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Posted by Thomas Harrington on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Historic Change in the California’s Building Code Could Affect You

You may not care about the intricacies of building codes. But I do – because I’m a construction geek. And even If you couldn’t care less about the code, you do need to know California’s Building Code (CBC) was completely replaced by a new set of rules on January 1, 2008.

Not only is this important, it could be mighty confusing; because California’s new code isn’t called the “2008 CBC” but the “2007 CBC.” Not all projects built in 2007, nor even in 2008 for that matter, are governed by the new CBC. Many are in fact governed by an earlier, entirely different set of rules. Which rules control a particular project will be determined by the date the permit application for the project was filed. Those with applications filed on and after January 1, 2008 are governed by the 2007 CBC. Those filed before 2008 are governed by the previous CBC. You need to be sure your contractor knows which rules govern your project!

If you want to learn how the rules governing my world came to be, read on.

Evolution of the California Building Code

While one might assume building inspectors enforce rules written by local lawmakers, the truth is building codes are way too technical – and too important to public safety – for us to entrust them to politicians. Modern building codes are actually written by very dedicated construction professionals who get together and devise a model set of rules that are made available to state and, where applicable, local governments. In California these model codes are modified by the California Building Standards Commission to adapt to their needs, and then adopted by the California legislature. Until recently, there were three main bodies undertaking this important work. One of those was the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO). Prior to 2008, California modeled its rules on ICBO’s Uniform Building Code (UBC). California would adapt the UBC to meet its needs, and local jurisdictions would follow suit.

But in 1997 the ICBO, seeking to compose a truly international code and believing that standardization could not be achieved through the UBC, suspended its own board and stopped publishing any updates to the UBC. A breakoff group from the ICBO then established the International Code Council (ICC) and created a whole new set of model codes, the International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Building Code (IBC). Despite its growing obsolescence, California stuck with the outmoded UBC until January 1, 2008, when it finally turned to the IRC and the IBC as the model codes for its 2007 CBC. It’s certainly obvious that construction codes are confusing, and that it’s best not to tread in this area without expert guidance.

I care a lot about construction and know a lot about the codes that govern them. I’d love to answer questions you may have about this article. I can be reached at Tom.Harrington@OpineExperts.com.

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