The Importance of Building Code Services

GBA has been performing building inspections for many years, however, in the past few years, due to staffing shortages, local jurisdictions have expressed a need to augment staff to perform permitting, plan review and inspection services. GBA’s Building Code Services team is located in Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis, Missouri—all locations that have seen the same need to augment skilled staff.

The most recent example is our partnership with the City of St. Joseph, Missouri, as they were faced with replacing their building official. Jurisdictions like St. Joseph are hardly in the minority of facing shortages of staff with experience in building codes—unfortunately, it’s the norm.

Building Safety Month

Each year in May, the International Code Council (ICC) sponsors a campaign centered around Building Safety Month to highlight the importance of a safe-built vertical environment. In recent years, it has increased its focus on recruiting in the “codes” world.

Building Safety Month occurs across five different weeks/phases:

  • Week 1 – Building Safety Starts at Home – Starting small to allow for a greater impact. ICC outlines how to increase safety within your residence by prioritizing fire safety, building safety and sustainability at home.
  • Week 2 – Building Safety Professionals and You – Building Safety Professionals are often overlooked as a role that works to keep our public safe. Although not a “first-responder,” they have sometimes been referred to as a “first-preventer.”
  • Week 3 – Prepare Your Community – It isn’t just about the sunny, normal day-to-day that requires attention in a building’s design and construction. It’s also about planning for the worst-case scenario.
  • Week 4 – Advocate for Your Community – The ICC has compiled several tools to put you in the driver’s seat to improve building safety in your community. Your participation can be as small as becoming more involved in your local jurisdiction or as large as pursuing a career in building safety as an inspector, plan reviewer or even a building official.
  • Week 5 – Solving Challenges Together – The importance of building codes isn’t limited to the United States. With recent international incidents such as the earthquake in Turkey and the Grenfell Tower fire incident, building safety is a key priority worldwide.

It is important to keep in mind the codes and standards adopted in your local jurisdiction work for everyone. From young children to the elderly to those with a disability, there are minimum requirements that you, as a building occupant, should come to expect as standard.

Construction with Safety in Mind

As I personally have worked through a basement and bathroom renovation in my home, I was faced many times with the question of how I could perform the work with the safety in mind of not only myself but also any guests who might visit my home, as well as future homebuyers. With my basement finish, there were plenty of ways in which an installation will work in the short-term, such as wiring the living space on the same circuit as the new half-bathroom. However, modern codes have more stringent requirements for bathroom circuit wiring. It might not be a nuisance now, but in the future, my daughter and wife might be running hair dryers at the same time. If not wired to the new code standard, at best the breaker will constantly trip and at worst there could be a conductor that overheats, potentially resulting in a fire.

Building Code Standards Worldwide

Across the country and even worldwide, the evaluation and enforcement of building codes and standards appear to be facing a challenge. Every year, there are countless injuries and lives lost due to the vertical built environment not meeting these design minimums. In Kansas City, the example that commonly resurfaces in the building code ecosphere of a failure to abide by the building code minimum standard is the Hyatt Regency Collapse in 1981. Jurisdictions bear the burden of the duty to create safe spaces that occupants and citizens come to expect without a second thought. Compliance with building codes and standards are vital to ensure safety—as mentioned above, not only on sunny/ideal weather days but also to withstand anything that mother nature throws at it, be it wind, rain, snow, fire and other hazards.

The site of one of the nation’s worst disasters from the Hyatt Regency’s lobby. A still intact skywalk is overhead as sections of the two walkways that collapsed lie in the rubble. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Special Inspections

A common code requirement that has been deeply discussed with jurisdictions and designers alike is the necessity for Special Inspections for Firestopping. Section 1705 in the building code discusses the types of construction installation elements that are subject to an above-and-beyond type of inspection—a Special Inspection. The specific section on firestopping has been updated numerous times over the years, with the most recent change in the 2021 IBC which includes additional requirements for residential-type occupancies with an occupant load over 250.

It’s a Team Effort

Take a moment to pause and reflect on all the time, attention and expertise that went into the current structure in which you’re safely reading this article. So many individuals are to thank along the way: architects, engineers, code officials, reviewers, inspectors and support staff have all played a part.

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