Thanks to a five-year effort by the International Code Council (ICC), there is finally one comprehensive set of model building codes to regulate building design in all areas of the country. Collectively, the 11 new ICC codes replace those previously published by the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI).

In addition to creating a single set of national building codes, the ICC codes are also significant because they are the only set of model codes specifically written to work together. By eliminating the conflicts between the current codes developed by three separate organizations, this coordination benefits multifamily practitioners and code enforcement officials alike.

Practical applications When the ICC code development effort was first announced, there was much concern among builders that the new codes would be overly restrictive or harmful to multifamily interests. Fortunately, these fears turned out to be unfounded. In fact, quite the opposite is true. By actively participating in the five-year development process, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) were able to secure many favorable provisions in the codes, and the associations defeated several more that would have adversely affected the industry. The end result is that the "I" codes, as they are commonly called, are very responsive to the apartment industry's needs and concerns.

Developers will benefit from the many positive changes made in the "I" codes, including a new provision for breezeway design. They also remove the artificial height and floor limitations on parking under multifamily buildings, and include increased allowances for both area and height. The most notable sections, however, are those dealing with federal accessibility requirements and sprinkler system options.

As the only model codes designed to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (FHAG), the "I" codes eliminate much of the confusion builders face in trying to follow federal accessibility requirements. NMHC/NAA are leading a charge to have the U.S. Department of Justice and HUD approve the IBC's accessibility provisions as a safe harbor for developers and owners. Once that happens, buildings designed and built to comply with the "I" codes will automatically comply with federal accessibility regulations.

On the issue of sprinklers, as a result of NMHC/NAA's efforts, the new International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC) allow developers to take advantage of a variety of design options when they install the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13R sprinkler system in buildings up to four stories in height.

Previously in the ICBO and SBCCI code enforcement areas, builders had to spend approximately $1,000 per unit on the more expensive NFPA 13-sprinkler system to benefit from these design options. When builders install either system, they can increase a building's maximum height and area and make several other cost-saving changes to their designs.

Unresolved issues While the publication of the final ICC codes marks a tremendous milestone, our work in this area is only half done. NMHC/NAA have succeeded in helping draft a new and better set of model codes, but unless state and local officials adopt these new codes, preferably without revisions, the industry will not be able to benefit from our hard-fought victories.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that just as the ICC is going to press with its new codes, NFPA and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) have announced their intention to collaborate on a competing set of codes. In a move that threatens to derail the five-year ICC effort to bring standardization to building code enforcement, these groups are actively promoting several of their own codes and standards as alternatives to the ICC codes.

NMHC/NAA oppose this effort for several reasons. One, the proposed competing codes do not include the improvements NMHC/NAA were able to secure in the ICC codes. The non-ICC codes are silent on many of the critical issues of sprinkler design tradeoffs and accessibility requirements. Second, the proposed alternative codes are more restrictive than the ICC codes. Third, unlike the ICC codes, the non-ICC codes are not coordinated to work currently or with any of the ICC codes.

Rallying cry In anticipation of the new codes, many local jurisdictions are already reviewing the drafts and making recommendations on whether to adopt them. Now is the time for apartment developers across the country to act. NMHC/NAA are urging apartment developers and local apartment organizations to actively monitor the code adoption process in their areas and to actively oppose any effort by their local jurisdiction to adopt anything but the new "I" codes.

It is imperative that our industry educate local officials. The new ICC codes will allow developers to build quality, affordable housing without reducing any of the basic life safety requirements. A single set of coordinated codes will help lower overall housing costs by simplifying both code enforcement and real estate development.

Your local involvement can make a significant difference, and to assist you NMHC/NAA have drafted talking points comparing the ICC and non-ICC codes. To receive a copy of this document, call Ron Nickson at NMHC at 202/974-2327 or e-mail him at rnickson@nmhc.org.

NMHC is sponsoring a members-only forum on the new "I" codes May 8-9, in Washington, D.C. The session will highlight the provisions in the new international codes most important to multifamily and seniors housing developers.

International Building Code;

International Fire Code;

International Plumbing Code;

International Property Maintenance Code;

International Residential Code;

International Mechanical Code;

International Zoning Code;

International Sewage Disposal Code;

International Gas Code;

International Energy Conservation Code; and

International Code Council Electrical Code.