Code wars

NFPA initiative blunts code unification efforts

June 01, 2001 |

Building-code developments are not typically exciting news, but drama has been injected into this normally prosaic topic as two groups vie for the favor of code officials.

The scenario began with the publication last year of the International Building Code (IBC) by the International Code Council (ICC). The IBC was designed to supersede the codes of the three U.S. model-code organizations — Country Club Hills, Ill.-based Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Building Code Congress International and the Whittier, Calif.-based International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO).

In March 2000, the Quincy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) dropped a bombshell by announcing that it would also develop a building code. NFPA 5000, Building Code is expected to be available in September 2002, and the group's technical committee is now reviewing public proposals in preparation of a second draft up for vote at NFPA's May 2002 meeting.

NFPA seeks consensus

NFPA decided to proceed with its own building code in order to offer the industry an ANSI-accredited, consensus-based alternative, according to Gary Keith, NFPA's vice president of building codes and standards. (In an apparent response to the attention focused on the consensus issue, the ICC recently revised its code-drafting procedure to allow two-thirds, rather than 49 percent, of its code-development committee members to be professionals other than code officials, thereby potentially diluting the influence of code authorities and groups.)

Meanwhile, the IBC has been adopted in South Carolina and Alaska. New Hampshire and Georgia are among other states considering it. Below the state level it has been endorsed by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Pushing for the IBC's adoption is the "Get It Together" coalition — comprising the American Institute of Architects, BOMA International and Associated General Contractors of America — which tried to get ICC and NFPA to work together, says Marco Giamberardino, BOMA's director of codes and standards.

Coalition strategy revised

Accepting NFPA 5000 as a fait accompli, the coalition decided to modify its approach by participating in the development of NFPA 5000 in December, to try to make its provisions correlate as closely as possible with those of the IBC.

While acknowledging NFPA's contributions in fire and life safety, Giamberardino adds: "We believe that collectively the three model code groups have a corner on the expertise for developing a building code." Coalition members are "frustrated" by NFPA's decision to develop its building code, regarding it as a waste of industry resources and an "unnecessary step of reinventing the wheel," he says. Coalition members also worry that jurisdictions picking and choosing between the two codes will muddle the code environment.

A major blow to the IBC's adoption came last October, when California's Building Standards Commission halted IBC adoption by directing state agencies to continue using the current state code, which is based upon the 1997 edition of the Uniform Building Code issued by the ICBO, until 2003. In the view of many, the commission's action was taken so the state could consider adopting NFPA 5000 before the 2003 edition of the IBC.

David Collins, president of Preview Group, a Cincinnati-based code consultant, predicts that it will be another two years before the majority of jurisdictions finally decide to adopt the IBC. The adoption process can be arduous, he adds, citing Ohio's line-by-line legal review of any candidate code — often a two-year process — as an illustration.

Randolph Tucker, senior vice president with Chicago-based code consultant RJA Group, says many states want to see the IBC's first revision before they buy into it. And even when a jurisdiction adopts a model code, it typically makes numerous modifications. For example, he says, states adopting IBC will likely rewrite Chapter 1, its administrative section.

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