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Building Codes

Building CodeBuilding codes should always be thought of as the MINIMUM STANDARD for construction. They’re intended to protect our public health, safety and welfare through a broad series of complimentary regulations. They’re often published as “model codes” that are then revised by the states and local authorities to address challenges specific to those areas.

In Georgia, our building codes are typically based on the model codes produced by the International Code Council (ICC). The ICC operates on a three-year code cycle – they revise their existing codes and produce new codes every three years. The applicable codes are revised and adopted on a state-wide basis by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Local authorities like counties and cities can make their own revisions and are generally responsible for enforcement of the building codes.

Although a three-year code cycle may sound like a lot of time between revisions, the Georgia DCA typically issues revisions each year. The ICC spends its three-year cycle collecting comments, organizing into workgroups, preparing the revisions and then voting on them during national meetings. It’s an extremely detailed yet organized process that allows architects and contractors to know what to expect when the revised and new codes are released.

Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian code from 1700 BC, is widely regarded as the first known building code. It consisted of 282 laws intended to create responsibility. Today, most states license architects and contractors so that they will be accountable to the state – it’s not enough to simply follow the building code. This allows the states to set other minimum standards like education, testing and continuing education for licensed trades.

Layers of Governance
We say “building codes” because there are a collection of complimentary codes the set the minimum standards. For example, if you’re building a house in Georgia, you’re subject to the International Residential Code (IRC) with Georgia amendments, the International Energy Conservation Code (ICC) with Georgia amendments and other codes that govern plumbing, mechanical, electrical and other work. Georgia also has a permissive Residential Green Building Code with Georgia amendments – that means the DCA has developed the code though it is not mandatory statewide, local authorities can choose to adopt it so they won’t have to develop their own green building code for houses.

These building codes are complimented by many other layers of governance: federal laws, state laws, local laws, zoning ordinance, preservation requirements (if any) for historic buildings, covenants of home owners associations, etc.

Getting Involved
Joining the work groups that develop building codes is a proactive way to protect the public and gain a first-hand understanding of the spirit in our building codes… what are the real issues being addressed? We served on the work group that developed the first residential green building code for Georgia and we continue to keep in touch with officials across the country as we look for developing issues.