Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Building Code Definition:

A North American legal term for the local or municipal regulation which regulates the construction of new, or renovation of existing buildings.

A regulation or law which sets out, in each jurisdiction to which it applies, the standards and technical provisions for the construction of new buildings or the renovations or demolition of existing buildings.

In order to promote the safety of buildings, adherence to such codes is generally mandatory although enforcement is a problem as the government cannot adequately monitor development on private property.

Compliance to a building code is usually supervised by local officers who issue building permits and who have the power in the event of suspected construction or renovation which is contrary to the relevant code, to shut down the building.

The codes are designed to minimize construction shortcomings to a minimal standard. They are supplemented by plumbing, electrical and fire codes. The objective of such codes are as stated in the BC Code, §2.2:

".. to limit the probability that, as a result of the design, construction or demolition of the building, a person in or adjacent to the building will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of injury."

building code inspectorIn the USA, some states have state-wide or uniform building codes whereas others allow municipalities to develop their own. For example, the Building Code of the City of New York. In the ongoing attempt to promote world standards, there is even an International Building Code developed by the International Code Council (ICC) based in the United States. Many states, such as Michigan, use the ICC code as a model.

In Canada, building codes often take the form of a provincial regulation enacted under the authority of a provincial statute and generally re-issued every ten years. As soon as one is published, the committee renews itself and starts work on the next issue, gathering comments from the field and accommodating new research as to building techniques and materials.

For example, in British Columbia, the Building Code is a regulation of the Local Government Act. It is also based on a model national building and plumbing codes, the former being the National Building Code, published by the National Research Council of Canada.

The sale of building codes is a lucrative business for government printers as is reflected in the dearth of online publication of these regulatory instruments. Ontario's Building Code is available online (see below).

Building codes have specific language such as this, from the Ontario Code:

"Attic or roof space means the space between the roof and the ceiling of the top story or between a dwarf wall and a sloping roof."

As examples of substantive provisions, the BC Building Code 2006 provides that rooms must have a minimal ceiling height of 2.1 metres (6' 11") and, §9.8.2.1:

"Exit stairs and public stairs shall have a width of not less than 900 mm (2' ½")."


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