What is the building code?
What exactly are building codes? While there are many different types of codes and countless codebooks, there are some specifically just for California. But to be clear, for those of you out there who think these codes are essentially laws, although enforceable, they are not.
First things firstLet’s first start with zoning. In a nutshell, zoning dictates how different buildings are used and exactly which types of buildings can be built and where. Contrast this with the building codes which are the standards that dictate how buildings are either remodeled, renovated or constructed.
In either case, both zoning violations, as well as building code violations, are punishable offenses if the ordinances are otherwise broken, misrepresented or otherwise violated. Yet still, not laws.
To know which code applies to your situation, you must first establish your building code authority and zoning
California adopts the International Code Council as its primary source of building codeIn 2006 California adopted the IBC (International Building Code) as it’s the primary source for building code which went into effect in 2008. Later, in 2009, California adopted the IRC for the (residential building code).
Today, the ICC (International Code Council) covers most U.S. cities and communities as well as many global markets. The ICC members include county, state, municipal code enforcement, and fire officials, architects, engineers, builders, contractors, elected officials, manufacturers, and many other construction-related industries. With over 350 code chapters, it’s the most widely used code reference material in the world.
The Code cycleBuilding code cycles are triennial, which is to say the building codes change every 3 years.
IBC vs IRC which is essentially the CBC and the CRC… respectivelyThe ICC (International Code Council) who are responsible for the international Building Codes (IBC) as well as the International Residential Codes (IRC) both of which oversee and govern the building models by which both residential and commercial systems i.e., plumbing, electrical, mechanical, roofing, etc… are designed and implemented.
2017 CRC R101.2 Purpose and intentThe purpose of this Code is to provide minimum standards to preserve the public safety, health, and welfare by regulating the design, construction, installation, quality of materials, use, occupancy, location, and maintenance of all buildings, structures, grading, and certain equipment as specifically set forth herein. Consistent with this purpose, the provisions of this Code are intended to confer a benefit on the community as a whole and are not intended to establish a duty of care toward any particular person.
This Code shall not be construed to hold the County of Los Angeles or any officer, employee, or agent thereof responsible for any damage to persons or property by reason of any inspection authorized herein or by reason of the issuance or non-issuance of any permit authorized herein, and/or for any action or omission in connection with the application and/or enforcement of this Code. By adopting the provisions of this Code, the County does not intend to impose on itself, its employees, or agents any mandatory duties of care toward persons and property within its jurisdiction so as to provide a basis of civil liability for damages.
This section is declaratory of existing law and is not to be construed as suggesting that such was not the purpose and intent of previous Code adoptions.
R101.3 ScopeThe provisions of this Code shall apply to the construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, removal, demolition, and grading of detached one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses not more than three stories above grade plane in height with a separate means of egress and their accessory structures that are located within the unincorporated territory of the County of Los Angeles and to such work or use by the County of Los Angeles in any incorporated city.
For those of us who live in a residence of some sort follow the IRC or (CRC). This is because most designers, builders, and owners tend to use the CRC for one and two family design (Residential), renovation and construction., however, it’s not a necessity.
R301.1.3 Engineered designWhere a building of otherwise conventional construction contains structural elements exceeding the limits of Section R301 or otherwise not conforming to this code, these elements shall be designed in accordance with accepted engineering practice. The extent of such design need only demonstrate compliance of nonconventional elements with other applicable provisions and shall be compatible with the performance of the conventional framed system. Engineered design in accordance with the California Building Code is permitted for buildings and structures, and parts thereof, included in the scope of this code.
On the other hand, the CBC is typically used for multi-family housing and commercial building.
CBC 101.3 IntentThe purpose of this code is to establish the minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare through structural strength means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, adequate light and ventilation, energy conservation, and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment and to provide safety to firefighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.
In most cases, many of the jurisdictions allow the owner or the builder to construct a one or two-family dwelling even without a design professional. Then again, these same jurisdictions will make it mandatory to have an architect or engineer design a multi-family building. For the most part, the CRC derives from the CBC and thus conforms to it but is a little more conservative than the CBC.
As contractors, we’ve never had a building official object to any of our project designs when we chose the CBC over the CRC for design improvement and prescription.
Wait… there are even more codebooks.
- CBC: The California Building Code contains regulations pertaining to practices used in commercial construction.
- CRC: The California Residential Code contains information and regulations applying to residential construction, including both new construction practices as well as remodeling issues.
- California Existing Building Code (CEBC)
- California Mechanical Code (CMC)
- California Plumbing Code (CPC)
- California Fire Code (CFC)
- International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC)
And there are even more standards…
The NFPA was established in 1896 and is a nonprofit. NFPA’s over 300 building codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Furthermore, NFPA is devoted to eliminating death, fire, injury, and other related hazards. In a word… protection.
Some of the many and most common NFPA codes and standards; NFPA 54 – National Fuel Gas code
- NFPA 72 – National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code
- NFPA 73 Standard for Electrical Inspections for Existing Dwellings
- NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives
- NFPA 211 Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances
- NFPA 720 Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment
Residential Zones or UsesBuilding structures are broken down into Use classifications which essentially dictates how that land and thus, the building is to be utilized. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, residential zones or uses, are broken down into categories. For example, R1, R2, R3 and so on…
Let’s take the Land Use Zone R-1 for example. Los Angeles County defines the R1 as a Single Family Residence. The standard goes on to dictate the land lot size for maximums and minimums as well as setbacks, parking arrangements as well as the side, front and back yard depths.
On the other hand, the city of Santa Monica goes on to provide definitions for the different use of classifications for residential. Keep in mind that this is only a partial list as an example.
Santa Monica Residential Use Classification Definitions
Single-Unit DwellingA dwelling unit that is designed for occupancy by one household, located on a single parcel that does not contain any other dwelling unit (except an accessory dwelling unit, where permitted), and not attached to another dwelling unit on an abutting parcel. This classification includes individual manufactured housing units installed on a foundation system pursuant to Section 18551 of the California Health and Safety Code.
Accessory Dwelling UnitA dwelling unit providing complete independent living facilities for one or more persons that are located on a parcel with another primary, single-unit dwelling as defined by State law. It shall include permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same parcel as the single-unit dwelling location. A second unit may be within the same structure as the primary unit, in an attached structure, or in a separate structure on the same parcel. This use is distinguished from a duplex.
DuplexA single building that contains 2 dwelling units or 2 single unit dwellings on a single parcel. This use is distinguished from an Accessory Dwelling Unit, which is an accessory residential unit as defined by State law and this Ordinance.
Multiple-Unit Dwelling2 or more dwelling units within a single building or within 2 or more buildings on a site or parcel. Types of multiple-unit dwellings include garden apartments, senior housing developments, and multi-story apartment and condominium buildings. This classification includes transitional housing in a multiple-unit format. The classification is distinguished from group residential facilities.
It’s safe to assume that the majority of cities in Los Angeles county have very similar definitions for their land usages, however, they may be worded differently.
City of Santa Clarita land usageThe city of Santa Clarita like the previous examples describes their minimum requirements to fall under their land use classifications as shown here below. The city of Santa Clarita defines also, the minimum land or lot size, parking arrangements, setbacks, etc…
17.33.010 Urban Residential 1 (UR1) ZoneThe Urban Residential 1 (UR1) zoning designation provides for residential neighborhoods at densities that require urban services. Many of these neighborhoods provide a transition between higher density, urban development and rural communities throughout the planning area, and this designation is appropriate in such urban/rural interface areas. Uses in this designation include single-family homes and other residential uses at a maximum density of two (2) dwelling units per acre
17.33.020 Urban Residential 2 (UR2) ZoneThe Urban Residential 2 (UR2) zoning designation provides for residential neighborhoods that typify much of the planning area. Uses in this designation include single-family homes and other residential uses at a maximum density of five (5) dwelling units per acre. Specific allowable uses and development standards shall be determined by the underlying zoning designation.
17.33.030 Urban Residential 3 (UR3) ZoneThe Urban Residential 3 (UR3) zoning designation provides for neighborhoods of single-family attached and detached housing, and small-scale attached multi-family dwellings such as duplexes and triplexes. Allowed uses include single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and small-scale multi-family dwellings of a scale and character that complement and are consistent with a single-family residential neighborhood.
How are the building codes enforced?
Within the city of Santa Clarita, the job of the Code Enforcement official is to preserve and maintain the overall integrity of our buildings, property and our neighborhoods within our community. For the most part, they achieve this through education as well as enforcement of our States and local municipal codes and regulations.
Poorly maintained residential or commercial property can lower our property values which negatively impacts our community’s appearance and pride. Furthermore, a poorly maintained community may, in fact, contribute to increased crime and or safety problems also known as the Broken Window Theory.
From the 2017 CRC Section 202
BUILDING OFFICIALThe officer or other designated authority charged with the administration and enforcement of this code.
2010 CBC SECTION 104 DUTIES AND POWERS OF BUILDING OFFICIAL 104.1 GeneralThe building official is hereby authorized and directed to enforce the provisions of this code. The building official shall have the authority to render interpretations of this code and to adopt policies and procedures in order to clarify the application of its provisions. Such interpretations, policies, and procedures shall be in compliance with the intent and purpose of this code. Such policies and procedures shall not have the effect of waiving requirements specifically provided for in this code.
What are the things the Santa Clarita Building Code regulates?From the cities website, speaking to the adherence of the adopted International Building Codes…”Such code shall be and become the City of Santa Clarita Building Code, regulating the erection, construction, alteration, repair, relocation, demolition, occupancy, use, height, area, and maintenance of all buildings and structures, and certain equipment therein specifically regulated. The provisions of said code shall provide for the issuance of permits and certificates of occupancy, and collection of fees thereof, and providing penalties for violation of such code.”
What’re some things not required to be permitted in Santa Clarita?
- Decks or platforms that are not more than 30 inches in height
- Canopies, awnings, or open trellises that do no extend more than 36 inches from the exterior wall
- Sidewalks and driveways which are not more than 30 inches above adjacent grade
- One-story detached light-framed structures accessory used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses, trellis structures, gazebos, arbors, greenhouses and similar uses where the gross floor area does not exceed 120 square feet
- The installation of replacement window units into existing frames
- Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet
And a lot more…
Property Development Standards for the City of Santa Clarita
According to Santa Clarita Section 105.5 Expiration, each permit is only good for 180 days“Every permit issued shall become invalid unless the work on the site authorized by such permit is commenced within 180 days.”
What’s not addressed in the building codes?The building codes cannot address every individual detail with respect to building design, construction, and maintenance. Understand, that while the CRC sets prescriptive design requirements on such things as prefabricated chimneys or swimming pools, they often times refer that specific systems design criteria to another code source. In this case, the NFPA 211 for chimneys and fireplaces and the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC) for swimming pools for example. Understand, however, there are so many more NFPA standards. Over 300 specifically.
Other things not addressed in the building codes…
- Moisture intrusion and fenestration performances
- Roof system performance with respect to water intrusion
- Interior finish details
- Details regarding finish transitions
- Details regarding all of the various types of available sidings
Five misconceptions about the Santa Clarita building code
It doesn’t meet codeIt’s many times difficult to determine whether a subject property meets design criteria when in fact, there may not have been any design criteria in place when the building was constructed. Furthermore, what makes this difficult to answer is not knowing which design specifications were required when built again if any.
Every house built must comply with current building codesIn fact, the house in question must only comply with the code by which it was constructed providing there was one at the time. From the time in which the house was built until now if there were renovations, those renovations would be subject to compliance with the most current code. The entire house would not have been retrofitted to a current standard. An example of this is smoke alarms. Smoke alarms in the 1980s were required, one on each level, however, today, they are required in every bedroom and hallway and are to be interconnected and hardwired.
You must build to the “letter of the code”Not necessarily. The California Code and well the building planning department has flexibility here. Sure the initial design must comply with the minimum specifications set forth by the AHJ, but the engineer, code official, architect or planning department can, in fact, go outside of the code, so long as the improvement is more stringent than the initial code. In other words, you can make something safer, not less safe.
There is only one singular code to referenceAs previously mentioned, there are many many different building standards by which you can design a building. Most officials, architects, and engineers use multiple sources to construct a building. As a matter of fact, even the codes themselves reference other outside sources like for example, the NFPA 720 for carbon monoxide alarms. The CRC may say you need them, but the NFPA 720 says where, how and how many.
Building compliance and installation of systems ensure qualityAlthough the codes and standards dictate specific installation and design criteria, it’s up to the contractor or person installing the system to install or otherwise build with quality in mind. Take fireplaces for example. Even though the code stipulates the minimum standards by which a hearth must be installed, it does not describe the methods by which the heart is actually installed.
Are Santa Clarita Home inspectors Code Experts?Not hardly. As a matter of fact, the majority of these home inspector training centers actually suggest their pupils “not” perform code compliant inspections. Why do you ask? First off, it’s not required here in California. Not only are code-centric inspections not required… home inspectors are not even required to know, well…. anything about construction. Wow, I know, that’s what I said.
To get a good inspector for your home you need a guy who’s first of all, “not” on any real estate agents list. Second, you need to not choose the cheapest priced guy out there. Pricing is indicative of quality and experience. Lastly, you should make sure the inspector is a licensed General Contractor, Engineer, Architect, or ICC certified code enforcement official.
Short of one of these four, I’d personally opt to just do it myself with a checklist and take my chances.
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