If you live in California or another earthquake-prone state, you already know the devastating effects an earthquake can have on the structure of a building and the people inside. While you can’t control when one of these natural disasters occurs, there are a few things you can do to ensure the structure of your property doesn’t get demolished from seismic activity. This is where building codes can come into play.

Building codes are a set of regulations that can govern the design, construction, alteration, and the overall maintenance of a structure. These are minimum safety requirements that have been put in place to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants, and they should not be taken lightly. Rather than having individual states create and maintain their own set of codes, many states and local jurisdictions adopt the model building codes that have been put in place by the International Code Council, or the ICC. These codes include:

  • International Building Code (IBF) – This code applies to almost all types of new buildings.
  • International Residential Code (IRC) – This code applies to new one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses that are no taller than three stories.
  • International Existing Building Code (IEBC) – These codes apply to the alteration, repair, addition, or change in occupancy of already existing structures.

What Are Seismic Codes?

Seismic codes are codes that have been put in place to reduce the damages that come from earthquakes. There are some provisions in the IBC, IRC, and IEBC that are intended to ensure building structures can withstand seismic forces. These provisions were put in place to represent the best guidance on how structures should be designed and constructed in order to limit seismic risk.

Can Building Codes Be Changed Over Time?

The answer to this question is, yes. All the time, in fact. Individual states and local municipalities have the ability to write their own building codes when they see fit. A great example of this is in California, where seismic building codes are much more strict than they are in other areas of the nation. On this same note, building codes can also be adapted to accommodate a certain state or city’s commitment to environmental protection.

How Are Building Codes Enforced?

More often than not, building codes are enforced at a local level. Ideally, during a new construction, the property owner will be required to submit plans to the city before the ground is ever broken. Once submitted, these plans will be carefully reviewed by the local building department, where they will either be approved or sent back with instructions for revision and resubmission. If you’re not sure what permits you’ll need for a new construction, reach out to your local building department.

As each stage of the construction project is completed, you may need to schedule an appointment with a building inspector who will evaluate the work that has been done. This person will either sign off on the fact that everything is up to code, or they will ask for specific amendments to be made. If you fail to follow the inspector’s guidance, it could result in heavy fines down the line. Most building code inspections will take place after a construction phase. Some of these phases may include:

  • Foundation
  • Rough Framing
  • Drywall
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing & Electrical Planning

We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of building codes. At Consulting Engineers Corp. in Santa Clara, we’re proud to be a leading provider of seismic retrofitting across California. If you’re concerned that your commercial building, multi-unit housing development, or industrial space will not withstand the forces of an earthquake, contact our engineers today!