever-evolving, continually updated and adapted to keep our communities safe.
The importance behind a unified set of codes
Uniformity and correlation across the I-Codes family ensures all stages of the building construction process are carefully thought of and designed for maximum efficiency, resilience and safety. Building codes play a central role in a wide range of industries that are crucial to growing our economy — from construction to engineering to architecture and more — and act as a language for the building industry to communicate across disciplines, each code working in unison with one another. For example, the International Plumbing Code (IPC) is coordinated and correlated with all other model I-Codes such as the International Building Code (IBC), International Residential Code (IRC), International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), International Fire Code (IFC), International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC), International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC) and International Mechanical Code (IMC). Each works with one another and accounts for continuity between building applications. This continuity also plays a large factor when industry professionals work across state lines.
While the I-Codes have been adopted in some form in all 50 states, New Jersey is the only state in the Mid-Atlantic that has not adopted the IPC. Currently, New Jersey is in the process of reviewing considerations for its plumbing code. For a region such as the Mid-Atlantic that sees a great amount of work that crosses state lines, it is especially important to have a coordinated and correlated set of building codes. The adoption and implementation of one cohesive set of building codes helps streamline the design, permitting and review process and also provides immense efficiencies for local workers.
Code changes in response to the new built environment
In addition to the efficiencies provided from a unified set of codes, using the most up-to-date building codes and standards ensures you are accounting for current updates and changes in society. The most current 2021 I-Codes include some significant changes to both the IPC and the IMC to fit modern innovations and design changes. For example, multiple user toilet facilities designed to serve all genders is now permitted as a design option, along with new requirements for protected outdoor roof vent terminals to accommodate solar panel and architectural roof feature installations. Additionally, while ventilation rates for the demand control ventilation can be increased or decreased based on the number of occupants in a space, the minimum ventilation rate should still be dependent on the specific use and square footage served. These are just a few of the code changes that are currently within the 2021 IPC and IMC.
Provisions to look out for in 2024
As we look ahead to the 2024 I-Codes, committees have already voted on several proposed code changes for both the IPC and IMC. Individuals are encouraged to submit a public comment on any of the proposed code changes by July 2. Here is a quick glimpse at few notable proposed code changes that are being considered:
- New defined terms of multiple-user and single-user toilet facilities;
- A revision to the protection from physical damage section for piping systems, which changes the shield plate requirements;
- A new method of vacuum testing for drainage and vent piping systems;
- New requirements for clean air delivery capability to address potential use of MERV 13 filters and HEPA machines;
- New requirements for Demand Control Ventilation, CO2 sensor performance and controls for bringing in outdoor air; and
- A new requirement for soap dispensers at public lavatories.
Building codes represent the safeguard for our homes, schools, entertainment centers, workplaces and every type of building in-between. As emerging technologies are presented and we continue to see shifts within society, the I-Codes continue to evolve alongside. That is why it is imperative for jurisdictions to adopt and enforce the most up-to-date building codes and reflect its commitment to ensuring the health and safety of its citizens.