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What are building codes?

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Quick Answer

Building codes are legally enforceable regulations that specify requirements different types of buildings must meet in various jurisdictions. Building codes are essentially laws that protect the health and safety of a building's occupants and the surrounding community.

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Full Answer

The International Code Council, the largest building code organization in the world, separates building codes into three main categories: those that apply to all buildings, those that apply only to residential buildings and those that apply to older buildings. Residential buildings have different codes because human occupants have more demanding health and safety requirements than machinery or goods kept in storage.

In most jurisdictions, existing buildings do not have to conform to modern building codes, but only to the codes that were in effect when the buildings were constructed, making many of these buildings potentially dangerous. The Federal Emergency Management Agency states that many of these older buildings constitute substantial risks when earthquakes and other natural disasters occur in the United States. While retrofitting these buildings can improve their resistance to many natural disasters, high costs and a lack of immediate consequences for not doing so mean many older buildings remain hazards.

Enforcing building codes is usually the responsibility of local government agencies. These agencies enforce building codes by conducting inspections and only issuing permits for buildings that meet the minimum requirements.

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