If you decide to start up a business, you'll need to carefully consider town, city and county regulations for licenses and permits. If your plans also include commercial property renovation, you'll also need to comply with building codes. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in substantial penalties. If you want to renovate commercial property, learn more about the different building codes that local planning authorities adopt in the United States.
Use of building codes
Building codes or controls set minimum standards for commercial buildings. These codes exist to protect public health and safety, and all architects, engineers, constructors and regulators must adhere to the regulations. Many companies will also apply these codes when dealing with your business. For example, an insurance company may insist that your property complies with these codes before offering coverage.
The United States does not have official national building codes that cover commercial property. Building codes and standards generally exist at town, city or state level. As well as an overall permit for construction work, you will normally need a separate permit for electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation work.
The risk of grandfathering
Building codes regularly change, and authorities understand that it's often prohibitively expensive or too complex to update every commercial building to meet new requirements. As such, the authorities will often exempt existing businesses from carrying out any renovation work. Many people refer to this process as grandfathering.
When taking on older premises, many business owners mistakenly believe that they can simply use the building in exactly the same way as the previous occupants. This expectation is often incorrect. While the authorities may exempt the building for an existing owner, if the purpose of the building changes, the new owner must normally meet all current building codes. This is an important consideration to make when choosing a potential commercial property to renovate.
About the International Code Council
In the United States, the International Code Council (ICC) produces a set of building codes, which most local jurisdictions adopt and apply. While the name of this body sounds as though it applies at a global scale, ICC codes only apply in the United States. That aside, these codes are exhaustive, and cover every aspect of the building's design and installation.
For example, the International Building Code (IBC) includes thirty-five separate chapters, considering everything from the exterior walls to mechanical systems and energy efficiency. Each of these chapters then break down further into multiple sections, which go into complete detail about every aspect of the building's design and installation.
Other ICC building codes include:
- International Green Construction Code, which offers guidance to environmentally friendly projects.
- International Energy Conservation Code, which sets out to increase energy savings
- International Plumbing Code
- International Mechanical Code
The ICC regularly issues updates to these codes, to support changes in technology, and to respond to emerging scientific advice. For example, studies may show that it is no longer safe to use a certain material.
Other building codes
Other authorities publish codes to support the construction or renovation of commercial property. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) publishes different codes for plumbing, ventilation, heating and refrigeration systems. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes codes to cover safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment, and other fire safety regulations.
Finding out which codes apply in your area
Contact your local building and safety department to understand more about the building codes in your area. In some cases, you may need to deal with several departments. Many cities make local amendments to national codes before they adopt them into law, so you cannot assume that the details that the ICC publishes apply in your area. Most local authorities publish their building codes online, along with details of any amendments and updates.
A commercial construction project manager, like those at Dargent Companies, will normally have experience of the building codes in your area. He or she can help you understand some of the limitations you may face, and some of the more obscure codes that have caused problems for other business owners.
Building codes exist to protect public health and safety. Before you decide to renovate a commercial property, it's important to understand the different codes that exist in your area, and how your building design will need to comply.