The International Building Code (IBC) is a model building code developed by the International Code Council (ICC). It has been adopted throughout most of the United States.


Since the early 1900s, the system of building regulations in the United States was based on model building codes developed by three regional model code groups. The codes developed by the Building Officials Code Administrators International (BOCA) were used on the East Coast and throughout the Midwest of the United States, while the codes from the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) were used in the Southeast and the codes published by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) covered the West Coast and across to most of the Midwest. Although regional code development has been effective and responsive to the regulatory needs of the local jurisdictions, by early 1990s it became obvious that the country needed a single coordinated set of national model building codes. The nation’s three model code groups decided to combine their efforts and in 1994 formed the International Code Council (ICC) to develop codes that would have no regional limitations.

After three years of extensive research and development, the first edition of the International Building Code was published in 2000. The code was patterned on three legacy codes previously developed by the organizations that constitute ICC. By the year 2000, ICC had completed the International Codes series and ceased development of the legacy codes in favor of their national successor.

Legacy codes[]

  • BOCA National Building Code (BOCA/NBC) by the Building Officials Code Administrators International (BOCA)
  • Uniform Building Code (UBC) by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO)
  • Standard Building Code (SBC) by the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI)

Competing codes and final adoption[]

The National Fire Protection Association, initially, joined ICC in a collective effort to develop the International Fire Code (IFC). This effort however fell apart at the completion of the first draft of the document. Subsequent efforts by ICC and NFPA to reach agreement on this and other documents were unsuccessful, resulting in a series of disputes between the two organizations. After several failed attempts to find common ground with the ICC, NFPA withdrew from participation in development of the International Codes and joined with International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Western Fire Chiefs Association to create an alternative set of codes. First published in 2002, the code set named the Comprehensive Consensus Codes, or C3, includes the NFPA 5000 building code as its centerpiece and the companion codes such as the National Electrical Code, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, UPC, UMC, and NFPA 1. Unlike the IBC, the NFPA 5000 conformed to ANSI-established policies and procedures for the development of voluntary consensus standards.

The NFPA's move to introduce a competing building standard received strong opposition from powerful trade groups such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), BOMA International and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Subsequent to unsuccessful attempts to encourage peaceful cooperation and resolution between NFPA and ICC on their codes disputes, a number of organizations, including AIA, BOMA and two dozen commercial real estate associations, founded the Get It Together coalition, which repeatedly urged NFPA to abandon code development related to NFPA 5000 and to work with ICC to integrate the other NFPA codes and standards into the ICC family of codes.

Initially, California adopted the NFPA 5000 codes as a baseline for the future California Building Code, but later rescinded the decision when Gov. Davis--who had strong ties with the State Fire Marshall who, in turn, supported NFPA 5000--was recalled from office and Gov Schwarzenegger was elected. Upon his election, Gov. Schwarzenegger rescinded directive to use NFPA 5000, and California adopted the IBC. The main driver for this decision were increased costs involved in training architects and engineers to design for a new code, construction contractors to build to the new code, and state and local agencies to have to learn a new code with which to inspect. Additionally, NFPA 5000 would cause a disparity between California and the majority of other states which had adopted IBC; not to mention, the legacy ICBO started in California and was headquartered in Whittier, CA. [1]

Since then, benefits of using one code for the entire country has been realized by all. At this time, jurisdictions within all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the IBC. [1]


A large portion of the International Building Code deals with fire prevention. It differs from the related International Fire Code in that the IBC addresses fire prevention in regard to construction and design and the fire code addresses fire prevention in regard to the operation of a completed and occupied building. For example, the building code sets criteria for the number, size and location of exits in the design of a building while the fire code requires the exits of a completed and occupied building to be unblocked. The building code also deals with access for the disabled and structural stability (including earthquakes). The International Building Code applies to all structures in areas where it is adopted, except for one and two family dwellings (see International Residential Code).

Parts of the code reference other codes including the International Plumbing Code, the International Mechanical Code, the National Electric Code, and various National Fire Protection Association standards. Therefore, if a municipality adopts the International Building Code, it also adopts those parts of other codes referenced by the IBC. Often, the plumbing, mechanical, and electric codes are adopted along with the building code.

The code book itself (2000 edition) totals over 700 pages and chapters include:

  • Building occupancy classifications
  • Building heights and areas
  • Interior finishes
  • Foundation, wall, and roof construction
  • Fire protection systems (sprinkler system requirements and design)
  • Materials used in construction
  • Elevators and escalators
  • Already existing structures
  • Means of egress (see below)

Means of Egress[]

The phrase "means of egress" refers to the ability to exit the structure, primarily in the event of an emergency, such as a fire. Specifically, a means of egress is broken into three parts: the path of travel to an exit, the exit itself, and the exit discharge (the path to a safe area outside). The code also address the number of exits required for a structure based on its intended occupancy use and the number of people who could be in the place at one time as well as their relative locations. It also deals with special needs, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons where evacuating people may have special requirements. In some instances, requirements are made based on possible hazards (such as in industries) where flammable or toxic chemicals will be in use.


"Accessibility" refers to the accommodation of physically challenged people in structures. This includes building entry, parking spaces, elevators, and restrooms.

Existing structures[]


Building code requirements generally apply to the construction of new buildings and alterations or additions to existing buildings, changes in the use of buildings, and the demolition of buildings or portions of buildings at the ends of their useful or economic lives. As such, building codes obtain their effect from the voluntary decisions of property owners to erect, alter, add to, or demolish a building in a jurisdiction where a building code applies[citation needed].

Alterations and additions to an existing building must usually comply with all new requirements applicable to their scope as related to the intended use of the building[citation needed]. Some changes in the use of a building often expose the entire building to the requirement to comply fully with provisions of the code applicable to the new use[citation needed]. Some jurisdictionsTemplate:Which? limit such application to matters of fire safety, disabled access or structural integrity, others apply an economic feasibility or practicality test, and still others exempt buildings of special use or architectural or historic significance[citation needed].

Existing buildings are not exempt from new requirements, especially those considered essential to achieve health, safety or general welfare objectives of the adopting jurisdiction, even when they are not otherwise subject to alteration, addition, change in use, or demolition[citation needed]. Such requirements typically remedy existing conditions, considered in hindsight, inimical to safety, such as the lack of automatic fire sprinklers in certain places of assembly, as became a major concern[citation needed] after the Station nightclub fire in 2003 killed 100 people.

Although such remedial enactments address existing conditions, they do not violate the United States Constition's ban on the adoption of ex post facto law, as they do not criminalize or seek to punish past conduct[citation needed]. Such requirements merely prohibit the maintenance or continuance of conditions that would prove injurious to a member of the public or the broader public interest[citation needed].

Assertions by property rights advocates in the United States[who?] that such requirements violate the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, have generally failed on grounds that compliance with such requirements increases rather than decreases the capital value of the property concerned[citation needed].

Some statesTemplate:Which?, especially those that delegate their adoption and enforcement authority to subordinate local jurisdictions, may exempt their own buildings from compliance with local building codes or local amendments to a statewide building code[citation needed]. Similarly, property owned by the United States Government is considered exempt from state and local enactments, although such properties are generally not exempt from inspection by state or local authorities, except on grounds of protecting national defense or national security[citation needed]. In lieu of submitting themselves to compliance with the requirements of other government jurisdictions, most state and federal agenciesTemplate:Which? adopt construction and maintenance requirements that either reference model building codes or model their provisions on their requirements[citation needed].

Some jurisdictions Template:Which? have enacted requirements to bring certain types or uses of existing buildings into compliance with new requirements, such as the installation of smoke alarms in households or dwelling units, at the time of sale. Some safety advocates[who?] have suggested a similar approach to encourage remedial application of other requirements, but few jurisdictions have found it economical or equitable to disincentivise property transactions in this way[citation needed].

Many jurisdictions have found the application of new requirements to old, particularly historic buildings, challenging. New Jersey, for example, has adopted specific state amendments (see New Jersey's Rehabilitation Subcode)to provide a means of code compliance to existing structures without forcing the owner to comply with rigid requirements of the currently adopted Building Codes where it may be technically infeasible to do so. California has also enacted a specific historic building code (see 2001 California Historic Building Code). Other statesTemplate:Which? require compliance with building and fire codes, subject to reservations, limitations, or jurisdictional discretion to protect historic building stock as a condition of nominating or listing a building for preservation or landmark status, especially where such status attracts tax credits, investment of public money, or other incentives.

The listing of a building on the National Register of Historic Places does not exempt it from compliance with state or local building code requirements.[citation needed]

Updating Cycle[]

Updated editions of the IBC are published on a three year cycle (2000, 2003, 2006…). This fixed schedule has led other organizations, which produce referenced standards, to align their publishing schedule with that of the IBC[citation needed].

Referenced Standards[]

Model building codes rely heavily on referenced standards as published and promulgated by other standards organizations such as ASTM (ASTM International), ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). The structural provisions rely heavily on referenced standards, such as the Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Structures published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE-7).

Changes in parts of the reference standard can result in disconnedtiosn between the corresponding editions of the reference standards.

Copyright Controversy[]

Most states or municipalities in the United States of America adopt the ICC family of codes[citation needed] and other reference standards and codes in whole or with local amendments. This has the effect of designating a copyrighted work as actual law[citation needed], and, once enacted, that law enters the public domain[citation needed]. The model codes themselves, prior to their adoption as law, are not in the public domain and the ICC retains copyright on the model code itself.

In the wake of the Federal copyright case Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int'l, Inc.,[2] the organization Public Resource has published a substantial portion of the enacted building codes on-line, and they are available as PDFs.[3]

ICC Building codes[]

  • International Building Code
  • International Residential Code
  • International Fire Code
  • International Plumbing Code
  • International Mechanical Code
  • International Fuel Gas Code
  • International Energy Conservation Code
  • ICC Performance Code
  • International Wildland Urban Interface Code
  • International Existing Building Code
  • International Property Maintenance Code
  • International Private Sewage Disposal Code
  • International Zoning Code

See also[]

  • Building officials


  1. International Code Adoptions. International Code Council Website. Accessed 03-17-10. Updated: 02-16-10.
  2. 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002)

International Building Code 2006. International Code Council, 2006.