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Is that legal?
February 26, 2010 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Building Codes for the US by state.
posted by Mitheral (38 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Um... OK. Is there something interesting about building codes that I'm not seeing?
posted by cerebus19 at 10:18 AM on February 26, 2010


1. Odd that they don't have the NYC Building codes listed.

2. It appears to adhere to a bizzaro alphabetization rule whereby Alabama follows Alaska and Arizona follows Arkansas.
posted by yeti at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2010


Whoa, I'm more interested in the stuff one directory up from the Government Printing Office. But all the building codes in one place might be quite useful as well. It's such a pain searching for the stuff online. Thanks!
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2010


Alphabetical by two-letter state abbreviation, I would guess. So AL comes after AK, and AZ comes after AR.
posted by penduluum at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2010


Wow there's a lot of stuff here.
posted by Skorgu at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2010


These things are also handy to get at the electrical code, which is often just the National Electrical Code, incorporated in the state law by reference. You usually have to pay to get a copy of the NEC, but you can get the state code for free and they're often the same thing.
posted by FishBike at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2010


Um... OK. Is there something interesting about building codes that I'm not seeing?

It depends. Are you completely happy with the construction of the building you live in? Are you happy because you know it's up to code? What if it turned out it wasn't up to code? What if someone else were legally and financially responsible for bringing it up to code?

Personal example: we live in an apartment building in St. Louis. Secondhand smoke gets into our apartment on a regular basis, so we're moving out. But in the meanwhile I discovered that the common ventilation system for the units in our column was turned off at night by the management company. It turns out that this is in direct violation of a couple of different parts of the St. Louis building code. In the end I was able to get the management company to run the ventilation system continuously, as required by the code. The smoke is still unbearable, but it's not quite as chokingly awful as it once was.
posted by jedicus at 10:32 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


It appears to adhere to a bizzaro alphabetization rule whereby Alabama follows Alaska and Arizona follows Arkansas

AL follows AK and AR comes before AZ.

Why does Alabama need plumbing codes. Wouldn't that imply that they have it?

[NOT-ALABAMIST]
posted by Pollomacho at 10:37 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, are there some common things property owners/management companies do, such as jedicus' example, that are against code but they do it anyways?
posted by deacon_blues at 10:41 AM on February 26, 2010


Ok... I know a very little bit about this, but...

Aren't these supplements usually sold for hundreds of dollars per contractor? I actually attended a legal workshop for librarians earlier in the week, and am I right in saying that these are the International Building Codes, digitized, and provided for free by state?

From my understanding very little is actually in the building code at your local zoning board - most of them refer to the IBC books (which are very expensive, and something of a racket).
posted by codacorolla at 10:44 AM on February 26, 2010


Awesome. It was a pain tracking down the codes for my aborted* attic project I AskMe'd about last week.

The project aborted due to more important project rising in the basement. Seems that the thaw cycle plus the arrangement of snow this winter caused a gape to develop between the driveway and the house. This has allowed not only water, but apparently wildlife to get in to the basement. So now I have to seal the gap (sand? cement? foam? roof tar? asphalt?) and mouse proof the heating pipes that come up from the basement into the house.

I've already put enough poison down there to lay waste to the Rats of Nimh, but I'll never be sure they're gone until I seal the place up.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:52 AM on February 26, 2010


this is wonderful!
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


i spent some time searching for this for my state... somewhat unsuccessfuly. thanks.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:58 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Code City Flickr slideshow.

This slideshow is worth watching:
- if you don't understand why these codes were put online
- if you don't see why this very useful page deserves FPP (it definitely does)
- if you couldn't care less about building codes and just like Lego men put to good use

Cool site on so many levels.

Nice find. Thank you, Mitheral!
posted by stringbean at 11:05 AM on February 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Code is Law! Code is Law!
posted by ennui.bz at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is somewhat useful, but keep in mind that individual state building codes are trumped by local municipalities. For example, the site has the IBC 2000 code listed for Texas. While technically true, each individual municipality adopts its own version.

For example, Austin uses the IBC 2006 with city ammendments.... Ft. Worth OTOH has adopted the 2003 IBC and will likely adopt IBC 2009 this year (thereby completely skipping IBC 2006).... Trust me the codes can be wildly different in each version. Stuff that on the surface seems innocuous, but can cost owner's hundred's of thousands of dollars.

So, while this is a nice set of links, call your local city planning and zoning departments to get the latest....
posted by Benway at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2010


So now I have to seal the gap (sand? cement? foam? roof tar? asphalt?) and mouse proof the heating pipes that come up from the basement into the house.

cement, but cover it so that snow/sleet/rain/sleet/snow cycle doesn't wash it away... ugg this is nasty weather in new england.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:10 AM on February 26, 2010


The robots.txt is far more interesting. It seems they're preparing to host PACER documents, something PACER itself is not happy about.
posted by pwnguin at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Aren't these supplements usually sold for hundreds of dollars per contractor?"

Yep.

" I actually attended a legal workshop for librarians earlier in the week, and am I right in saying that these are the International Building Codes, digitized, and provided for free by state?"From my understanding very little is actually in the building code at your local zoning board - most of them refer to the IBC books (which are very expensive, and something of a racket)."

I'm not sure exactly why these documents are available for download but the site seems legit. The site is owned by a legal non profit that's been around for a while and hosted in the US. The site's Smithsonian archive was featured here before.

It is very useful information for anyone willing to read and study the complete documents. Being the law of the land it is completely crazy that you normally have to pay private entities to acquire copies.

pwnguin writes "It seems they're preparing to host PACER documents, something PACER itself is not happy about."

This site isn't loading for me, can you summarize?

PS: my title is a reference to legality of building systems and not the documents; I'd unconsciously decided the documents were legal until it was questioned in the comments.
posted by Mitheral at 11:36 AM on February 26, 2010


Being the law of the land it is completely crazy that you normally have to pay private entities to acquire copies.

I agree, and I think it ought to be the law everywhere that the law itself must be freely available and freely redistributable. If there is a cost attached, such as production costs of paper copies, or fees to be paid to standards bodies whose work is incorporated into the law, then that's one of the things I want my tax money to be used for.
posted by FishBike at 11:48 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note that the datestamp on these documents reads 2008 (mostly August, some as late as November). While most states have switched to the International Building Code in 2000 or there-about, and since then have followed the three year update schedule (2000, 2003, 2006, etc), some state and local jurisdictions may have further refined standards that are updated on a different schedule (but don't quote me on that, I'm a planning geek, not a building nerd). It seems San Francisco has their own building codes, if nothing else. And if you're unsure if you have the most recent set of documents, call your local jurisdiction's Building Department and ask. They don't want people using out-of-date standards, because changing an incorrectly built structure is harder than building it right the first time, both for the construction and also for the inspection.

Aren't these supplements usually sold for hundreds of dollars per contractor? I actually attended a legal workshop for librarians earlier in the week, and am I right in saying that these are the International Building Codes, digitized, and provided for free by state?

The International Building Code page on Wikipedia addresses this:
Most states or municipalities in the United States of America adopt the ICC family of codes and other reference standards and codes in whole or with local amendments. This has the effect of designating a copyrighted work as actual law, and, once enacted, that law enters the public domain. The model codes themselves, prior to their adoption as law, are not in the public domain and the ICC retains copyright on the model code itself.
You can still buy the codes, references and commentaries, even documents per state, but I believe that there's enough of it available to the public to allow them to build safe structures (or at least get some idea in what's involved, so they can hire someone who knows more).

pwnguin - the bigger issue is RECAP, written last year to start what they hope will be "a comprehensive, free repository of federal court records that's available to everyone."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2010


Somewhere in all this it must tell us why Seattle condos look like where architecture goes to die: Shitty beige boxes piled high with clichéed neo-vernac flourishes tacked on.

Somehow 170 miles away, with sprouting development zones, Portland seems to do a better job of it.
posted by marvin at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2010


PACER is a pay per webpage court document system. .08 cents a "page," defined as 4320 bytes. While the pricing is not exactly SMS category outrageous, it's still quite large and I don't believe it reflects any marginal cost.

RECAP is a tool that lets PACER paying customers share (they use the term 'recycle') documents they've retrieved, potentially reducing PACER charges. The link I offered informs people that "fee-exempt PACER customers of the terms of the exemption and of potential issues associated with a new software application called RECAP."

In short, Princeton (the authors behind RECAP), and their students, and anyone else with a fee exemption RECAP might persuade to join in, cannot use fee-exempt access accounts to share PACER data.
posted by pwnguin at 11:59 AM on February 26, 2010


If one looks at adjenda 21 + building codes you find all level of crazy.

Including HOA's.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2010


PACER is a pay per webpage court document system. .08 cents a "page," defined as 4320 bytes.

Well, it's capped per document at $2.40, and if you only run up $10 a year then you aren't billed.

I can sort of see the logic behind not wanting fee-exempt people to use RECAP. PACER is no doubt concerned about fee-exempt folks from using a bot to systematically download PACER files into RECAP, effectively bypassing the fee system entirely. I'm not saying it's right, just that I can see the logic.

I used to work for a company that, after Lexis and Westlaw, is the single largest consumer of PACER documents. It'd be pretty cool if it would use RECAP, but as its business model is partly dependent upon information scarcity I doubt it will happen any time soon.
posted by jedicus at 12:39 PM on February 26, 2010


I agree, and I think it ought to be the law everywhere that the law itself must be freely available and freely redistributable.
I think the case everyone usually refers to for this is Veeck vs. SBCCI which went through a bunch of appeals. In 2001, the ruling was that the codes can remain copyrighted; in 2002, an appeal reversed this (saying that the parts of the codes that are law can't be copyrighted); this is in the 5th circuit, and nationwide, as far as I can tell, the copyrightability of codes incorporated into law by reference is still pretty murky.

The NPFA says that states are not even allowed to actually incorporate the codes into their laws— only to incorporate them by reference— in apparent attempt to avoid losing the ability to charge each end user independently. This is where the dispute lies. AIUI, the law itself is not subject to copyright anywhere in the US; incorporation by reference seems to invoke something called the “merger doctrine”, which is part of the rather complex question of what kinds of things actually are or are not subject to copyright.
posted by hattifattener at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I can't build a yurt in Denver is what I'm getting out of this.
posted by kozad at 1:49 PM on February 26, 2010


Oh you can build a yurt in Denver, kozad. You just won't be able to use it (sell it or rent it or lease it) as a habitable domicile.
posted by notyou at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2010


This is a neat resource. I'll use it more for grabbing cites to take to more current state code websites and/or Lexis and Westlaw. I note that they have the 6th edition of the Mass building code on this site, but the 7th edition has been out and in effect for a while now (and made major changes to the previous ed). And urgh, most of the time I'd rather look at a building code in the book rather than a pdf, but that is just my picky need to be able to quickly eyeball a page without the scrolling lag time of pdfs. Still, for quickly figuring out where to look in an up-to-date set of state regs, this is handy!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 2:27 PM on February 26, 2010


The documents don't open for me. Is anyone else having this problem?
posted by Wanderlust88 at 2:51 PM on February 26, 2010


This is one reason I don't practice architecture any more. Reading the IBC books is actually a very entertaining thing to do, out loud, to non-architects/engineers/builders. I have always wondered about the poor souls who have to write these tomes. Big firms actually pay annual fees for a "translator" of the codes.
posted by tarantula at 6:38 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Late to the party, but I thought I might add, St. Louis County (well, the unincorporated parts of it) uses the 2003 Uniform Plumbing Code, which runs about 150 pages. However, there are County specific amendments...almost 200 pages of them. So it would actually take less space to write a code from fuckin' scratch.
posted by notsnot at 7:51 PM on February 26, 2010


The NPFA says that states are not even allowed to actually incorporate the codes into their laws— only to incorporate them by reference

So … they can be incorporated? I mean isn't incorporation "by reference" just a way to avoid unnecessarily lengthening documents?
posted by kenko at 9:33 PM on February 26, 2010


Kenko: Well, that's exactly it, isn't it? I think only the Supreme Court can answer that question definitively. The codes aren't textually part of the law that's voted on by the legislature; the law just says you gotta use such-and-such edition of such-and-such code. It sounds like a dozen or more judges at this point have written long, variably dissenting opinions on whether this makes the referenced code truly part of the law or not. I assume they've thought about it longer than I have.
posted by hattifattener at 11:27 PM on February 26, 2010


Veetch is a totally awesome common sense decision, which although it only strictly applies in the 5th circuit definitely would influence any decision in the rest of the country. Not having easy access to the law when I want to build something has been exceptionally irritating to me for at least a decade. If I'm supposed to have to follow the law, I shouldn't have to pay some crazy amount of money to learn what that law is. (Leaving aside the fact that these codes are often pretty hard to interpret.) Practically speaking, if you're not a jerk, at least in my city, the building inspectors are actually pretty helpful.

This organization and website is a big fat win for open government. Thanks for posting.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 5:30 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great resource. I am always looking for codes. California has a good one located at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html. It's searchable!

Someone mentioned a "racket" above. There is indeed, a racket, about codes and the dissemination of code information. It's going to fail before too long. They had a good run.

One of the incredibly good things to come along with the internet is that many municipalities are very happy to share their specific codes, local interpretations and applications-in-practice. It's nothing short of awesome.

You can also look up assessor's maps in many places, which blows me away. Go to your local county website and search around. Sometimes little podunk counties are the most cutting edge in terms of web access to their information. Sometimes large muni agencies are just plain bass-ackwards. It's getting better in every segment of government and industry, though.
posted by Xoebe at 11:40 AM on February 27, 2010


You can build a yurt, just don't go pitching any tents near a school.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:08 PM on February 27, 2010


I like this in principle, but a quick looks shows that these codes may be out of date. The Vermont codes at least are, as they refer to the reference codes as adopted in 2005 in the Vermont 2005 building code, not the more recently 2006 version of the reference codes adopted in 2009 under our brand new Vermont 2006 building code.

It would be nice if there really were a good online resource for all these documents, but this stuff is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other pieces of these major codes all adopted 'through reference' to the code standards and thus never actually published by the states. As a practicing architect I'm not only bugged by the 'racket' aspect of the cost of code books, but also by the fact that there are several competing codes with slightly different standards, so your variation in codes by place is not just due to changes coming from local adoption, but also because multiple organizations are promoting competing standards.

I also want to partially correct the individual above who stated that local municipalities trump state rules for codes. Building codes are done on a state by state basis, but how that is handled is up to each individual state. The right course is the same: be sure to check with your local code official. In Vermont we are fortunate to have a state wide code, and other states are moving in that direction.
posted by meinvt at 9:08 PM on February 27, 2010


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