The ICC, Building Codes, and the Insulation Industry

September 1, 2013

The International Code Council (ICC) is a 50,000-member U.S. association dedicated to public safety. ICC members include state, county, and municipal code enforcement and fire officials, architects, engineers, builders, contractors, elected officials, manufacturers, and others in the construction industry.

The ICC mission focuses on providing the highest quality codes, standards, products, and services for all concerned with safety and performance in the built environment. The council is dedicated to developing model codes and standards to construct safe, sustainable, affordable, and resilient structures.

The United States has the highest standard of building safety in the world, which can be attributed to the more than 200 years of collective experience shared by the ICC and its predecessor organizations (Building Officials and Code  Administrators, International Conference of Building Officials, and Southern Building Code Congress International).

The model codes known as the International Codes, or I-Codes, were developed by ICC members to provide basic safeguards for people at home, at school, and in the workplace. The I-Codes are a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building safety, fire prevention, and energy-efficient model codes that support the construction industry’s need for one set of codes without regional limitations. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the I-Codes at the state or jurisdictional level. Federal agencies including the Architect of the Capitol, General Services Administration, National Park Service, Department of State, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also enforce the I-Codes. The Department of Defense references the International Building Code (IBC) for constructing military facilities, including those that house U.S. troops around the world and at home. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands enforce one or more of the I-Codes. The ICC supports code compliance and adoptions with a range of services including training, professional certification, code opinions, and plan review. The ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) is a subsidiary of the ICC that provides a comprehensive scope of technical evaluations for code-compliant building materials. Based on its years of experience in evaluating building products, affiliation with the ICC, and the fact that it was created exclusively by building officials, ICC-ES is a widely accepted and trusted source within the regulatory community. The ICC-ES Evaluation Report Program includes technical evaluations of building products, components, methods, and materials, and provides evidence that building products and systems meet code requirements. ICC ES has approximately 1,400 evaluation reports.

The International Accreditation Service (IAS), another ICC subsidiary, has provided accreditation services to diverse industries since 1975. IAS accredits testing laboratories, inspection agencies, product certification agencies, and other related organizations. IAS offers many accreditations supporting the insulation industry. Examples include IAS’ accreditation of laboratories for thermal insulation testing standards, agencies for inspection of manufacturing of foam plastic insulation, and certification agencies for the listing of insulation products.

The Need for Construction Codes

The regulation of building construction in the United States dates back to the 1700s, but it was not until the 1871 Chicago Fire killed 250 people and destroyed 17,000 buildings that building safety came to the forefront in the United States. In 1875, Chicago enacted a building code and a fire prevention ordinance, starting a trend that slowly spread across the country. By the early 1900s, special interest groups, such as the insurance industry, joined others with similar concerns to develop a model code. This first model building code gained widespread popularity among legislative authorities. It provided an accessible source of comprehensive technical requirements without the difficulties and expense of investigation, research, and drafting of individual local codes. Today, most jurisdictions in the United States have adopted and enforce building safety and fire prevention codes. The combination of good codes and proper code administration is the reason for the U.S. record of constructing buildings that resist natural disasters relatively well in comparison with other nations that can suffer terrible devastation and loss of life due to the absence of codes and code compliance checks performed by properly trained and certified building officials.

Based on building science and technical knowledge, the purpose of a building code is to establish minimum requirements necessary to provide safety, guard public health, and reduce property losses. Model building codes provide protection from man-made and natural disasters. Proper design and construction practices, in concert with a code administration program that ensures compliance, actually keep construction costs down by establishing uniformity in the construction industry. This uniformity allows building and materials manufacturers to do business on a larger scale—statewide, regionally, nationally, or internationally.

Code Development

The commitment to building safety begins with a private-public partnership where codes are developed by private-sector associations such as the ICC, but the authority to adopt and implement the codes belongs to federal, state, and local authorities. This is a unique system and very different from other countries where the government may write and impose rules and regulations with little—if any—public input.

The U.S. standardization system is very diverse. It is based on a market-driven, sector-based focus that comes from participants who represent government, the construction industry, and public- and private-sector interests. Volunteers who participate in the ICC code development process represent federal, state, and local governments; the private sector—such as architects, engineers, labor, homebuilders, contractors, building owners and managers, energy advocates; and others. Most importantly, the process—including the ICC’s governmental consensus process—is guided by principles outlined in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119, and in Public Law 104-113, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, including:

  • Transparency: Information is accessible to all parties
  • Openness: All affected interests can participate
  • Consensus: Decisions are reached through consensus among those affected
  • Due Process: All views are considered and appeals are possible
  • Appeals Process: Is open and guided by due process

The ICC’s governmental consensus process includes open forums of debate. This cooperative process represents all interests and ensures responsiveness and compatibility between the private sector and regulatory needs.

There are 8 steps to the development of the I-Codes:

  • Code changes are submitted by any interested person.
  • Code changes are posted prior to a public hearing.
  • Public committee action hearings allow anyone to attend, testify, and participate. There is no cost to attend or participate. The hearings are available on webcast.
  • Committee action hearing results are posted prior to the public comment hearing.
  • Public comments are sought on committee action hearing results, allowing an opportunity to consider specific support for or objections to the results of the public hearing.
  • Public comments are posted for consideration.
  • At public comment hearings, ICC governmental member voting representatives and honorary members dedicated to public safety cast votes of final determination on all code changes. This allows no proprietary interests to influence the outcome.
  • New editions of the codes are published every 3 years.

To increase participation in the code development process (cdp), the ICC expects to conduct tests of an online voting process, which is the next step in the development of cdpACCESS, ICC’s initiative to create the code development process of the future. The cdpACCESS initiative seeks to allow remote voting and encompasses several components, including submitting code changes and public comments, and exchanging ideas and thoughts with colleagues and others with an interest in building safety. Ultimately, cdpACCESS will allow participation in all phases from a computer or tablet, regardless of the voter’s location.

Code Adoptions and the Role of Stakeholders

State or local governments are not obligated to adopt model building safety or fire prevention codes, and may write their own code or portions of a code. A model code has no legal standing until it is adopted as law by a government entity (state legislature, state agency, county board, city council, etc.). When adopted as law, all owners of property within the boundaries of the adopting jurisdiction are required to comply with the referred codes. Because codes are updated, existing structures usually are required to meet the code that was enforced when the property was built. The primary application of a building code is to regulate new construction. Building codes usually only apply to an existing building if the building undergoes reconstruction, rehabilitation, or alteration, or if the occupancy of the existing building changes to a new occupancy as defined by the building code.

Most jurisdictions have a system in place for review of the codes, adoption, and proper administration that follows a 3-year cycle. This period of time coincides with the national model code cycle. Codes and standards are developed and revised on a regular 3-year basis. This regular and timely process of updating the codes is critical to ensure that new research, technology, and safety practices can be incorporated into the codes.

Manufacturers and fabricators invest resources in research and in the development of new products and technologies. By supporting the adoption of current codes, the insulation industry and members of the National Insulation Association ensure the latest insulation technologies and products get into the marketplace on a timely basis, and ensure installations are done in a way that is safe and effective. Code updates include replacing provisions with those that are more cost effective. It is not illegal to install new advancements without having updated codes, just a lot harder and possibly more costly. The insulation industry is an example where codes have played a role in getting new materials introduced in the marketplace, such as spray foam insulation products, structural insulated panels, insulated concrete forms, and low-VOC insulation materials. In many cases, these new products have been developed in response to increased demand for energy-efficient buildings, as reflected in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The IECC has played a tremendous role in the insulation industry, driving both demand and innovation.

New findings and research into the role indoor air quality plays in public safety are spurring discussions in code arenas that impact the insulation industry. This is not only reflected in the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), but in base codes like the International Mechanical Code and the International Residential Code (IRC), where proposals seeking to change the use of insulation in plenums have been debated. In the International Plumbing Code, the requirements for pipe insulation have recently been revised, and firestopping requirements continue to evolve.

One of the newest members of the I-Code family is the aforementioned IgCC, which was developed in partnership with ASHRAE, ASTM, the U.S. Green Building Council, the American Institute of Architects, and with the input of industry professionals. The IgCC provides model code language to establish baseline regulations for new and existing buildings related to energy conservation, water efficiency, building owner responsibilities, site impacts, building waste, materials, and other considerations. The IgCC provides a natural complement for voluntary rating systems that extend beyond the IgCC’s baseline, such as LEED, for cutting-edge applications of green building design. Similar to other model codes, the IgCC is written in enforceable language and is coordinated with the other I-Codes. Currently, it is in use or has been adopted in 10 states, with a few jurisdictions reviewing it for adoption possibly later this year or in early 2014. As with all the model codes, the ICC and its subsidiaries provide a robust infrastructure to support the administration of the IgCC, including training, certification, commissioning guidelines, commentaries, handbooks, study companions, and more.

Another important reason to keep codes current is the correlation and harmonization between the codes and the referenced standards. In a 2003 article, Mark Johnson, Executive Vice President and Director of Business Development for ICC, wrote about this subject: ?The building industry is extremely competitive, where manufacturers of materials and innovative new products compete head-to-head with each other for a share of construction spending. In this fast-paced entrepreneurial environment, standards help to assure that the quality of building products and materials do not degenerate to unsafe levels as a result of competitive pressures to reduce costs and streamline operations. Through the development and publication of quality standards, a level playing field is established, which helps to ensure not only quality, but fair competition. Building standards establish the minimum level of safety required, and reflect the level
of risk society is willing to bear.?

Building standards adopted by reference in the I-Codes can be broken down into 4 basic categories: material, installation, testing, and design standards.

  • Material standards specify the physical properties of a material or manufactured product and establish quality requirements.
  • Installation standards regulate the proper installation and placement of building components or systems.
  • Testing standards encompass structural unit and system tests, durability tests, and fire tests.
  • Design standards define the methods of design and specify the accepted design procedures, engineering formulas, and calculation methods.

It is not only industry that benefits from current codes. The safety of firefighters and emergency responders is included in the scope of the model codes.

If a business owner wishes to install a proven new technology, installers and builders have access to the information needed to install. Insulation fabricators, manufacturers, contractors, and installers are important stakeholders in the development of the codes, as well as in the adoption and implementation. Participation in the code development is vital to ensure the codes reflect and meet the needs of the insulation industry.

For all the reasons listed above, it is important for industry to voice its support at the state and local level for the adoption of current codes.

ICC’s Governmental Members

Governmental members are code officials dedicated to safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of the public. They are charged with the enforcement of state or local building codes. Their professional responsibilities include receiving applications; issuing permits for new construction; reviewing building plans, building lots, and site conditions for compliance with the building, fire, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical codes; reviewing/performing building inspections; and keeping official records and inspection reports.

The education requirements to become a code official vary from state to state but may include technical school, vocational college, or a university degree. Comprehending and interpreting technical and legal documents like codes and standards requires knowledge about architecture, legal aspects of code administration, construction technology, drafting, blueprint reading, science, and mathematics.

ICC High School Technical Training Program

The ICC is a major supporter and proponent of technical and vocational training. It recognizes the building trades as a crucial component of the building community. Two years ago, the ICC endorsed and expanded a program for technical high schools based on a pilot program started in 2009 at Harford Technical High School in Bel Air, Maryland. The instructors referenced the IRC as the students progressed through the construction of their projects. The ICC supports and encourages technical high schools to offer young people entering the workforce hands-on construction experience paired with tools and knowledge about the codes. With solid code knowledge, students may transition into the field of inspections or any other construction discipline.

The ICC established a Certificate of Achievement to recognize a technical high school student’s successful completion of all program elements and passing a 30-question test pertaining to a specific trade: building, electrical, plumbing, or HVAC. Students have the opportunity to achieve 1 or all 4 Certificates of Achievement. Students who receive all 4 certificates may transition to the ICC’s National Certification Program for code professionals. Many employers require inspectors to have experience in the construction industry, complete an apprenticeship program,have studied engineering or architecture, or have an Associate’s degree from a community college in construction technology, blueprint reading, or building inspection. The ICC certifications enhance a candidate’s chances for better paying, higher responsibility jobs.

The program provides benefits for all. By partnering with technical high schools, the ICC seeks to create an advanced workforce knowledgeable in codes, and the students of the technical programs receive the self-assurance and confidence one gains from an extensive education. Most importantly, the general public benefits by having personnel who properly enforce the codes and ensure that the places where we live, work, and play are safe for all to enjoy.

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