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Setting the Standard for U.S. Building Codes

ICC Partners with ASTM to Improve Safety and Economy

by Mark Johnson

ASTM standards account for almost one-half of the standards referenced in the building code regulations newly consolidated into the International Codes. Recently, in cooperation with ASTM, the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) published a compilation of all ASTM standards cited in the I-Codes. ICBO’s Mark Johnson writes about the importance of standards to the I-Codes and the benefits of this new cost- effective compilation.

Citizens of the United States witnessed an historic moment earlier this year when the International Code Council® (ICC) released the nation’s first fully coordinated and compatible set of building code regulations. Six years in the making, the International Codes—or “I-Codes,” as they are often called—represent over 200 years of combined experience on the part of the nation’s three model code groups.

Founded in 1994 by Building Officials and Code Administrators, International, Inc. (BOCA), the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI), ICC was given a clear mandate to provide a better alternative to the nation’s regionally-based regulatory systems by developing a single, cohesive set of model building codes. While incorporating the latest in building safety concepts, the I-Codes are founded on the strengths of the three regional codes: BOCA’s National Building Code (NBC), SBCCI’s Standard Building Code (SBC) and ICBO’s Uniform Building Code™ (UBC). Together, these codes have assured the safety of our nation’s structures and their occupants for the past 70 years.

Prior to the release of the I-Codes, nearly every state used one of the three regional codes as the basis for its building regulatory system. Notable exceptions were New York and Wisconsin, which developed their own state codes, but even that is about to change with the release of the I-Codes. Both states have reviewed the I-Codes and have expressed the intention of adopting many of the codes that make up the 11-volume set.

Codes and Standards

The ICC and its founding members have not been alone in their efforts. Standards significantly support a building code by providing the considerable expertise of individuals who participate in specialized standards-writing activities, and the model codes have relied heavily on the use of referenced standards since the first edition of the UBC was published in 1927. With the issuance of the I-Code family and its flagship volume, the International Building Code® (IBC), reliance on standards has increased more than tenfold. Of the nearly 500 standards referenced in Chapter 35 of the 2000 IBC, nearly 50 percent were developed by ASTM. The importance of these standards is too often overlooked by users of building codes.

On one hand, building codes are a set of regulations created for the purposes of adoption and enforcement through the appropriate local or state legislative and administrative processes. Standards, on the other hand, are generally a set of requirements or conditions to which a product or material must conform.

The standards promulgated by ASTM that are referenced in building codes usually apply to engineering or testing procedures. They normally contain definitions of terms, classifications of components, delineations of procedures, specifications of dimensions, and descriptions of fit and measurement size, as well as measurements of quality in the description of materials, products, and systems. The quality of a building product is covered by material standards; the design of a product is covered by engineering standards. Testing standards apply to methods for determining the performance quality of materials or assemblies. Such testing often yields numerical data for use in the comparison of one material or assembly to another.

The importance of voluntary consensus standards cannot be understated. Until they are adopted, building codes have no basis in law and are much like any other standards that may or may not be referenced by the designer of a building. It is critical to bear in mind, however, that the codes typically contain a provision that mandates simultaneous adoption of a series of applicable referenced standards. Section 102.4 of the 2000 IBC, for example, states that “codes and standards referenced in this code shall be considered part of the requirements of this code to the prescribed extent of each such reference.” While the IBC clearly states that the code takes precedence, should conflicts or differences arise between the language of the code and that of a referenced standard, this provision in no way diminishes the fact that the referenced standards have become, through their inclusion in the codes, as legally enforceable as the code itself.

Fairness and Safety

In a market-driven society, manufacturers are often pitted against one another in a quest to win over the hearts and minds of consumers. The building industry is a particularly competitive one, with manufacturers of both similar and alternative materials competing head-to-head for a share of construction spending. If standards like those produced by ASTM did not exist to support the building codes, the quality of building products and materials could degenerate to dangerously low levels. By setting standards and benchmarks for quality, a level playing field is maintained while competition—the hallmark of our free enterprise system—is preserved. A grouping of manufacturers, consumers, trade associations, or agencies can develop a standard to suit its own purposes or aims, but only when a standard is developed in accordance with clear-cut rules of procedure and openness of process does it earn the stature necessary for regulatory reference in building codes.

Codes and standards also help to neutralize powerful economic entities wishing to preserve their hegemony by erecting barriers to entry into the markets they serve. Section 104.11 of the 2000 IBC allows for alternative materials, design, and methods of construction and equipment, subject to the approval of the building official.

A Silver Lining for Code Officials

At a cost in the thousands of dollars, the expense of acquiring a complete, up-to-date set of all the standards referenced in the IBC has proved challenging for the many jurisdictions whose building departments’ budgets are already stretched to the breaking point. Maintaining a complete set of referenced standards is an outright impossibility in the vast majority of smaller jurisdictions. In recognition of these challenges, ICBO has developed a book under a special licensing agreement that collects all of the ASTM standards adopted by reference in the 2000 IBC. Entitled the 2000 International Building Code ASTM Referenced Standards, the document contains nearly half of all the standards cited in the IBC and covers information on such topics as adhesives, cement, concrete and concrete aggregates, fasteners, fire standards, wood, fire-resistance testing, and many other topics.

The 2000 International Building Code ASTM Referenced Standards is easily the most comprehensive document of its kind distributed by any model code organization today, and ASTM’s leadership in partnering with ICBO to produce the cost-effective volume has met with widespread approval from the code-enforcement community.


The ultimate objective of a modern building code is to coordinate an extensive amount of information into an intelligible, structured and responsive system that promotes the health, property, safety, and general welfare of the public. The publication of the IBC-ASTM Referenced Standards goes a long way toward accomplishing these goals and is just one example of how ASTM and ICBO are working together to set the standard for our nation’s model building code system. //

Copyright 2000, ASTM

Mark Johnson is a graduate of California State University at Fullerton, holding bachelor’s degrees in economics and electrical engineering. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration. Johnson has been employed by the International Conference of Building Officials for the past 15 years, where he currently serves as director of Publications and Product Development.
2000 International Building Code–ASTM Referenced Standards™

ICBO has partnered with ASTM to assist code users by bringing together all ASTM standards referenced in the IBC and publishing them in one concise volume. Code users will save time while achieving a better understanding of code compliance with this great value. This comprehensive publication contains all ASTM standards that are referenced by, but not included in, the IBC—more than 230 standards in over 1,400 pages.

Soft Cover Item No. 102S2K
List Price: $175.00
ICBO Member Price: $139.00

Loose Leaf Item No. 102L2K
List Price: $195.00
ICBO Member Price: $155.00

Order from ICBO
5360 Workman Mill Road,
Whittier, CA 90601-2298;
or see ICBO’s Web site.

2000 International Codes

The International Code Council (ICC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national codes. The 2000 International Codes Complete Set will make it easier and more cost-effective for building professionals to comply with U.S. code requirements and will present a single set of codes and standards for international builders and suppliers.

These codes have been adopted by the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA), the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO). They replace the various codes previously issued by these organizations.

Distributed by ASTM
11 Volume Set - (2000)
Soft Cover
North America: $356
Elsewhere $392

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