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Code Green

What Edition of the Code Are You Using?

2009 is the current edition of the IRC. Your jurisdiction may have adopted a different edition.
Image Credit: ICC

If it’s so good, why does the Code keep changing?

The answer is…to get even better! Essentially the code changes to improve a (regulatory) process, reduce cost, allow new or different ways of doing something, or sometimes to increase safety. A change in the building code can be suggested by anyone who has a legitimate suggestion to improve it. While that may sound simple, it’s a bit more complex. Anyone who cares to can submit a code change to the International Code Council, along with substantiation and supporting rationale, through forms found at the ICC website.

Proposed changes in the model code follow a government consensus process where a mixture of stakeholder interests are represented during the initial code development hearings by a committee. Then, at the final action hearings only governmental members have a vote.

The proposal will be considered during a public hearing by a committee whose interests focus on specific code provisions― architectural, structural, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, etc. The committee votes to recommend or refute the proposal and will sometimes tweak the proposed change. To ensure accountability, floor members with voting rights (building officials) who disagree with the decision of the committee, can ask for a floor action that would reverse the committee’s recommendations. The decisions made are published for anyone’s review. Then, during a subsequent public comment period, anyone can suggest alternative wording to the proposed code change.

All of the proposals are presented to the voting membership of the ICC in what’s called Final Action Hearings. Those proposals passing this hurdle are then compiled into a new published code (IRC, IBC, etc) on three year intervals. This new book is called the model code. Its contents don’t become law until an authority having jurisdiction (city, state or county) adopts it. In almost all cases this comes with amendments or changes to that model code. The locality usually modifies the code to reflect local or regional interests. So, for all the items discussed in national publications like Fine Homebuilding, the adopting jurisdiction has the final word in the enforceable language in any Code.

A mixture of changes range from semantics or terminology to very substantial requirements. Many times the changes are to explain the code provision better…to better clarify the intent. Sometimes the change is to improve grammar or punctuation. Sometimes the code change reduces a requirement. Sometimes, based on a national trend, a requirement is added to respond to a perceived unsafe condition. For example, a recent change in the 2009 IRC will require every home built to have fire sprinklers after January 1, 2011.

Technology allows for a safety measure that didn’t exist before. For example, Carbon Monoxide detectors, unheard of 20 years ago, will now be required in new homes. However, changes also allow for new materials to be used such as insulated concrete forms, light gauge steel framing or air admittance valves. Significant changes that affect green building are common in the last several code editions. In the most recent edition (2009), the IRC increased energy efficiency requirements about 15% overall and specified that half of all lamps be energy efficient type (CFLs).

If you have a good idea for a code change, I would encourage you to seek support from the local chapter of the International Code Council. Each state or locality has an organization that is a chapter member of ICC. Their support will be important if not essential. The final vote for or against a proposed code change falls to the governmental members; states, cities and counties who enforce these same codes.


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