Building Codes and Climate Resilience

08-22-2022

 

Building a new home or retrofitting an existing one requires that we comply with state and local building codes. By conforming to the codes we can obtain permission, usually from a local council, to plan a new house or a remodel. 

 

The building codes specify the minimum baseline requirements of materials, design, measurements, and other aspects of the design and construction processes.

The primary purpose of the building codes is to protect us and maintain our health, safety, and welfare, both as occupants as well as communities. 

Unfortunately, since building codes are considered minimum standards, they do not guarantee best-in-class performance, efficiency, or quality.

 

Building codes become laws when states and municipalities adopt them and make them mandatory. Most states and local jurisdictions adopt the model building codes developed and carried by the International Code Council (ICC). The ICC developed a set of national model construction codes. It revisits and publishes new editions every three years. 

The ICC’s family of International Codes includes:

  • International Building Code (IBC) is the foundation of the complete family of ICC codes.
  • International Residential Code (IRC) is the minimum regulations for one and two-family dwellings and townhouses using prescriptive provisions.
  • International Existing Building Code (IEBC) refers to projects which intend to modify an existing building. It includes repairs, alterations, buildings relocation, additions, and occupancy changes. 
  • There are additional I-codes with specific, focused subject matters such as fire, energy, plumbing, and green construction, which we cover in other blogs.



 

If we follow the local building codes, will our homes become more climate resilient? Do the building codes include adequate strategies and solutions that help our homes better withstand extreme weather events and the changing climate?

 

Not necessarily. It depends on the location of your home, the climate risks in your county, and the adopted building codes that apply to your structure.

 

The ICC recognizes its role in enhancing buildings’ climate resilience. The Code Council has developed a white paper called Pathways to Climate Resilience: The Central Role of Building Codes in Climate Adaptation and Mitigation. According to the report, pre-disaster mitigation has proven to be highly cost-effective. In other words, implementing strategies that can reduce the impacts of hazards on your home is a wise and worthwhile investment.

 

See additional information on climate-resilience cost-effectiveness on our Save on Resilience blog. 

 

The ICC has developed a broad definition of resilience that reflects engagements with communities from the individual building level to community-wide resilience benchmarking. 

 

Although the ICC is committed to safety, sustainability, and climate resilience, adhering to building codes is not sufficient in most cases to protect homes from extreme weather events. 

One reason is that most states do not adopt all the latest codes. You can find the adopted codes by each State here and here

 

In addition, building codes are updated according to past climate risk data and may not be stringent enough to protect from the acceleration of the changing climate and increasing extreme events of the near future. 

 

Lastly, we mentioned that the building codes are a set of minimum standards. Therefore, to better protect your home from the changing elements, in most states it is recommended to exceed the local building codes. 

 

Luckily, some states and cities recognize that building codes are insufficient for climate resilience and create their own relevant building codes. Inspiring examples are the City of Austin’s energy and water conservation codes, and the City of Sacramento’s code for flood protection. 



 

Final Thoughts

 

The ICC is working diligently to update and enhance the national building codes and to include climate adaptation and resilience in the standards. 

Yet, before starting a building or remodeling project, you should check which building codes your state and city adopted and whether they are stringent enough to protect your home from local climate risks. 

You can use our Build Home Resilience tool to discover the climate risks in your county from high to low. 

Lastly, consult with an experienced professional on the cost-effectiveness of beyond-code strategies that can protect your home from the most prominent local climate risks.

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