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The Importance of Building Codes

In my own work as an interior designer, as well as with architects and general contractors, the practice of following building codes is an everyday part of our practice. Most of my clients approach the permitting process with great consternation and a general feeling that building codes and permitting construction work is an overly burdensome practice in which the local government is overreaching and the process is bogged down with red tape.

I do understand this sentiment, as I just recently had to submit my own building and zoning application to my local municipality to erect a 6’ privacy fence in my backyard. It can be a pain in the neck and the broader the scope, the more “cumbersome” the permitting process can be.

So, what exactly are building codes? Essentially they are a collection of rules adopted by a governing body that regulates the construction of structures. The main purpose of building codes is to provide minimum standards to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures. Model building codes provide protection from tragedy caused by fire, structural collapse, and general deterioration. These rules specifically call out the standards in all aspects of the construction of buildings and non-building structures. Some examples of which minimum standards are to provide for the following:

  • Structural standards, the building’s occupancy, types of wall assemblies (fire ratings), safe egress, type of foundation, floor assemblies, roof structures/assemblies, energy rules, stairs and halls, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, site drainage, lighting, fixtures standards, occupancy rules, and swimming pool regulations.

  • Fire codes and life safety systems

  • Requirements for natural disasters such (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc)

In Florida, the building codes we use are referred to as the Florida Building Code (FBC) of which were developed following closely the International Building Codes (IBC) in which the International Code Council (ICC) develops the models and standards. The Florida Building Code includes many very important guidelines for hurricane protection. After Hurricane Andrew, Miami-Dade County was the first in Florida to certify hurricane resistant standards for structures. The FBC has adopted the Miami-Dade requirements.

There are certain instances when the local municipality develops their own set of building code and zoning rules. In the City of Sarasota where I live, we follow the FBC, but there are also additional zoning rules and codes that we must follow over the general safety standards set forth by the FBC. It is imperative to check with your local jurisdiction to ensure that you are following the correct codes.

Professional Interior Designers use building code standards during the design process and frequently refer to the reference materials to ensure that interior space plans comply with the codes. Building departments review plans submitted to them before construction, issue permits [or not] and inspectors verify compliance to these standards at the site during construction.

The most successful projects start with hiring the correct professional, whether it be an architect and/or interior designer (non-structural work only) to prepare a well-executed set of construction drawings and specifications that convey the design with nothing left open for interpretation. Next is to ensure that the general contractor and all the subcontractors hold valid licenses and have the proper insurance. I’ve seen so many people try to cut corners, thinking it’s going to save time and money, when all actuality, it ends up costing them much more and the end result suffers. Remember, building codes are there for everyone’s protection. Do a little homework on the front end so you won’t be picking up the pieces of a disaster on the back end.

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