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Code is Not a Four-Letter Word…

One thing you realize pretty quickly while researching building codes, is that there is a lot more information out there, than there is time to read it.

ICC – International Code Council

The starting point for all building code information is the ICC, International Code Council, whose mission is: to provide the highest quality codes, standards, products and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment. 

The ICC develops the most comprehensive guide to building safety and fire codes used across the U.S. Each individual state operates uniquely in their legislative process to adopt codes, and code adoption isn’t necessarily statewide. Local governments can make their own decisions, and states can pick and choose what sections they want to adopt, change, or remove completely. Wondering how it works in your state?  Start with this code adoption process by state link.

International Code Adoption by State

The next logical step is to find out which codes they adopted through their process. Start with the  International Codes-Adoption by State chart (updated May 2016), which lists each of the states and U.S. territories, and which codes they have adopted. Energy code, residential code, mechanical code – you name it. If it’s related to building, it’s regulated, and it’s on this list.

Once you know which version of the code the state has accepted, the nitty-gritty research begins. Detailed publications for each state are available for purchase through the ICC. They also have a great feature called “toolkits“, which offers federal, state, and local overviews. A link called “Who to Call?” lists each state’s Chapters, Board Liaisons, and Government Relations Representative.

Which Codes Matter?

Of course the short answer is – all of them.  But it really depends on what answers you’re looking for.

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

In our case, we wanted to determine which states require the use of Continuous Insulation for residential use.  That means two codes: International Energy Conservation Code, and International Residential Code.  The IECC addresses only energy, both for residential and commercial. The IRC is everything residential, and energy efficiency is covered in Chapter 11.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that if a state adopts the 2015 IRC, that they also adopted Chapter 11, which would relate to the 2015 IECC.


For example, South Carolina is on the 2012 version of the IRC.  However, they remain on the 2009 version of the IECC. That’s because the legislature determines the energy code, while the building council determines the residential code. Above the border in North Carolina, the building council determines both codes, and it is mandatory statewide.


Code can be confusing, there is no doubt.  But the important thing to realize is that there are excellent resources available, and no shortage of knowledgeable people who want to help – you just need to know where to start. Considering that we spend the majority of our lives living and working in the “built environment,” it’s well worth a little code-navigation.


The ICC also offers an Evaluation Service, the ICC-ES, a technical service for evaluating building products to provide clear evidence that product comply with codes and standards . ICC holds an annual conference each year,  The Building Safety & Design Expo, for professionals to learn about the latest products and services available to keep buildings safe and maintain code compliance.  This year’s will be held in Kansas City, MO, October 16-17th.  

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