698 Some words of explanation about the International Building Code.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

I've been thinking about all the discussion we've had about the IBC, or International Building Code. I have the IBC right before me now, all 675 pages of it. And if you want a copy to read just go here:


Frankly, if I were you I wouldn't waste my time. The code itself is so technical, has so many ramifications, and is so complex that it would require more than a year of study just to get up to speed with its most basic requirements.

That's what I discovered when I downloaded it and began to read it. I soon found that even if I had taken the couple of years to read and understand the parts that interest you and me — the fire codes including within it — I would not have the answers to the questions we are asking.

So what did I do? I did what I almost always do when I come up against a situation where my personal expertise is insufficient to make valid comments; I sought out expert opinion on the major issues that would be involved. In this case, I read (or skip read)what perhaps 15 to 20 sites had to say on the issues I could envision, and finally found one that was obviously quoting from IBC itself (with some reservations about the answers it had received).

The main source for these answers:


I thought it might be interesting for you not just to read what I had to say after doing all that, but to see how I approach a matter of such important as this one. So bear with me as I show you the whole process I went through. Surprisingly enough, it's not all that long, and by showing you the detailed questions I researched and the answers I got you will no doubt pick up a few facts you really want to know.

What I'll do is pose the questions I had, and then quote the answers that were given. After each question and answer I will comment very shortly on the impact of the answer. Fair enough?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

Q1: Do the IBC requirements apply to new buildings, or do they also apply to existing buildings?

"Building code requirements generally apply to the construction of new buildings and alterations or additions to existing buildings..."

[So, if you do not alter your home, you are generally exempt from the new codes. We'll see the fine print in a minute.]

Q2: When and how are code requirements applied to existing buildings?

"Building codes obtain their effect from the voluntary decisions of property owners to erect, alter, add to, or demolish a building in a jurisdiction where a building code applies, because these circumstances routinely require a permit. The plans are subject to review for compliance with current building codes as part of the permit application process."

[So, if you decide to "voluntarily" make a change to your home, such as replacing the worn out roof, you will have to obtain a permit to do it, and you will have to comply with the new codes.]

Q3: Are there any exceptions to the general rule that you must voluntarily decide on a change? In other words can you be forced to comply with the code for other reasons?

"Generally, building codes are not otherwise retroactive except to correct an imminent hazard. However, accessibility standards - similar to those referenced in the model building codes - may be retroactive subject to the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is a federal civil rights requirement."

[In other words, if a municipality declares anything on your property to be an "imminent hazard" you can be required to bring your property up to code. That could include a tree growing near the forest, eaves or decks that fire van get beneath, and so on. The definition of "imminent hazard" is whatever the municipality defines it to be. Also the requirements for ramps and other special features needed by the handicapped can be applied retroactively, but the chances are probably rather small.]

Q4: Would there be any change in the code requirements if I were to decide to rent out my home for some reason?

"Some changes in the use of a building often expose the entire building to the requirement to comply fully with provisions of the code applicable to the new use because the applicability of the code is use-specific (refer to Section 3408, Change of Occupancy, International Building Code - 2009)."

[In short, the answer is yes, but what the changes might be would be determined by how much of the IBC code had been adopted by the local municipality. In other words, are rentals treated differently by the local code?]


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

Q5: What if your home differs from the IBC code in matters of "health, safety, or general welfare?"

"Existing buildings are not exempt from new requirements, especially those considered essential to achieve health, safety or general welfare objectives of the adopting jurisdiction, even when they are not otherwise subject to alteration, addition, change in use, or demolition. Such requirements typically remedy existing conditions, considered in hindsight, inimical to safety, such as the lack of automatic fire sprinklers..."

[In other words, if health, safety, or general welfare become involved you are subject to the IBC code if the municipality has adopted them.]

Q6: Don't such after-the-fact enactments violate the United States Constitution's ban on the adoption of ex post facto law?

"Although such remedial enactments address existing conditions, they do not violate the United States Constitution's ban on the adoption of ex post facto law, as they do not criminalize or seek to punish past conduct. Such requirements merely prohibit the maintenance or continuance of conditions that would prove injurious to a member of the public or the broader public interest."

[Please keep in mind that the above statement no doubt reflects the IBC opinion, and might not stand up in federal court if you could afford to file suit against a municipality. I know of no case which has been contested and none were cited by the reference.]

Q7: Don't such after-the-fact enactments where they affect property rights violate the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

"[IBC states that] such cases have generally failed on grounds that compliance with such requirements increases rather than decreases the capital value of the property concerned."

[Again, whether or not the IBC position would hold up in court would defend on too many factors for us to go into the question, but the mere fact some cases have been filed and that the municipality concerned has won is something to consider.]

Q8: Why would a state or a municipality adopt the IBC code, knowing that it would no doubt affect its own already existing structures requiring expensive changes?

"Some states, especially those that delegate their adoption and enforcement authority to subordinate local jurisdictions, may exempt their own buildings from compliance with local building codes or local amendments to a statewide building code. Similarly, property owned by the United States Government is considered exempt from state and local enactments."

[Another case of "just-us."]


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

Q9: Would I have a problem if I sold my house?

"Some jurisdictions have enacted requirements to bring certain types or uses of existing buildings into compliance with new requirements, such as the installation of smoke alarms in households or dwelling units, at the time of sale."

[In other words, it could be done, but it would depend on the way that the local code read.}

Q10. Is there a move on to change local codes regarding sales?

"Some safety advocates have suggested a similar approach [as cited in question 9] to encourage remedial application of other requirements, but few jurisdictions have found it economical or equitable to disincentivise property transactions in this way.

[In other words, a requirement that existing homes be brought up to the new code when placed for sale would probably kill the resale market, so not many places have adopted such a policy. Thank goodness!]

Q11. Would it help if I placed my home on the state or national list of historic places?

[Two answers.]

a. "The listing of a building on the National Register of Historic Places does not exempt it from compliance with state or local building code requirements."

b. "Many jurisdictions have found the application of new requirements to old, particularly historic buildings, challenging. New Jersey, for example, has adopted specific state amendments (see New Jersey's Rehabilitation Subcode)to provide a means of code compliance to existing structures without forcing the owner to comply with rigid requirements of the currently adopted Building Codes. California has also enacted a specific historic building code."

[My guess? You could probably convince a municipality to grant you an exemption if you could show that it was technically too difficult to meet the code requirement.]

Okay, folks. Now that you know all that, where do you stand on the non-aoption so far by the Town Council of the IBC code in its entirely?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

I put this string up last night. Its purpose is to show you the effect that the as-is adoption of the IBC would have. I do not for one minute believe that the Payson Town Council would act in a way that would place home owners in the positions cited above.

I feel, and I suspect you agree, that the only proper way for the Payson Town Council, or any other legislative body, to handle something like this is to decide on its own what is right regarding construction in its own special location and situation, and in accordance with what it feels is best for the present and future of Payson, and to incorporate any parts of the code that seem to fit those decisions. I think that is what the Town Council is doing.

Frankly, having "read" the almost unreadably complex code, and were it up to me, I would most likely change very little of the current town code, which as far as I can see already covers most of the bases.

I've done a little research into the International Code Committee, which owns the code (yes, it is privately owned; it is not a government agency). There's a lot of money there —a LOT of money. They are ready to give away a lot of valuable services if you join them — and you have to wonder who is footing the bill. Go here and look at the people running ICC and you will soon find that every one of them stands to gain in some way by the implementation of complex, expensive, overkill rules.

Here, just go read about some of the people running ICC. It is not what you think it is. Every one of these people has an axe to grind. Maybe reading who they are and what they do for a living will help you to understand that this is really an insider organization which is pushing its own profit-making goals.



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