Lynn Underwood, New Member of the ICC Board of Directors
This building official is now one of the people heading up code development at the national level.
What is the role of the International Code Council (ICC)?
We work to make the most modern, consistent, and coordinated set of model building codes possible. We do this by bringing together all interested parties that have a stake in the code.
Who are those parties?
Code development includes many diverse interests. Those interests can collide, intersect, bisect, collaborate, compromise, or harmonize with each other. That is the sausage-making of code development.
Local-government representatives want codes that benefit the public through building safety. State or federal governments seek to modify codes to reflect their interests in such areas as energy efficiency, accessibility, and flood resistance. Because it affects their living, builders (often represented by the National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB) express concern about the added cost and time it takes to comply with new codes. Product manufacturers want a voice in how their building materials are affected by regulation. Industry associations that represent larger product interests such as roofing, siding, concrete, wood, masonry, or similar generic materials develop standards to create consistency across their professional domains. Professional associations representing engineers or architects want their design standards to be part of the code. Finally, institutions devoted to product standards or to material testing and evaluation have a stake in how the language of the code affects their work.
In the past couple of iterations, the IRC has become considerably thicker. Why?
Early codes were not as comprehensive. The IRC covers all aspects of construction for one- and two-family dwellings, including structural, architectural, plumbing, mechanical, and electricaln systems. In some cases, a larger code book results because modern buildings are more complex than their predecessors. To avoid excluding the newer types of building systems that are being developed all the time, the code grows in size and scope.
The more accurate and precise a code is, the easier it is for a builder to comply without having to resort to engineering to justify a method or material that is not in the prescriptive part of the code. For example, in earlier versions of the code, building materials such as insulated concrete forms (ICFs) or structural insulated panels (SIPs) required an engineered design. Now they’re in the IRC and are easier for a builder to use.
In a personal case, a builder asked me to help him with headers on a small porch. The header tables in the IRC addressed bearing walls in a house, not the lighter loads of a porch roof. For a porch with posts 8 ft. apart, the smallest allowable header was two 2x10s—considerably oversize. With the help of an engineer and the builder, I proposed a new table for porch headers. Because of the builder’s suggestion, this table is in the 2015 IRC.
We learn from our mistakes as well. Building codes have improved how we endure earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and hurricanes. We have learned to build better houses that meet the needs of modern society. In order to do all these things, guidelines have to expand.
Many builders I know feel divorced from the code-development process. They don’t feel like they have a voice, and they tend to feel that the code is imposed on them from on high. How can our readers participate in code development?
Builders are represented by NAHB, which actively participates in code development. NAHB and other builder interest groups often propose code changes, and they speak for or against proposals during code hearings. Because it brings a unique perspective—that of the end user, so to speak—NAHB has had a high rate of success in the code-development process. Builders’ interests are served when representatives of these organizations are appointed to ICC code committees, which hold hearings, have discussions and vote for or against specific proposals. Builders’ interests are represented at the state and local level by similar professional associations. Many states and localities include builders in their amendment and adoption processes.
I encourage builders to join a local group such as an affiliate of NAHB. That’s how I first learned about codes. I also encourage builders and DIYers to purchase the code by which they are regulated. Many states and localities have amendments to the model code that are published by the ICC. See if your state’s code is published at shop.iccsafe.org/codes/state-and-localcodes. html. If it is, order it and read it. Learn about the regulations that directly affect you. I also encourage builders to get to know their local building official. We truly are on the same team.
Illustration: Jacqueline Rogers