Special report: How to leverage IBC and ICC

The 2012 International Building Code from the International Code Council provides details to help safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare in the built environment.
By Hamid Naderi, PE, CBO, International Code Council, Whittier, Calif. June 18, 2013

Figure 1: 2012 International Building Code is the latest edition in the family of codes published by the ICC. Courtesy: International Code CouncilThe 2012 International Building Code (IBC), developed by the International Code Council (ICC), is a comprehensive, construction safety code that provides minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare and includes the latest advances in building science and knowledge gained from past experiences to protect life and property. Compliance with the IBC creates safe, sustainable, and affordable buildings along with a safety system that supports the work of specifiers, engineers, architects, and other designers, both locally and globally.

To ensure a complete safety system, the IBC references standards including those promulgated by the American Concrete Institute, the American National Standards Institute, the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASTM International, the Canadian Standards Association, the National Fire Protection Association, and Underwriters Laboratories.

As part of the I-Code Family, the IBC is coordinated with all of the International Codes. Construction plans, specifications, and other support documents that comprise the “submittal documents” used in the review, approval, and permit process are addressed in 2012 IBC Section 107. The International Codes are published every three years using a transparent, inclusive, balanced governmental consensus process that includes open forums, debates, and collective decision making.

Technical changes in the 2012 I-Codes

Each new edition of the code includes changes that facilitate building construction and update safety provisions. Here is a sample list of significant changes found in the 2012 IBC with code section references in parentheses:

  • Figure 2: The IBC Significant Changes publication provides documentation of the important changes that take place from one edition of the code to the next. Courtesy: International Code CouncilCare Facilities, Definitions, and Classifications (202, 308.2, 308.4)
  • Open Mall Buildings (402)
  • High-Rise Fire Service Access Elevators (403.6.1)
  • Live/Work Units (202, 419)
  • Incidental Uses–Separation and Protection (509)
  • Fire Ratings of Exterior Walls (Table 602, Note h)
  • Marking of Fire-Rated Glazing Assemblies (202, 716.3)
  • Wired Glass in Fire Window Assemblies (716.6.4)
  • Pump and Riser Room Size (901.8)
  • Electromagnetically Locked Egress Doors (1008.1.9.9)
  • Enclosure Penetrations of Interior Exit Stairways (1022.5)
  • Accessible Children’s Facilities (1109.2, 1109.5)
  • Anchored Masonry Veneer (1405.6)
  • Minimum Live Loads (1607.1)
  • Determination of Wind Loads (202, 1609)
  • Statement of Special Inspections (1704.3)
  • Foam Plastic Insulation Installed in Floor Assemblies (2603.4.1.14)
  • Fire Service Access Elevators (3007).

Code development, publication, and adoption

The publication, adoption, and enforcement of modern building codes in the United States dates back more than a century. The movement to develop a single set of comprehensive, coordinated model construction codes for use throughout the United States and globally, moving away from the regional codes used in the United States, began in 1994. On Feb. 1, 2003, the three regional code organizations—Building Officials and Code Administrators International, International Conference of Building Officials, and Southern Building Code Congress International—began operating as one consolidated association: the International Code Council, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2013. Today the I-Codes are used in every state and Washington, D.C., at the state or local level.

Many federal agencies and a growing number of nations around the world use the International Codes to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare in the built environment. The unique system of ICC’s model codes and its related support services are based on a comprehensive and systematic approach related to the safety of building occupants, firefighters, and emergency responders. While code development is ICC’s core function, the Code Council offers a full array of support services for code users, including code application and technical opinions, plan review, certification and testing, training and education. Products such as commentary and significant changes, product evaluation and listings, and accreditation services are provided.

Figure 3: IBC Code and Commentary includes both the code text and commentary after each section to assist the users with application of the code. Courtesy: International Code CouncilProduct evaluation

Independent evaluation of building products is critical for a building safety system. Construction materials, elements, and components must meet minimum safety and performance criteria established by codes and standards, as do new and innovative products introduced into the market by manufacturers. The IBC does not prohibit the use of new or innovative products or construction methods; rather, it encourages them in IBC Section 104.11, which addresses “Alternative materials, design, and methods of construction and equipment.”

The ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) is an independent body that evaluates and issues reports of compliance based on codes and standards, with no vested interest in the applicable products or methods. ICC-ES Research Reports are covered in Section 104.11.1 of the 2012 IBC. ICC-ES Evaluation Reports are available to all code users free of charge and provide a valuable tool for the safe and consistent use of construction materials. ICC-ES provides evaluation of sustainability attributes based on green codes, standards, and various rating systems. It also offers building products and plumbing, mechanical, and fuel gas listing programs in support of construction industry professionals. Through a recently introduced listing program, manufacturers who wish to show their building product’s compliance with code-referenced consensus standards may apply for a listing to show compliance with the code and the referenced standard.

Accreditation services

Another critical part of the complete building safety system is the qualifications of those who are involved in the building construction process and their continued adherence to recognized and credible standards, such as fabricators, testing agencies, and inspecting entities. The International Accreditation Service (IAS) is the most credible accreditation body in the building construction arena, operating since 1975. The IAS accredits testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, inspection agencies, special inspection agencies, building departments, fabricators, field evaluation bodies, product certification agencies, training agencies, curriculum developments, metal building systems, building department service providers, fire prevention and life safety departments, and personnel certification bodies.

Figure 4: Another important reference is the Handbook to the 2012 IBC. It contains a discussion on fire and life safety and structural provisions in a book with several hundred color illustrations. This publication is authored by ICC staff authors and eduGlobal services

ICC is committed to promoting safe building construction and working with economies worldwide to enhance regulation and code compliance to increase the effectiveness of building codes. The ICC is also committed to disaster risk reduction and the efficient use and sustainability of natural resources.

ICC Global Services provides cooperation and collaboration in technical and institutional assistance to the global community in the area of building safety. Under the guidance of the ICC Global Membership Council, Global Services works with other ICC departments and subsidiaries to provide assistance in adoption of building code regulations, education and training, certification, code administration and enforcement, and conformity assessment programs.

Reference materials

ICC also publishes code commentaries and significant changes for new editions of the International Codes. ICC has developed seminars for 2012 and 2009 I-Code Significant Changes based on the I-Codes. Commentaries are a practical tool and a convenient reference for the codes. Presented in an easy-to-reference format, the commentary includes the full text of the code, including tables and figures, followed by corresponding commentary at the end of each section in one document. Every chapter begins with "general comments" and "purpose" sections followed by code and commentary to subsequent sections, tables, and figures. While not considered the legally adopted code, commentaries are designed to suggest the most effective method of application, and the consequences of not adhering to the code.


Hamid Naderi is the senior vice president of product development with the International Code Council, where he is responsible for managing the development of ICC technical publications. He is a Certified Building Official (CBO) and has more than 30 years of experience in various areas of construction materials testing, building codes administration, training, and publications