Due to its sheer complexity, building codes have a reputation of being one of the most daunting aspects of the construction process for even the most experienced building owners, general contractors, and other industry professionals. However, building codes play a critical role in the success (or shortcomings) of a project. That’s because they provide a comprehensive roadmap to creating and maintaining safe structures—and therefore safe communities—by protecting each occupant’s health and safety.
Today on the blog, we break down everything you need to know about the intricate world of building codes within commercial construction to help demystify the process. Specifically, we will dive into the importance of building codes, the benefits your business will gain by following them, and the consequences of what can happen if you don’t.
What Are Building Codes?
Building codes are the minimum standards required related to the design, construction, renovation, and maintenance of a structure. At its core, codes are enforced to not only mitigate the risk of potential hazards for building occupants, but to promote the overall welfare of the community. In essence, property owners, contractors, and architects should treat building codes as their guide before beginning any new construction or renovation project to ensure success.
Building rules and regulations began in the U.S. during the late 1800s to combat the increase in fires within densely populated urban areas. First used as a method mainly to mitigate the risk and spread of fire, building codes later evolved into an all-encompassing set of regulations covering the full scope of a structure to enhance overall safety.
Building codes relate to every type of structure, including commercial, multi-family, industrial, and residential spaces. Certain buildings, for example public schools and health care facilities, can even abide by their own set of specialized rules and regulations that are unique to their function. While codes cover the entire spectrum of a building, their main areas of focus include:
- Fire safety
- Proper egress
- Building materials
- Structural integrity
What Are Local Building Codes?
Building codes are adopted and enforced on the local level. Rather than developing their own set of complicated ordinances, most state and local jurisdictions prefer to abide by the reputable regulations set forth by the International Code Council (ICC). For example, Springfield and Neosho, Missouri both follow the ICC’s 2018 edition (the most current version).
Established in 1994, the ICC is a global leader in model codes and standards as it relates to building safety. Specifically, the ICC merged the work of three different organizations (Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc., International Conference of Building Officials, and Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc.) to create one singular set of regulations. Today, the ICC is regarded as one of the most trusted sources of building code information worldwide.
Updating their international code once every three years, the ICC includes specific requirements according to build. For instance:
- International Building Code (IBC): This applies to new and existing commercial properties.
- International Residential Code (IRC): This applies to new and existing one to two-family dwellings and townhouses of three stories or less.
- International Existing Building Code (IEBC): This applies to the alteration, repair, addition, or change within existing structures.
Codes are enforced by local building officials through practices such as the review of design plans and on-site inspections during the construction phase. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the designer and/or general contractor to ensure codes are reflected within their projects to protect the safety of building occupants and the larger community.
Why Abiding By Local Codes Is Important
There are a host of ways that following local codes can boost business (and many ways that ignoring them can do the opposite), but let’s start by understanding why abiding by these rules are so imperative.
As we’ve mentioned, building codes first began in order to prevent and protect against community disasters. The number of natural disasters continues to grow each year, including at least 207 worldwide during the first half of 2020 (above the past decade’s average of 185). Building codes will be as important as ever as we seek to continually improve upon them to help safeguard against the increase in dangerous fires, earthquakes, and more.
The issue of safety does not just apply to the outdoors, though. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports we spend approximately 90 percent of our lives indoors, which demonstrates just how important codes related to indoor air quality are for our overall safety and health.
Incorporates Past Learnings
It’s no coincidence that codes are updated every three years. New code requirements are typically a result of past failures that seek to course correct moving forward. As a society, we’re constantly adapting in the face of new challenges, and it is vital that codes change alongside us to best fit current and future needs. We have seen codes prevent buildings from fire spread, flood damage, and even structural collapse to save countless lives. As we continually incorporate current learnings into future codes, buildings will only become stronger and more resilient moving forward.
Protects Future Generations
In a similar vein, code requirements allow us to build better to set up future generations for success. For example, new building codes place a strong emphasis on conservation as energy waste is one of the most expensive byproducts of older regulations. This will not only provide environmental advantages to future generations, but it will also regulate indoor air pollution to protect overall health. Additionally, it has been found that building foundations typically last for at least 50 years. Due to their longevity, it’s vital structures are made of quality, resilient building materials designed to last.
Benefits of Following Building Codes
By now, we’ve learned why it is so important that professionals abide by building codes. However, did you know there are also major profitable benefits it can bring to your bottom line? Let’s explore.
Lowers Construction Costs
The number one benefit of following building codes is the ability to lower project costs, which is the objective of any job. There are a multitude of studies that prove how following codes ultimately surpass construction costs. That is because, simply stated, structures that are built with up-to-date codes will better resist potential threats such as natural disasters.
Let’s consider the example of Hurricane Andrew that ripped through the Atlantic in 1992 and resulted in more than $20 billion in insured damage. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that if Florida properties were constructed according to the state’s 2004 building codes, damages would have decreased by a whopping 50 percent for residential spaces and 40 percent for commercial.
Furthermore, a 2005 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council reported every dollar spent on reducing risk through code enforcement results in $4 in savings. Not only will following regulations result in lower costs for your company, but communicating your emphasis on code enforcement to customers will help win business as more and more people are seeking resilient structures to protect themselves against severe weather events in the future.
Decreases Energy Bills
The Institute for Market Transformation reports that each dollar spent on complying with building codes equals $6 in energy savings. This nets out to be a remarkable 600 percent ROI. As a building owner, the perks of abiding by code to decrease energy bills (and consequently operating costs) is staggering. However, other professionals such as general contractors can also utilize this as a compelling selling point when closing a sale. By demonstrating your company’s commitment to code compliance, you can vividly portray how doing so will result in significant long-term cost savings for your customers.
Offers Environmental Perks
Building upon this, commercial and residential properties make up more than 40 percent of all energy produced in the United States. Due to the sheer amount of energy consumed, this makes enforcing codes within the building industry a low-cost, high-yielding method of reducing our country’s overall footprint.
Therefore, enforcing codes to create low-energy buildings provides a tangible way for your company to help decrease the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Similar to the cost advantages discussed above, relaying the environmental benefits of code compliance once again provides a persuasive talking point to add to your arsenal when securing new business.
Risks of Ignoring Building Codes
Now that we’ve discussed what following building codes can do to boost your business, let’s delve into the consequences of ignoring them.
The fact of the matter is that every construction project will result in at least a few unexpected hurdles that will impact the initial project timeline. As a building professional, it is imperative to do everything in your power from the get-go to proactively prevent and anticipate potential hiccups that could impact the schedule. Ignoring local codes, however, is one way not to do this.
According to Missouri University of Science and Technology, one of the top causes of construction delays is related to building codes. By not enforcing them, for example, you run the risk of a local building official visiting your site unexpectedly and uncovering a lack of adherence. Not only will this result in having to redo completed work to ensure your build meets requirements, but it will also create distrust among local officials as well as current (and even future) customers.
Another common delay to the construction process involves permitting. After completing the planning and design of a project, the next step in the process is to obtain a permit from your local building department before you can break ground. This involves their careful scrutiny of the specifications of your project to ensure it meets the local area’s building code requirements to protect the community’s overall safety. Needless to say, ignoring local codes will only further delay anticipated project timelines. As the average commercial project takes up to four weeks to receive permit approval, this is one step in the construction process that you do not want to see avoidable delays.
Rebuilds, Redos, and Callbacks
It is more costly to inevitably rebuild, redo, or undergo a callback on one of your projects than it is to simply build your structure from the start in accordance with comprehensive codes. To demonstrate this, Louisiana State University found that wind damages from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 could have decreased by an astounding 80 percent if more stringent building codes were enforced. By complying with local code and even enforcing more rigorous ones, you can reduce the risk of potential rebuilds, redos, or callbacks from customers (ultimately impacting your business’s bottom line).
How to Stay Updated on the Latest Building Codes
As we’ve mentioned, building codes are updated once every three years. That means as an industry professional, staying consistently in the know on the latest rules and regulations is imperative to your success. In particular, as technology is becoming more advanced, we’re seeing those reflected in local codes to streamline the process for time and money savings.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t hiccups along the way. For instance, the city of Springfield recently introduced a new software system that was designed to reduce its permitting and review process. Unfortunately, it did the opposite by creating severe bottlenecking within local construction projects due to unforeseen glitches. As one of the regional leaders in the industry, the city called upon Branco Enterprises, Inc. to help solve the issues surrounding the new computerized inspection system. This highlights the importance of not only staying on top of the latest codes, but also using industry knowledge to help troubleshoot and ultimately make them more advanced for the future.
As an industry professional, it is critical to consistently research the latest code requirements (with your local building officials being a resource along the way). Additionally, it is just as important to partner with a building company that is experienced in your area’s specific codes in order to avoid potential project delays to save you time and money.
Looking for a Partner for Your Next Commercial Build?
With almost 90 years of experience under our belt, the experts at Branco Enterprise, Inc. are well-versed in local building codes related to commercial properties. To speak with an experienced team member today, call (417) 451-5250 or click here.