Building code issues are one of the most sought after topics on our blog. David Eisenberg and others at DCAT offer their suggestions on how to maneuver through the code approval process.
“Building codes and related regulations exist to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment. The building regulatory system has done a good job of minimizing the risks commonly associated with buildings such as fire, structural integrity, means of escape in an emergency, and so forth. However, building regulations are also widely acknowledged to inhibit innovation due to their complexity and the preponderance of prescriptive rather than performance-based provisions. Almost all codes have provisions for alternative designs, materials, and methods of construction that are cited as evidence that codes are not a barrier to alternative or innovative approaches to building (e.g., International Code Council 2000).
In reality, both situations are true. The provisions for alternatives provide a way to introduce innovative or alternative approaches and get them approved. At the same time, the codes present a significant practical barrier to innovation (e.g., Volokh 1996, Duncan 2000, and Foliente 2000) because using these provisions are often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, and the results are dependent on many factors. Thus, while in theory it is possible to get almost anything approved with enough time, money, and technical resources, in practice few projects have unlimited budgets and open-ended schedules.
Most efforts to build more sustainable or “green” building and development projects include a wide array of innovations and alternatives. People involved in doing such projects have long had difficulty getting their projects and plans approved. Direct and indirect experience with such challenges led the Development Center for Appropriate Technology (DCAT), a non-profit organization in Tucson, Arizona, to focus on sustainability and codes since 1995. DCAT created the Building Sustainability into the Codes program in order to formally address this problem.”