Building codes protect the public’s health, safety and welfare by ensuring that all structures are designed and built with safety and resiliency in mind. Using regulations to encourage structurally sound and fire resistant buildings is hardly a new idea. The Code of Hammurabi (c. 1772 BCE) includes provisions on construction, and in colonial America, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, outlawed both chimneys made of wood and thatch roof coverings soon after its founding in 1630, presumably to discourage fire.
Historically, disaster has incentivized both the establishment and revision of building codes. Though separated by more than 250 years, the Great Fire of London (1666) and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) precipitated new ordinances regulating construction. More recently, widespread damage from high winds during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, led to changes in the South Florida Building Code and the eventual adoption of the first statewide Florida Building Code (FBC) in 2002.
Until the late 1990s, states, counties and municipalities largely developed their own building codes or, more commonly, adopted by reference, one of three regional model codes developed by the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), or Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI).
In 1994, the three entities were combined to create the International Code Council (ICC). In 2000, the first editions of building codes created by the ICC were published. In the United States today, the ICC publishes the dominant single set of comprehensive, coordinated building codes. These model building codes are developed through a consensus of materials producers, construction industry professionals, code enforcement officials, and subject-matter experts in the fields of design, engineering and safety. Known as the “I-Codes,” the ICC’s 14 publications address building systems, energy use, and green construction as they apply to multi-family, commercial, and other non-residential structures (International Building Code, or IBC) and one-and-two family houses (International Residential Code, or IRC).
The I-Codes provide a minimum standard for building safety and performance. For the purposes of uniformity they often reference consensus standards setting bodies, created by independent organizations such as ASTM, to ensure that building materials and construction methods meet a baseline of quality that, when combined with codified best practices in construction, result in safe buildings that perform as expected. States, counties, and municipalities draw from the I-Codes, in whole or in part, when crafting or revising building codes and ordinances that best meets its needs.
The Gypsum Association contributes to the code process by participating in the process of code revision and development. In addition to the ICC, the Association is an active participant in the standards setting process of other organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and the Tile Council of North America. The Association also oversees testing related to fire resistance and sound control. Updated every three years, and now in its 20th edition, the Fire Resistance Design Manual, GA-600, specifies and provides fire resistance ratings for over 600 systems that may be used for fire-rated walls and partitions, floor/ceiling and roof/ceiling assemblies and to protect columns, beams and girders. The Fire Resistance Design Manual encompasses both generic and proprietary systems and is referenced by the ICC, the National Fire Codes as well as many state and local jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.
Through its activities and other publications, such as Application and Finishing of Gypsum Panel Products, GA-216, the Gypsum Association promotes a broad understanding of building code requirements among the design and construction community, with the ultimate goal of enhancing consumer satisfaction with the products made by member firms.