Building Codes and Inspections/question


Good day
Is there an building code that is internationally recognized ie. international building code.
What would such code be for commercial building and what would it be for residential building construction.
What other codes permit to commercial building construction and land development (subdividing)

Here in the United States, we have an organization called the International Building Code Council, which has developed what they call the IBC, or "International Building Code." However, it is not really international at this point, because it has widespread use only in the United States, and even then, every state does not adopt it, and some, like California, adopt large parts, but pass many amendments that are generally more stringent, or perhaps deal more thoroughly with local issues (like earthquakes in one state, or hurricanes in another.) The code has sections for both commercial and residential construction, and also incorporates references to the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) A117 Standard, for which it is the Secretariat, and which writes standards for disabled access to the built environment (both commercial and residential).

In other developed countries, there are a number of standards writing bodies (such as DIN for Germany, BSI for Great Britain), and national and local building codes. The standards bodies are important for codes, since most codes are based on standards, and merely take the standards and "scope" them for local use, or for certain types of buildings. For instance, if the ANSI A117 standard gives the specifications for an accessible toilet (how high off the floor, where the flushing mechanism is, etc), it is the code that tells you how many of your toilets have to be accessible, and in which kind of building. I just returned from the ANSI A117 meeting where I am a voting delegate, and heard that the European countries are most likely going to unite all their standards under a special "European" standards organization. Supposedly, the various building codes will then be based on the European standards. There is also the "ISO" or International Standards Organization. They have written standards as well, and the U.S. may refer to some of them, but usually uses ANSI, NFPA or ASTM standards for their own codes. ANSI belongs to the ISO, but usually the United States standards organizations like various ANSI committees claim their standards are best, and will insist on writing and using their own standards, rather using those of other countries. It took a long time in the United States to get the three regional building code organizations to agree to unite and form the IBC, and you still have the NFPA, or National Fire Protection Association, which is considered the most reliable for fire related codes, which has written its own complete and competing building code that is based on various ANSI standards. California planned to adopt it, but then a change of administration caused that plan to be abandoned, and California chose the IBC instead. Standards and code writing can be fraught with politics and references to national exceptionalism!

Therefore, I would not look for any truly "International" building code to be developed any time soon. At this time, many people are working to try to get third world countries to adopt any kind of building code that will improve building practices and promote the safety of residents during fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

As far as subdividing goes, I think that is something that tends to be much more locally controlled, at least in the United States, and probably in other western countries as well, like Germany, France and the UK. More sophisticated towns and cities, at least here in California, often have developed Master Plans that include what kind of subdivision of property will be allowed in various areas. However, there are setback requirements that are controlled statewide, due to fire safety laws. You may be allowed to subdivide into fairly small pieces of land, but there are often definite local rules about how high you can build, and state rules about how far you are allowed to be from other structures on neighboring parcels, and from the public way.

I don't pretend to be the best expert on this topic, but my work with ANSI for the past 22 years, and constant collaboration with building officials and various building experts from all over the country has given me a certain level of information which I hope may be helpful, and think is fairly accurate, as far as it goes.

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Sharon Toji


I have special expertise in the subject of accessibility codes and guidelines (ADA), and most specifically in the field of signage. If you have a question that is not about the ADA or about signs, I suggest you try the following excellent site: Naffa International BCDG (Building Code Discussion Group). The website address is You do have to register, but it's free. You will find discussions here on all kinds of Building Code Q & A topics. You go to the forum that sounds as if it's close to your topic, check out some of the posts and see if it sounds like a fit. Then pose your question. With luck, you may get some really good answers. You can email some of the experts individually by clicking on the headings of their posts. When you ask a question, of me, or of someone on the above site, tell them your state, and maybe your city if it's a large city. That is crucial for answering code questions. Sharon Toji


I am a voting delegate to the American National Standards Institute that writes accessiblity standards used by the International Building Code and are the basis for the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). I am also a member of the Access Advisory Committee to the California State Building Standards Commission, among other positions.

Signs and the ADA (a manual I have written that is used across the country), and articles in many trade journals.

BA, Reed College Graduate work, University of Munich (Germany) and University of California, Irvine

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