Residential building codes are construction guidelines for how to build homes to meet minimum legal requirements. They have been in use in the United States for more than 100 years when major cities began to adopt and enforce building codes in response to large fires in densely populated urban areas. While early building codes were in place to reduce fire risk, today’s building codes have expanded to address many hazards, both ordinary and catastrophic, and serve as the minimum acceptable standards to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of building occupants.
Modern, model building codes reflect the best available building practices and are continuously updated to reflect innovation in building design, products, methods, and technologies as well as research insights and lessons learned after disasters. Codes should be consistently enforced by well-trained professionals as they are essential to creating disaster-resilient communities that protect health, safety, and economic well-being. Weak building codes or lax enforcement create a burden on homeowners and communities through property damage, higher insurance premiums, insurance deductibles, loss of use, and missed economic opportunities. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), structures built to higher standards are 77 percent less likely to be damaged.
Building codes are either “prescriptive” or “performance” based. Performance codes provide a technical objective which leaves the method of achieving the objective up to the architect/engineer and builder. Prescriptive codes are more like recipes and specify the method for designers and builders to achieve the objective. Some model codes, like the International Residential Code (IRC), have both prescriptive and performance-based provisions, although the IRC is a prescriptive-oriented code.
People taking refuge in homes built to modern, model building codes have the best chance of survival during disasters, and codes provide increased property protection as well. For example, wind-resistant building practices like those included in the latest IRC improve building performance during hurricanes and tropical storms, as well as tornadoes, through enhanced roof-to-wall and wall-to-foundation connections, opening protection like shutters, impact-resistant garage doors, and more. According to FEMA, structures built using codes are 77% less likely to experience damage. Further, a study entitled Economic Effectiveness of Implementing a Statewide Building Code: The Case of Florida found that the statewide Florida Building Code reduced Florida windstorm losses by up to 72% and that it results in 5 dollars in losses saved to every 1 dollar of added costs with a payback period of approximately ten years.
Building codes may introduce a modest increased cost at the time of construction; however, the cost is offset by savings delivered throughout the lifetime of homeownership. Savings may include enhanced durability, energy efficiency, life safety, avoided disaster losses, and more. When the modest cost is included as part of a mortgage, it may amount to as little as pennies per day, making the time of new construction as the most cost-effective and efficient means of strengthening buildings. That is why it is critical for communities to adopt, enforce, and update codes on a continuous basis. Furthermore, according to a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, buildings designed to meet the 2018 model building codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC) result in a national benefit of $11 for every $1 invested.
Communities with strong building codes save by preventing physical damage and economic losses, but they also qualify their residents for lower homeowners and flood insurance rates because they score favorably on the ISO Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS). Building code strength and/or weakness is typically factored into individual insurance premiums as well.
Depending on the state or territory, state and/or local and tribal officials are responsible for adopting and enforcing building codes. Building code adoption and effective enforcement serve as crucial lines of defense against geologic and severe weather events as every community faces some type of risk from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or other disasters.
The International Code Council uses a consensus process to develop the IRC for One- and Two-Family Dwellings. The IRC is revised every 18 months and new editions are published every three years. Most United States jurisdictions that adopt a residential code adopt an edition of the IRC, sometimes with amendments.
Contact your state and/or local elected officials, building department, or permitting office to learn how you can support adoption and enforcement of modern building codes and standards in your community.
This website will indicate whether a code is adopted currently, so the
information may vary based on the age of your home. You can verify home
age by checking your local property tax appraiser records, and then
contacting your building department or development services office to
determine the code followed if any.
Be sure to verify that your home was permitted under the code in effect for that month/year as developers and homebuilders sometimes secure permits in advance of a code update. In that case, the construction requirements might follow the older version of the code.
It is possible that a community without a residential building code must still follow floodplain regulations. In that case, construction and siting would have to comply with a different set of rules for construction allowable in the designated Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). Floodplain regulations can overlap with some details included in building codes, such as building height, but floodplain regulations also address home location, permissible use of the first floor, and more.
This website lists the adoption status of the International Residential
Code by the jurisdiction in part or whole. The International Residential
Code is the model residential building code published by the International
Code Council through a comprehensive, national, three-year process to
identify and incorporate the latest science, research, and product
innovation into homebuilding.
A local ordinance is a law, rule, or regulation on topics specific to the city, county, town, or area on wide-ranging issues from tree trimming and noise pollution to building codes. Local ordinances or state laws that require only part of the International Residential Code or that do not include the current International Residential Code, may not require the construction of strong, safe, durable, and energy-efficient homes.
A jurisdiction may not have adopted a residential building code but may still have a separate fire code that requires life safety features such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and accessible entry and exit doors.
The International Code Council provides free, read-only versions of the International Residential Code on its website with other options for purchase. Contact your local building department for a copy of any adopted residential code or local ordinance.
Please email email@example.com to provide feedback on current code statuses in your jurisdiction or community. Once we receive your input, we will verify it and input it into our database as part of our monthly update process.
States have different laws regarding building code adoption and enforcement at the local level. Contact your local government leaders, the relevant state department, or other authority to learn more about building code adoption and enforcement details in your community.
The website only addresses adoption, in part or whole, of the International Residential Code; it does not address floodplain regulations currently.
Local rules or ordinances may require construction permitting even if a residential code is not adopted. Local rules are often less restrictive than the provisions of the International Residential Code, which incorporates the benefits of updated construction methods, research, and innovation.
The International Residential Code (IRC) is applied to new residential construction, while the International Building Code (IBC) applies to all other new construction, including commercial buildings. Most single-family housing is constructed using the International Residential Code, while the International Building Code governs other residential structures, such as multi-family buildings like apartments and some townhomes.
Even jurisdictions that are close in geographic proximity can have different local ordinances, and this can cause confusion and add cost for homebuilders. Statewide adoption of current codes creates consistent construction requirements, training needs for homebuilders, and home quality for consumers.
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