This edition was written in collaboration with the International Conference of Building Officials, writers of the code. It explains in plain English exactly what the 1997 edition of the Uniform Building Code requires.
Based on the 1997 Uniform Building Code, it explains the changes and what they mean for the builder. Also covers the Uniform Mechanical Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code.
Shows how to design and construct residential and light commercial buildings that'll pass inspection the first time. Suggests how to work with an inspector to minimize construction costs, what common building shortcuts are likely to be cited, and where exceptions may be granted.
Write Your Own Review
- Introduction, 6
- 1. Why Do I Need a Permit? 7
- 2. Getting Your Permit, 17
- 3. Occupancy Loads and Occupancy Groups, 29
- 4. Types of Construction and Fire Resistance, 53
- 5. Fire Resistance In Buildings, 65
- 6. Fire Safety, 75
- 7. Engineering and Design Requirements, 83
- 8. Concrete, 101
- 9. Foundations, 111
- 10. Masonry Walls, 123
- 11. Frame Walls, 133
- 12. Exits and Clearances, 151
- 13. Keeping Your Building Warm and Dry, 165
- 14. Finish Material and Installation Procedures, 183
- 15. Combustion Air, 195
- 16. Heating, Ventilating & Air Conditioning
- 17. Plumbing for Small Buildings
- 18. Glass, Skylights and Miscellaneous Components
- 19. Accessibility for the Disabled
- Appendix: Span Tables, 259
- Index, 299
Introduction To The Last Guide of the Century
This fifth edition of Contractor's Guide to the Building Code will be the last guide to the Uniform Building Code. The next will be a guide to the International Building Code, which is scheduled for release in April 2000.
What other changes do we have to look for- ward to? We'll just have to wait and see. You've probably already noticed the change in the size of the Code. It's now 8-1/2 by 11 inches. And I've been told there may be a change in the way seismic calculations are made.
I've looked at a copy of the working draft of the International Building Code, and It looks good - forthright and probably easier to use.
In the 1997 edition of the UBC, you'll find that two chapters have been completely revised. In the first, Chapter 10, Means of Egress, there are no surprises. What they accomplished was a more orderly presentation. The second, Chapter 23, Wood, was reorganized in such a way that you may be scratching your head. And they renumbered all the lumber tables. This might be confusing, especially if you use the tables a lot and are used to certain numbers. I've tried to straighten it out for you.
For years, builders have been frustrated by the index that's in the UBC. While a building inspector knows the code and what categories and subcategories to look under, it often proves impossible for a builder who looks under the terms he commonly uses. At the request of my publisher, I sat down with the 1997 edition of the UBC, cranked up my trusty computer, and completed a comprehensive index. This one's easy to use, tells you what page to look on, and uses the term’s builders use, not the technical legal ones the Code is based on. You can order a copy using the order form at the back of this book. It's also available hole-punched so it fits In the binder with your copy of the UBC.
Where I Come From
A lot of what's in the code is either just good sense or what good craftsmanship demands. Maybe that's why most of the building inspectors you meet consider themselves both reasonable people and good judges of craftsmanship. It's part of their job, or should be.
I took woodshop classes in high school and spent a lot of weekends working for a general contractor. To this day I enjoy laying wood shingles. I also did a lot of carpentry in the Civilian Conservation Corps. For my younger readers, the CCC was one of President Roosevelt's make-work programs. It was supposed to get us out of the Great Depression. As it turned out, the CCC didn't do it. World War 11 did. But the CCC taught me how to be a carpenter.
I don't consider myself a finish carpenter, mostly because I don't have enough patience for that kind of work. But I know a stud from a joist, can drive a straight nail, and enjoy the smell of a newly framed house. That doesn't really qualify me as a carpenter. But maybe it's enough to make me a retired carpenter.
When I got out of the Army in 1946, 1 was older that most of the young bucks that were flooding into the construction trades. I thought I was smarter too. So I took on-the-job training as an architectural draftsman. As a draftsman and designer I had to know the code. Of course, it was a lot easier in those days. The entire building code was a slim little book then, not much thicker than my wallet. You could carry it around in your back pocket. Try doing that today.
Eventually I hung out my shingle as a construction contractor. Custom home building, spec building and remodeling can be the fastest legal way I know to get rich with only a few tools, a little capital and no special knowledge. I didn't get rich. But I made a good living and more than a few good friends in the business. And I'm proud of the product I put out: good homes where people can raise families.
No one will ever erect a monument in my memory. That's OK. I don't need it. The homes I built in those days are monument enough. When I drive by one, I still remember having built it. I don't know the people living there and they don't know me. But I had an influence on their lives, for the better, I hope. And when I notice what these homes are selling for now, I wince. Right now I'd be one of the richest people in America if I'd built those homes and never sold one, just rented them out. That's what I should have done. But it never occurred to me at the time.
By 1965 I'd pretty well burned myself out in the contracting business. Basically, it's a young man's game, and I wasn't young anymore. When the job of building inspector opened up in Kennewick, Washington in 1965, I applied. Inspecting was about the only thing I hadn't done in construction. And if knowing the code qualified me for the job, I was qualified.
1. Why Do I Need A Permit?
One of the most common complaints I used to hear from architects, engineers and contractors was that there were too many different building codes. It seemed like every city, county and state had its own idea about what was good construction and what was bad construction.
Of course, every city, county and state has the perfect right to make up its own laws, ordinances or regulations - including laws that control building. There was a time when most did. But the result was far too many different codes. What was perfectly acceptable in one community may have been strictly prohibited in the community right next door. That's foolish.
The proliferation of codes made the task of architects, builders and inspectors far more difficult than it had to be. Fortunately, times have changed. Now, most communities have adopted one of the three model codes. The Uniform Building Code is by far the most used, followed by the National Building Code, and then the Standard Building Code.
Some cities still write their own codes, usually because their first code was adopted before there was a national model code. Inertia keeps some of these cities from replacing their do-it-yourself code with a modern national code. But even some of these cities are switching. Eventually I expect they all will. It's to everyone's advantage to reduce the differences between building codes.
Whatever the code in your city, if you're a builder, you're going to have building code problems. Every contractor has had an inspector hold up his job or delay a permit until some minor discrepancy is handled just the way the code requires. From your standpoint, following the code is usually just an annoying and expensive necessity. You know how to build properly, and don’t need a government agency telling you how. But the building department, and probably the owner or architect that set your -project in motion, regard the code as a good defense against poor practice that might otherwise plague generations of occupants of the building you erect.
No matter what your viewpoint, the building code is a fact of life that every builder must deal with. Your objective, and mine in writing this book, is to make following the code as simple, painless and inexpensive as possible.
Every construction contract you sign assumes that you will build according to the code. You aren't going to get paid until what you build has passed inspection. It's no defense that your estimate didn't include what the inspector demands. You're assumed to know the code and build every project accordingly.
Unfortunately, knowing the code isn't easy. The building code is a complex law intended to be enforced rather than read and understood. The code book Itself doesn't have a good index. Related subjects are covered in widely separated sections (although the latest editions have done much to correct this). Some hard-to-understand sections refer to sections that are even harder to follow. The code seems to grow larger and more complex every time it's revised. There are exceptions, within exceptions, within other exceptions. A lawyer used to handling intricate tax problems would feel right at home with the building code.
But you can't spend a career mastering the building code. At least you shouldn't. Your job is building, not nit-picking. As a builder you need to know only enough to stay out of trouble and avoid expensive mistakes. This book will help. You also need the code itself, of course. The manual you're now reading isn't the code, so don't try to quote from it to any building inspectors. They may not be impressed. Instead, use this manual as your answer book on code problems. Go to the chapter or section in this book that addresses the problem you're having. Read enough so you have some background on what the code demands. Then go to the code itself, if necessary, to sort out the fine details. Use the index in this manual to direct you to the code sections that apply to your situation. This should save you hours of valuable time and prevent expensive mistakes.
Now a word about the code itself. The code we're talking about is the 1997 edition of the Uniform Building Code, as published by the International Conference of Building Officials in Whittier, California. The ICBO is a non-profit organization founded in 1922. More than 3,300 city and county building departments and state agencies all across the U.S. belong to the ICBO, and participate in drafting and approving the model code. Many other organizations, companies and private individuals participate in the code drafting and revising process. The ICBO also sponsors research in the field of building safety.
Every three years the code or its revisions are republished as a recommendation to the building department members of the ICBO. Each county or city then decides if it will adopt the revisions as a regulation for that community. Most adopt the revisions routinely. The model code the ICBO publishes is a very well-researched and highly persuasive document. But many communities change some sections, delete others or add material they feel is important. So the code in force in your community may not be exactly like the most recent code published by the ICBO.
Be aware that there are two other 'model" building codes in the U.S. The Building Officials and Code Administrators Inter- national and the Southern Building Code Congress International also offer model codes. These have been adopted by many communities east of the Mississippi. But the ICBO code is the most widely adopted. And the differences between all three major model codes are becoming less significant. After all, what's good building practice west of the Mississippi should also be good practice east of the Mississippi.
You need a copy of the current building code in force in the communities where you do business. Some bookstores sell the UBC. If your local bookstore doesn’t have a copy, buy it directly from the ICBO. The address is:
of Building Officials
5360 Workman Mill Road
Whittier, California 90601-2298
The ICBO will accept phone orders on a charge card. Their order department number is (800) 284-4406, and the fax number is (888) 329-4226. But every building department that really wants to help contractors follow the code should sell it right over the counter at every office. Only your building department has the official version enforced in your community. If the Inspector can't supply one, have him refer you to a convenient source. The building department expects you to know and follow the code, expect them to furnish you with a copy at reasonable cost.
No matter how carefully you build and how knowledgeable you are about the code, you're going to have an occasional dispute with an Inspector. Let me offer some advice. I've stood on the Inspector's side of the counter through many disputes with contractors and have heard most of the arguments. You're not going to win very many direct confrontations with a building department. But there's a lot you can do to get them to see your side of the argument.
First, understand that the building department holds all the best cards. They can make any builder's life very unpleasant and cost him a lot of money. They have the full power of government behind them and can use it effectively to compel compliance on your part. But they would usually prefer to have your voluntary cooperation.
Adopt this attitude toward the building department and inspectors you deal with: "You have a job to do. I have a job to do. Together we're going to put up a building that both you and I as professionals in the construction industry will be proud of." The more you think of building officials as implacable adversaries, the more likely they will become just that.
In a dispute with the building department, you have one point in your favor. The inspector didn't make the rules and can't write the code to fit your situation. He can only enforce the code as it's written. An inspector can require anything the code demands. But that's all He's on very shaky ground if he insists on something that isn't in the code book. That's why you need a copy of the code. If a dispute arises, have the inspector cite the specific section and words involved. Then read those words yourself in your copy of the code. If those words don't support the inspector's position, you're going to win the point.
Of course, inspectors make a living by knowing the code. They probably know it much better than you ever will. But they can be wrong. So don't be afraid to request reference to a specific code section, read that section, and form your own opinion of what is required. If the inspector is wrong and can't be persuaded to change his mind, there's a perfectly good appeal process available to every contractor. More on that later in this chapter.
Inspectors know they can't enforce what the code doesn't require. So the highly-experienced inspectors and plans examiners who wrote the code built some "wiggle room" into the book. That way they can maneuver and negotiate where that may be in the best interest of everyone concerned. Section 104.2.1 says In part:
The building official shall have the power to render interpretations of this code and to adopt and enforce rules and supplemental regulations to clarify the application of its provisions. Such interpretations, rules and regulations shall be in conformance with the intent and purpose of this code.
In simple language this means the building department has a lot of discretion.
Every experienced contractor has heard an inspector say that the code actually requires this or that, "but it will be OK if you handle it this way." No, he's not giving away the store. He's just trying to get the result the code intends while saving you some time, trouble and money.
If an inspector seems to be giving you a favorable interpretation of the code, it's probably because he (or she) wants your cooperation on some point that's not too clear in the code. You're usually better off cooperating when an inspector complains about some minor point that's vague or omitted in the code. If you demand strict interpretation of code sections, you may get exactly that. And the inspector can cite more sections that can be enforced strictly than you ever thought possible. The point is worth emphasizing: Cooperation will save you more money than confrontation will save you.
Sometimes you're going to face a code issue so important that there's no easy way to com- promise with the inspector. Then you'll have to take it up with the head of the building department. Before going through the appeal procedure explained in this chapter, request a meeting with one of the senior inspectors or the building official." Offer to meet early in the morning before the inspectors start their fieldwork. Be sure both the inspector involved and his supervisor can be at this meeting. Prepare your case very carefully. Show that the code doesn't really require what you are being asked to do, or point out an alternative that will save money and is just as good. Above all, show that you're a conscientious, professional, cooperative contractor interested in quality construction. Invite a negotiated settlement on the issue in dispute. More than likely you'll get one if any legitimate compromise is possible.
But don't expect any inspector to waive a clear code requirement just to save you money or trouble, especially if you're asking for special treatment other contractors don't receive. Code protection is too valuable to waive on a whim. If you've traveled in other countries where no codes exist or where codes aren't enforced, you know how important our building codes are. And be aware that cities and counties are liable for the mistakes their building departments make. Owners of defective buildings have recovered substantial sums from municipal governments that didn't enforce the building code they adopted. All building officials know the importance of the code they administer - and that they can be held liable.
Purpose of the Code
Several points are worth mentioning before we begin careful examination of code sections. One of these is the purpose of the code. Section 101.2 makes it clear that health, safety and protecting property are the primary aims of the code:
The purpose of this code is to provide minimum standards to safeguard Iife or limb, health, property and public welfare by regulating and controlling the design, construction, quality of materials, use and occupancy, location and maintenance of all buildings and structures within this jurisdiction and certain equipment specifically regulated herein.
The purpose of this code is not to create or otherwise establish or designate any particular class or group of persons who will or should be especially protected or benefited by the terms of this code.
Notice the words "minimum standards" in the first sentence. You can build to higher standards. Nearly every building you put up will include far more than the code requires. But it must also include everything in the code.
There's an important point in Section 101.2 if you ever have to dispute some code interpretation. Argue that what you want to do protects health, safety and property as well as, or better than, what the code requires.
Can I Use That Material?
The building code doesn't demand that you use only the methods and materials it lists. Section 104.2.8 states the following:
The provisions of this code are not intended to prevent the use of any material, alternate design or method of construction not specifically prescribed by this code, provided any alternate has been approved and its use authorized by the building official.
"Building official" is the title of the senior person in the building department office. He (or she) may require proof that the method or material conforms to the intent of the code. If you're thinking about using a new method or material, something that hasn't had much use in your area, check with the building official beforehand.
For example, earth-sheltered structures are being built in some areas. Many inspectors throw up their hands at inspecting earth-sheltered buildings. Why? Because they're not adequately covered in the code. This is an area where you have to look at the intent of the code and not the literal meaning.
Unfortunately, many inspectors don't have the experience or the time to do much evaluation. And there are some who feel that the only way they can prove they're doing their job is to find something wrong with every project. They forget that the purpose of the code is to make construction safe, not to impede progress.
Because it's a law, the building code is written in "legalese." To either enforce the code or comply with it, you have to first understand it. As I said, that's not always easy. And, to make matters worse, the code is written to give (or even require) the inspector a chance to use good common sense. That takes both knowledge and experience. Fortunately, most inspectors have the knowledge and experience required of professionals in their field.
When an inspector sees something that isn't covered in the code, a good inspector will always start doing some homework. Some less-experienced inspectors might see the same thing, look up wide-eyed and say: "I can't find it in the book, so you can't use that material or do it that way." Fortunately, that isn't what the code says. Section 104.2.8 allows use of any material or method that is approved by the building department in your community, even if it isn't approved specifically in the code itself.
The Appeal Process
"That's fine," you say. "But how can I get approval for what I want to do?" Section 105.1 is titled Board of Appeals. This section says that you have the right to appeal any inspector's decision.
105.1 General. In order to hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions or determinations made by the building official relative to the application and interpretation of this code, there shall be and is hereby created a board of appeals consisting of members who are qualifwd by expe- rience and training to pass on matters pertaining to building construction and who are not employees of the jurisdiction. The building official shall be an ex officio member and shall act as secretary to said board but shall have no vote on any matter before the board. The board of appeals shall be appointed by the governing body and shall hold office at its pleasure. The board shall adopt rules of procedure for conducting its business and shall render all decisions and findings in writing to the appellant with a duplicate copy to the building official.
105.2 Limitations of Authority. The board of appeals shall have no authority relative to interpretation of the administrative provisions of this code nor shall the board be empowered to waive requirements of this code.
A key phrase here is that the board members "are qualified by experience and training. . . ." So even if the Inspector lacks construction knowledge, the people you are appealing to should have it. And if what you're trying to do with your material is controversial, the inspector may want you to appeal just to get the opinion of other experts.
Notice also that Section 105.2 clearly states that the board can't waive any provisions of the code. That means you can't slip anything past the board just because you asked.
When Is a Permit Needed?
Section 106.1 tells you when you'll need a permit:
106.1 Permits Required. Except as specified in Section 106.2, no building or structure regulated by this code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has first been obtained from the building official.
That's pretty broad language. Almost any type of construction, no matter how minor, needs a building permit. Section 106.2 exempts certain types of work. Most important in these exemptions are small out-buildings such as playhouses, small walls and fences, and finish work like painting and paperhanging. Everything else needs a permit.
Figure 1-1 shows a typical building permit. Permit fees are set by the county or city. They're calculated to pay most of the costs of the building department. (That way, tax money doesn't support your building department.) Those who use the services pay for them. Figure 1-2 shows the permit fee schedule recommended by the Uniform Building Code. This fee schedule was probably used when the code was adopted in your community. But check with your local department to be sure.
Demolition of Buildings
You need a permit to remove or demolish a building too. This usually requires a small fee which covers the cost of issuing the permit. A copy of every permit issued goes to the tax assessor. This is the assessor's cue to do some checking. Someone is about to have their tax rate changed.
Many cities and counties now have ordinances that control unsafe or dilapidated buildings. Even if the city requires that a building be demolished, you'll still need a demolition permit.
Posting the Permit
Always post the building permit and inspection record card on the site. In some jurisdictions, you only have to post the inspection card. There must be someplace the inspector can sign that a required inspection has been made. This is your guarantee that he has been there and approved the job to that point. If your job doesn't pass the inspection, the inspector will leave a Notice of Non-Compliance or a Correction Notice explaining what you have to correct before you can proceed. (See Figure 1-3.)
Many people think that work inside a building doesn't require a permit. If you're doing work exempted by the code, such as replacing kitchen cabinets, that assumption is correct. But any remodeling or renovation that isn't exempt will require a permit.
This brings up a point. I used to be a building inspector. As I traveled around my city, I would notice construction materials or rubble piled near a back door, in a driveway or under a carport. This almost always meant that work of some kind was going on inside. I usually checked with our office to see if there was a permit for work at that address. If not, I would have a little talk with the occupant. I tried not to be heavy-handed. And a little tact usually paid off. They usually wanted to know who squealed on them, never realizing that they squealed on themselves. A pile of rubble is a dead giveaway every time.
Right of Entry
Section 104.2.3 gives the building official the authority to make any necessary inspections:
Right of entry. When it is necessary to make an inspection to enforce the provisions of this code, or when the building official has reasonable cause to believe that there exists in a building or upon a premises a condition that is contrary to or in violation of this code that makes the budding or premises unsafe, dangerous or hazardous, the building official may enter the building or premises at reasonable times to inspect or to perform the duties imposed by this code, provided that if such building or premises be occupied that credentials be presented to the occupant and entry requested. If such building or premises be unoccupied, the building official shall first make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other person having charge or control of the building or premises and request entry. If entry is refused, the building official shall have recourse to the remedies provided by law to secure entry.
This right of entry is seldom needed. And it isn't nearly as ferocious as it sounds. Most people are cooperative, and most building inspectors use this right judiciously.
A permit always requires some sort of inspection. The inspection depends on the scope of the job. It can be a simple drive-by to see if the obvious has been completed, such as in the case of a re-roof. Or there may be twelve to sixteen highly technical inspections. For most residential and small commercial work, there are five required inspections, set forth in Section 108:
1.) 108.5.2 Foundation inspection. This is made after the trenches have been excavated, the forms erected, and all the materials for the foundation delivered. Concrete supplied by the transit mix truck doesn't have to be on the site during inspection.
2.) 108.5.3 Concrete slab or under-floor inspection. This is made after all in-slab or under-floor building service equipment, conduit, piping accessories and their ancillary equipment items are in place, but before any concrete is poured or floor sheathing installed, including the subfloor.
3.) 108.5.4 Frame inspection. This is made after the roof, all framing, the blocking and bracing are in place; chimneys and vents are complete; and after the rough electrical, plumbing and heating wires, pipes and ducts are approved.
4.) 108.5.5 Lath or gypsum board inspection. This is made after all lathing and gypsum board, interior and exterior, are in place, but before any plastering is applied or before gypsum board joints and fasteners are taped and finished.
5.) 108.5.6 Final inspection. This is made after finish grading, when the building has been completed and is ready for occupancy.
In addition to these, there are a number of special inspections that may be required by the building code. The inspections required depend on the scope of the project. For example, the code may require special inspections or tests of concrete, reinforcing steel and prestressing steel, welding, high-strength bolting, structural masonry, reinforced gypsum concrete, insulating concrete fill, spray-applied fireproofing, piling, drilled piers and caissons, special grading, excavation, or backfill. And of course, the building official can add any other tests or Inspections that he feels are needed.
If an inspection shows that the project is not acceptable, a correction notice is issued and another inspection scheduled. The project can't continue until the project passes on reinspection. Usually there will be a fee for each reinspection. Larger projects, such as major shopping malls and multi-story buildings, often require a full-time inspector on the job. This inspector's salary is paid by the owner, either directly or through his contractor. In most cities and counties, new construction requires a Certificate of Occupancy before anyone can occupy the building and before utility companies can begin serving the building. This certificate is issued when the inspector signs off on the final inspection.
The Inspector Doesn’t Like the Way You Did It.
Occasionally, an inspector finds a job that could be done better using a different method. He may offer advice, and probably will. But his advice isn't binding unless it's supported by either the code or a local ordinance. He can stop the job for safety reasons, but only if the code backs him up. If something isn't in the code, he can't enforce it. You have the right to ask what section of the code is being invoked. And you always have the right to appeal the inspector's decision.
Some building inspectors are pretty good craftsmen themselves. It may be to your advantage to heed their advice. But an inspector isn't really inspecting the craftsmanship of your building unless craftsmanship is required by ordinance. It seldom is. Craftsmanship is a matter of judgment, nothing more. Your opinion is just as good as his, maybe better. But if poor craftsmanship weakens a building or makes it unsafe, the inspector will probably cite some code sections that back up his opinion. Figure1-4 shows some questionable workmanship, but it meets the code. You decide if that’s the kind of work you want to be known for.
I've often used a little charm to get shoddy work improved. I once visited a house where the trim around a split entry stairway had been butted in square,...
Guide to the Building Code
Based on the 1997 Uniform Building Code
by Jack M. Hageman
It’s every contractor’s dream – the building inspector signs off every inspection on the first visit. But to make this dream a reality, you need to understand the latest editions of the Uniform Building Code, the Uniform Plumbing Code and the Uniform Mechanical Code. That’s a contractor’s nightmare! But now it doesn’t have to be.
Get the help you need with this new, revised and completely updated Contractor’s Guide to the Building Code. This book brushes aside the "legalese" of the code books. It explains the main requirements for residential and light commercial structures in plain, ordinary English.
Whether you’re a newcomer to this book or you’re updating from an older edition, here are a few of the features you’ll enjoy in this new edition:
- Completely updated to follow the 1997 editions of the UBC, the UPC and the UMC.
- All references to code sections and tables have been updated to follow the reorganized numbering system used in each of the three codes.
- A revised chapter on accessibility to reflect the latest changes mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This book spells out code requirements for acceptable materials, construction methods and acceptable alternates for:
- Plumbing and HVAC
- Site preparation
- Masonry and concrete
You’ll learn where an exception is a possibility, where it’s not, and how to negotiate a compromise that both you and the inspector can live with. If you do business in cities or counties that follow the Uniform Building Code, this reference belongs on your desk.
Jack Hageman has been on both sides of the inspector’s counter – as a builder waving his hammer at the inspector, and as the inspector, waving his code book at the builder. For ten years he was Building Inspector for the City of Kennewick, Washington and has taught the building code at universities in Washington. He knows how hard it is to understand the code and how expensive code problems can be for a contractor. Mr. Hageman’s explanations make following the code easier than ever before.