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A building code, or building control, is a set of rules that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety for constructed objects such as buildings and nonbuilding structures. The main purpose of building codes are to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures. The building code becomes law of a particular jurisdiction when formally enacted by the appropriate governmental or private authority.
Building codes are generally intended to be applied by architects, engineers, constructors and regulators but are also used for various purposes by safety inspectors, environmental scientists, real estate developers, subcontractors, manufacturers of building products and materials, insurance companies, facility managers, tenants, and others. Codes regulate the design and construction of structures where adopted into law. Codes in developed western nations can be quite complex and exhaustive. They began in ancient times and have been developing ever since. In the USA the main codes are the International Commercial or Residential Code [ICC/IRC], electrical codes and plumbing, mechanical codes. Other codes may include fire, health, transportation, manufacturing, and other regulations/regulators/testers such as UL; Underwriters Labs. In essence they are minimum standards of design and implementation. Designers use ICC/IRC standards out of substantial reference books during design. Building departments review plans submitted to them before construction, issue permits [or not] and inspectors verify compliance to these standards at the site during construction.
There are often additional codes or sections of the same building code that have more specific requirements that apply to dwellings or places of business and special construction objects such as canopies, signs, pedestrian walkways, parking lots, and radio and television antennas.
Types of building codes 
The practice of developing, approving, and enforcing building codes varies considerably among nations. In some countries building codes are developed by the government agencies or quasi-governmental standards organizations and then enforced across the country by the central government. Such codes are known as the national building codes (in a sense they enjoy a mandatory nation-wide application).
In other countries, where the power of regulating construction and fire safety is vested in local authorities, a system of model building codes is used. Model building codes have no legal status unless adopted or adapted by an authority having jurisdiction. The developers of model codes urge public authorities to reference model codes in their laws, ordinances, regulations, and administrative orders. When referenced in any of these legal instruments, a particular model code becomes law. This practice is known as adoption by reference. When an adopting authority decides to delete, add, or revise any portions of the model code adopted, it is usually required by the model code developer to follow a formal adoption procedure in which those modifications can be documented for legal purposes.
There are instances when some local jurisdictions choose to develop their own building codes. At some point in time all major cities in the United States had their own building codes. However due to ever increasing complexity and cost of developing building regulations, virtually all municipalities in the country have chosen to adopt model codes instead. For example, in 2008 New York City abandoned its proprietary 1968 New York City Building Code in favor of a customized version of the International Building Code. The City of Chicago remains the only municipality in America that continues to use a building code the city developed on its own as part of the Municipal Code of Chicago.
In Europe, the Eurocode is a pan-European building code that has superseded the older national building codes. Each country now has "country annexes" to localize the contents of the Eurocode.
Similarly, in India, each municipality and urban development authority has its own building code, which is mandatory for all construction within their jurisdiction. All these local building codes are variants of a National Building Code, which serves as model code proving guidelines for regulating building construction activity.
Building codes generally include:
- Standards for structure, placement, size, usage, wall assemblies, fenestration size/locations, egress rules, size/location of rooms, foundations, floor assemblies, roof structures/assemblies, energy efficiency, stairs and halls, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, site drainage & storage, appliance, lighting, fixtures standards, occupancy rules, even swimming pool regulations. Sounds like a lot but there are nearly infinite ways to build it in a hazardous fashion; falls, electrocution, contamination, explosion, fire.
- Rules regarding parking and traffic impact
- Fire code rules to minimize the risk of a fire and to ensure safe evacuation in the event of such an emergency
- Requirements for earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, and tsunami resistance, especially in disaster prone areas or for very large buildings where a failure would be catastrophic
- Requirements for specific building uses (for example, storage of flammable substances, or housing a large number of people)
- Energy provisions and consumption
- Grandfathering provisions: Unless the building is being renovated, the building code usually does not apply to existing buildings.
- Specifications on components
- Allowable installation methodologies
- Minimum and maximum room and exit sizes and location
- Qualification of individuals or corporations doing the work
- For high structures, anti-collision markers for the benefit of aircraft
Building codes are generally separate from zoning ordinances, but exterior restrictions (such as setbacks) may fall into either category.
Prescriptive vs. performance 
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These requirements are usually a combination of prescriptive requirements that spell out exactly how something is to be done, and performance requirements which just outline what the required level of performance is and leave it up to the designer how this is achieved. Historically they are very reactive in that when a problem occurs the building codes change to ensure that the problem never happens again. In recent years there has been a move amongst many building codes to move to more performance requirements and less prescriptive requirements.
Traditionally building codes were generally short non complex interrelated sets of rules. They generally included reference to hundreds of other codes, standards and guidelines that specify the details of the component or system design, specify testing requirements for components, or outline good engineering practice. These detailed codes required a great deal of specialization to interpret, and also greatly constrained change and innovation in building design. In recent years several countries, beginning with Australia, have moved to much shorter objective based buildings codes. Rather than prescribing specific details, objective codes lists a series of objectives all buildings must meet while leaving open how these objectives will be met. When applying for a building permit the designers must demonstrate how they meet each objective.
- 229. If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
- 230. If it kills the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death.
- 231. If it kills a slave of the owner, then he shall pay, slave for slave, to the owner of the house.
- 232. If it ruins goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
- 233. If a builder builds a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.
The Law of Moses stipulated a specific construction requirement which is also an early form of a building code. The Bible book of Deuteronomy, chapter 22 verse 8, states:
- "In case you build a new house, you must also make a parapet for your roof, that you may not place bloodguilt upon your house because someone falling might fall from it."
Colonial Era 
Nineteenth-century building laws 
The great changes in societies in Europe, the Industrial Revolution, the end of slavery in the United States, and immigration to the United States brought about the enactment of a number of building laws during the nineteenth century.
Baltimore passed its first building code in 1859. The Great Baltimore Fire occurred in February, 1904. Subsequent changes were made that matched other cities. In 1904, a Handbook of the Baltimore City Building Laws was published. It served as the building code for four years. Very soon, a formal building code was drafted and eventually adopted in 1908.
Germany and Austria 
Germany and Austria generally followed the French plan.
United Kingdom 
The most important statutes of this kind in the United Kingdom were the London Building Act of 1844 and the Public Health Act of 1875. The Metropolitan Buildings Office was established in 1845 to enforce building regulations.
United States 
The major model building codes used in the United States are developed by the International Code Council (ICC), which have 14 sets of International codes, or i-codes, including the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code, the International Fire Code, the International Energy Conservation Code, the International Plumbing Code, the International Mechanical Code and others.
- Sutyagin House, Arkhangelsk, Russia: Standing tall. WorldArchitectureNews.com, Wednesday 07 Mar 2007. (Includes photo)
- "Гангстер-хаус: Самый высокий деревянный дом в России объявлен вне закона" (Gangster house: Russia's tallest wooden house is now outlawed), Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 2008-06-26. (Russian)
- NYC Construction Codes
- "Hammurabi's Code of Laws". Retrieved 2008-05-24.
- Baltimore: The Building of an American City, Sherry H. Olson, Published 1997, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (Md.), ISBN 0-8018-5640-X, p. 248.
- New International Encyclopedia
See also 
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- Building construction
- Building officials
- Building regulations in the United Kingdom
- Earthquake engineering structures
- Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants
- International Building Code
- List of construction topics
- Model building code
- Variance (land use) - permission to vary zoning and sometimes building to code