The Relationship Between Building & Fire Codes

Oct. 1, 2007
The primary goal of fire codes is preventing fires, including concerns relating to the exterior portions of the building. The main purpose of the building codes is to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures

A fire code is a standard established and enforced by government for fire prevention and safety.

The Fire Code is a model code adopted into law by the jurisdiction and enforced by municipal fire prevention officers. It prescribes minimal requirements relating to fire prevention; explosion hazards arising from storage, handling, or use of dangerous materials or from other specific hazardous conditions.

The fire code works in tandem with the jurisdiction's building codes. Fire code provisions will reference related building codes. This is true as building codes include the necessary construction requirements to enable fire suppression, fire detection, and rapid evacuation in the event of fire.

Although fire and building codes will address similar issues, the primary goal of fire codes is preventing fires, including concerns relating to the exterior portions of the building.

The Fire Code also addresses: necessary training regarding egress drills, the maintenance and use of fire suppression equipment, and regular inspections of fire protection systems.

Another goal of the Fire Code is to make sure that the initial level of fire protection, originally designed for the building, is not compromised.

There is a tight relationship between fire and building codes.

Building Codes

A building code is a set of rules that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety relating to the construction of buildings or non-building structures.

The main purpose of the building codes is to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures.

Building codes are initially applied by architects, but continually used for various purposes by safety inspectors, environmental specialists, contractors and subcontractors, facility managers, tenants and others.

Building codes generally cover structural safety, fire safety, health requirements, environmental concerns relating to energy conservation and recycling, noise and air pollution and accessibility.

Building codes consist of: specifications, installation methodologies, specification relating to room and exit sizes and location and qualification of individuals doing the work.

Some countries develop their own building codes and then enforce those codes across the country by the central government. When a country has in place a unified set of building codes, this is known as a national building code.

Model Building Codes

In other countries, the construction and safety is regulated by 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 being 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.

A model building code is a building code that is developed and maintained by a standards organization independent of the jurisdiction responsible for enacting the building code.

Model building codes are applied where the regulation of construction is the responsibility of local authorities. This is the case throughout most jurisdictions in the United States .

The value of model building codes is that they can be applied to the conditions of the locale and relieve the community of the prohibitively expensive task of developing a unique set of building codes.

Most modern regulations are complex, and their development and maintenance overwhelm the technical and financial abilities of most jurisdictions. For that reason it is reasonable that local authorities choose to use model building codes.

Model building codes have no legal status until they are adopted or adapted by a jurisdiction or local authority. Once the jurisdiction or local authority embraces a model building code, the code is written into law and then enforced by the jurisdiction or local authority.

Typical authorities that adopt or adapt model building codes are state governments, fire districts, municipalities and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the National Park Service, and the Department of State.

The developers of model codes (model code developers) are funded by the sales of the model codes, the reprint royalties, and consulting services.

Every three to five years, model building codes are updated. This is called a new edition. Once the new edition is released, it takes a length of time for a subscribing jurisdiction to review and approve of it. For this reason jurisdictions will enforce currently approved editions of codes even though more recent editions are in publication and concurrently enforced by other jurisdictions.

When jurisdictions approve model building code, they adopt it into the law of the jurisdiction and specify the precise edition that is approved. Adopted codes are not automatically updated. The jurisdiction may choose to ignore updates and new editions and continue to use older versions.

Jurisdictions are motivated to update model codes on a regular basis to accommodate the progression of more efficient design solutions and technologies.

Some jurisdictions decide to purchase model building codes outright and then develop and maintain their own upgrades. The Los Angeles Building Code is based on the 1997 Uniform Building Code, which is a model code developed by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO).

ICC (International Code Council)

The International Code Council (ICC) is a private organization established in 1994, which allows U.S. jurisdictions and other private entities to collaborate in the creation of a single set of model building codes and safety standards.

The founders of the ICC are Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI).

The ICC members are dedicated to fire prevention and building safety; promoting continual code enforcement and higher quality construction. The membership participates in developing construction and safety codes for both residential and commercial construction.

The ICC has developed the International Building Code®, a model building code that has been adopted throughout most of the United States . The ICC has also developed a model energy efficiency code; the International Energy Conservation Code®.

A subsidiary of the ICC is the International Code Council Foundation. It is dedicated to changing the devastating effects of natural disasters and other building tragedies by promoting ideas, methods and technologies that encourage the construction of durable, sustainable buildings and homes.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)

In 1896, the National Fire Protection Association was established as an independent, voluntary-membership organization. Its mission is “to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating scientifically-based consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.”

The NFPA provides technical research and education. The association develops codes and standards while providing instruction relating to safety from fire, electricity, and other hazards.

Within the NFPA, codes and standards are developed by over 250 committees. Each committee is assigned a topic relative to the state of building design. Committees consist of unpaid volunteers that can either be proponents or opponents of the topic. Papers are generated from these committees that are unbiased and fair.

Once documents are scrutinized and a consensus is achieved through peer-review codes and standards are developed under the procedures of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI assures fairness, openness, and decision making from all affected parties.

NFPA documents concern: building construction and life safety; electrical engineering; fire protection applications; chemical engineering; and public fire protection.

Dueling Model Codes

The competition between the ICC and NFPA has resulted in the failure to deliver a unified set of model codes. Both model code developers aggressively push for jurisdictions to adopt their relative sets of codes. This directly affects construction as projects integrate code requirements within the design process and changes are prohibitively expensive and time consuming.

NFPA has joined with a consortium of International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Western Fire Chiefs Association to create a code set called the Comprehensive Consensus Codes, or C3.

The centerpiece of C3 is NFPA 5000 and its companion codes: National Electrical Code; NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; UPC; UMC; and NFPA 1.

It is important to note the NFPA 5000 conforms to ANSI procedures and standards. The ICC does not adhere to ANSI being the only set of standards to use.

I-Codes (developed by the ICC), which include the IBC and other coordinated building safety and fire prevention codes, are the most widely recognized building codes in the country used in 48 states at the state or local level.

Where NFPA 5000 is still relevant it has received strong opposition from powerful trade groups such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), BOMA International and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Obviously a building may be governed over one set of codes or the other.

The best means to determine which set of codes apply is to consult the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). The AHJ is the governmental agency which regulates a given set of codes.

Usually the AHJ is the municipality in which the building is located. However there are other regulative bodies, each with their own AHJ influenced by: ownership, zoning and planning.

Buildings owned by the state or federal government will be regulated by state and federal officials.

Zoning regulations require their own inspections and enforcement. For instance, hospitals are required to conform to JHACO (Joint Committee on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization) regulations. Building applications dictated by JHACO meet or exceed standard building codes.

Planning commissions can regulate building conformance to the community's general plan. Every urban city or town has a general plan for land use. Land use is influenced by environmental and social needs.

When municipalities act as AHJ, it is usually the building department and sometimes the public works department that determine conformance. On matters of fire safety usually the municipality's fire department has jurisdiction.

During the construction of the building the AHJ provides constant oversight.

After construction that AHJ must approve any changes to the building including: expansion; modifications that affect structural integrity, life safety and fore protection.

Changes to the building may require a building permit to ensure that the AHJ has inspected and approved of the changes.

To determine the AHJ, consult with the building owner and then the municipality. One or the other will guide you to the right jurisdiction.