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Policy Statement 525 - Model Building Codes

 

Approved by the Infrastructure and Research Policy Committee on March 16, 2017
Approved by Public Policy Committee on June 5, 2017
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 29, 2017

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the development, adoption, and enforcement of a national model building code as a key method of creating disaster resilience in communities to protect and improve public health, safety, and economic vitality. Specific attention should be given to the following:

  • Support the adoption of a national model building code;
  • Promote national incentive programs encouraging state and local agencies to adopt building codes;
  • Improve implementation of current building codes and increase resources for enforcement;
  • Advance and participate in the creation or improvement of model building codes; and
  • Support funding for research that is necessary for the development of model building codes.

Issue

Responsible design and construction is essential to improve the quality of life, assure safety and durability, and to reduce vulnerability to future hazards. The purpose of a building code is to establish minimum requirements necessary to protect and improve public health, safety and welfare in the built environment. Model building codes provide for protection from fire, structural collapse, general deterioration, and extreme loads related to man-made and natural hazards. They are also created to conserve natural resources, reduce owner costs, and preserve the environment by establishing minimum building standards. Safe and sustainable buildings are achieved through performance-based, code-based design and construction practices in concert with a code administration program that ensures compliance. National model codes serve to keep construction costs down by establishing uniformity in the construction industry as well as minimizing disaster recovery costs. This uniformity permits building and materials manufacturers to do business on a larger scale-statewide, regionally, nationally, or internationally. This larger scale, in turn, creates cost savings for the end consumer. Codes also help protect real estate investments, both commercial and personal, by providing a minimum level of construction quality. 

State and local legislative bodies are not obligated to adopt model building codes, and may write their own code or portions of a code. A model code does not have legal standing until it is adopted as law by a legislative body (state legislature, county board, city council, etc.). When adopted as law, owners of property within the boundaries of the adopting jurisdiction are required to comply with the referred codes. Because codes are updated regularly, existing structures are traditionally only required to meet the code that was enforced when the property was built unless the building undergoes reconstruction, rehabilitation, or alteration, or if the occupancy of the existing building changes. In that case, provisions are included in the code to require partial to full compliance depending on the extent of construction.

Rationale

Traditionally, design practice and building codes have been the responsibility of the local communities. Unfortunately, many of the nation's cities have not adopted or enforced appropriate building codes. Until 1994 there were three major model code-writing bodies in the United States and their provisions were inconsistent. The three organizations have since banded together and formed a single national organization for the development and promulgation of model codes.

Experienced volunteer professionals work together to develop model codes under a multi-step, consensus-based process. Most professional engineering organizations maintain code development committees that initiate code provisions based on the practice in their technical areas and are often augmented by research. Topics for code provisions are often introduced in case study reports or research papers. In time, many of these provisions are gathered together and published as design guidelines. Eventually the guidelines are transformed into standards and incorporated into the model code. ASCE, as a premiere American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved standards organization, develops and maintains many of the standards referenced or incorporated in the model codes. Through a thoughtful and extensive process, ASCE assures that each standard represents a broad consensus of the related professional community. The standards developed by the U.S. voluntary consensus standards system empower our nation domestically and globally. For many years, local, state and federal governments have maintained a strong and effective reliance on the non-government sector for development and maintenance of the standards at use across all sectors of our economy. 

Recent events have demonstrated a high level of interdependence between the viability of local cities and the national economy. The traditional assumption that local jurisdictions could determine the level of safety and quality to which they would build has yielded to the recognition that uniform national standards are needed to assure that the economic impact to the nation is controlled. These national standards are best delivered in a national model code that local jurisdictions should be encouraged to adopt. 

ASCE Policy Statement 525
First Approved in 2008

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