A Code is Born

On June 1, the new Iowa Energy Code adopted on March 12 went into effect across the state. If you saw the press release, you might have noticed that the new code, adopted this year, is the 2012 edition.

So how does this process work? Why are codes adopted in 2014 already two years old? Here’s a brief overview of the building code process as it works here in Iowa.

National Standards

Many codes adopted in Iowa, at both the state and local level, get their start as nationally recognized building and life safety codes and standards, like those published by the International Code Council (ICC). There is no national agency in the U.S. that sets and enforces building codes for the entire country, but every three years the ICC writes and recommends changes to existing codes.

“These codes are intended to protect public health, safety, and welfare without unnecessarily increasing construction costs,” states the Iowa Department of Public Safety. “The ICC codes seek to not restrict the use of new materials, products, or construction methods; and they work to not give any preferential treatment to particular types or classes of materials, products, or construction methods.”

Despite its name, the ICC is not an international agency. It’s a committee of building code and safety representatives who review all potential changes and publish updated codes to be recommended to the state and local officials.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, “The first International Building Code was published in 2000 and was the culmination of an effort initiated in 1997, which included five drafting subcommittees.”

The changes to codes and standards are based on written suggestions submitted by ICC members and building professionals. Any interested party—corporate or individual—can submit a proposed change to the various ICC codes, which include the following: the International Building Code (IBC) for new buildings; the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC); and the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) for renovating, repairing, or changing existing buildings; the International Fire Code (IFC); the International Plumbing Code (IPC); and many others.

The State Level

When the ICC publishes its latest code update every three years, states that are members of the ICC begin their own review process of these new codes. State committees evaluate the updated codes to determine whether they are necessary or appropriate for their respective states.

In Iowa, building codes are reviewed and updated by the Iowa Building Code Bureau, and it can take as much as two years for these updated codes to go through a complete review process at the state level.

“The entire administrative rule-making process takes a minimum of 108 days to complete and involves two main procedures including public notice and implementation for the ‘final’ adoption, publication and distribution of the actual rules,” according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. “The notice process provides the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposed agency rules, which are published as a ‘notice of intended action’ in the Iowa Administrative Bulletin (IAB), a biweekly magazine containing the text of all notices and final rules.”

The Local Level

Each city approves its own building codes in Iowa. Some are state-required, but others are specific to that municipality. Unlike some states, Iowa is a home-rule state and does not require local municipalities to adopt the state building code.

The Department of Public Safety states, however, that some parts of the state building code are in fact mandatory minimums for the entire state. “These include the state energy code, rules for making spaces accessible for people with disabilities, and modular and manufactured housing codes.”

Local jurisdictions may simply adopt the state building code or they may adopt other nationally recognized standards. For example, these central Iowa cities use the following codes: Des Moines: International Building Code, International Existing Building Code, International Fire Code, International Fuel Gas Code, International Mechanical Code, International Property Maintenance Code, International Residential Code

West Des Moines: International Building Code, International Fire Code, International Fuel Gas Code, International Mechanical Code, International Plumbing Code, International Property Maintenance Code, International Residential Code

Ames: International Building Code, International Fire Code, International Residential Code.

Code Enforcement

Once codes have been adopted, each city and state has its separate enforcement agencies trained in the current codes. These officials ensure that new and existing construction meets the appropriate standards by reviewing building plans, inspecting construction projects, and then issuing permits for approved work.

So the 2014 update to the state building code, based on the 2012 recommendations, probably began about five years ago in a letter to the ICC. What proposals are being reviewed right now? We’ll find out when the 2018 code is published.