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A recent trend in the A/E (Architects/Engineers) world has been the formation of a single, universal building code. This one-sized approach should be carefully considered when owners embark in design/construction of new facilities or renovate existing ones, whether in the United States or abroad. Owners should be aware that one size does not fit all when it comes to the applicability of code issues and compliance.
Whether using one of the model codes or a site-specific code, such as New York City’s Building Code, the task of analyzing and applying the applicable code requirement for a particular situation is best suited to a professional code consultant who understands the variations in codes from location to location. Owners and facility managers, primarily concerned with minimizing their risk on any scale of a project, need to understand which design professional is responsible for ensuring code compliance where the project is being built.
The applicability of various domestic and international building codes reveals why owners should become aware of the assignment of responsibility for building code standards and/or oversee building code compliance for the projects they develop. A building code is a set of specifications and procedures designed to cover all aspects of construction. These codes stipulate the products or materials that can be used for a building or structure, what construction processes are permissible, and who can perform specific construction activities. Underlying all principles applicable to building codes is the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare as it relates to the following design/construction disciplines: structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, life safety (egress), fire safety (protection and suppression), natural light and air, accessibility standards, and energy conservation.
Since standards are at the heart of any building code, they attempt to be exact but they also allow flexibility for improvement. Building codes represent a composite of three sets of discrete information: (1) definitions of terms; (2) licensing requirements; and (3) the building standards themselves. These standards find their way into local codes either through one of the model code associations discussed below, federal law, or through direct lobbying at the local level.
There currently exists a complex web of hundreds of divergent national, regional, and local codes, which are all in a constant state of flux. This collection of building codes makes it extremely difficult for owners to provide oversight and building code expertise for the numerous projects it may undertake locally or globally.
For the reasons set forth below and because of the complexities and associated liabilities involved with assuming responsibility for the various codes, owners are encouraged to take more active roles in the preparation of their design services agreements to ensure who is responsible for code compliance for their projects. Responsibility for this area should be placed in the hands of local architectural and construction professionals retained for each project. Furthermore, owners who create a contractual framework which indemnifies owners from claims and liabilities associated with the services performed by architectural and construction professionals will be better protected should the project not pass inspection.
One project does not fit all
Despite the push towards one universal code, every community in the United States has adopted one of many building standards. Building code regulation, like construction itself, has long been considered a local activity. The prevailing pattern of regulatory use in the United States regarding building codes is one best described as being laissez faire, with each community determining its own building code requirements. Even with state codes, a pattern of local independence has evolved and efforts in achieving an all-encompassing national measure that is rec