In the service of building stronger structures with better performance and superior cost-benefit, codes are integral. They are the blueprints by which architects can guarantee quality – the measuring stick against which builders assess their accomplishments. But more importantly, they can help the occupants and tenants live more comfortably, frugally and efficiently.

Winter 2015 demonstrated the value of codes, especially in the Northeast U.S. – The Boston Globe noted that the following summer was among the busiest ever for roof repairs and building preparation. The structures that failed to meet standards suffered the consequences of ice damming and roof collapse. Those builders are determined not to make the same mistakes and that starts by honoring the codes in place. Though they are only guidelines, architects would be wise to treat them as law.

Updated building codes are trending toward energy efficiency.Updated building codes are trending toward energy efficiency.

Building commissioners offer their expertise
As building standards and guidelines move toward energy efficiency and sustainability, structures require more detailed planning and procedures. So says James Givens, division manager of field services for RMF Engineering, Inc. He told Consulting-Specifying Engineering Magazine that new codes drive builders and commissioners to work together more closely. Still, he acknowledged that the onus is not just on regulatory agencies to provide the impetus for progress.

“As commissioning providers, we cannot become complacent and allow ourselves to rely on industry standards/publications to drive our practice,” Givens told CSE Magazine. “Instead, we must appreciate that the industry is embracing our practice and use the tools provided to us to enhance the value of the services that we have built while remaining objective, responsible owner/facility advocates.”

“In a perfect world, every region adheres to the latest building codes.”

Not all regions perform up to par
In a perfect world, every region adheres to the latest recommendations from the International Code Council – the 2015 International Building Code. Unfortunately, some states will operate on the 2012 standards, while other areas have not yet advanced from the 2009 edition.

St. Louis County, Missouri, is one region that has yet to adopt more efficiency-minded codes and practices, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The country updates its codes once every six years, and this year, motions to lower energy efficiency requirements appear to be making headway. The proposals would weaken the existing codes based on the 2009 IBC. In some rural parts of the state, there are no building codes at all. Some city officials cited upfront costs as the sticking point in transitioning to more sustainable building practices.

However, that doesn’t factor in benefits like long-term savings, cost avoidance and comfort. Cost savings include the energy expenditures to heat and cool an inefficient building as opposed to one with continuous insulation and a barrier membrane, while cost avoidance refers to the repairs that would eventually come as moisture and debris infiltrate the building and cause damage. The technology to achieve higher sustainability is already commonly in use – companies like Sto Corp provide whole-building systems to address insulation, building envelope and exterior coating needs.

Building codes are meant to be a recommendation – every region and population is different. However, by following the codes, builders can maintain a higher quality of life and lower expenses for the building’s end user.