Better Building Codes Steel Our Cities Against Climate Impacts

Better Building Codes Steel Our Cities Against Climate Impacts

Given the many extreme weather events over past years, which many scientists say will only increase in frequency and intensity thanks to climate change, robust building codes are more important than ever. Mitigation efforts such as building code adoption and enforcement is one of the strongest strategies jurisdictions can take to protect a community against the effects of natural hazards, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Mitigation increases occupant health and safety during a disaster, protects the local tax base, helps with continuity of essential services and supports more rapid recovery from disasters.

When we enter a building, we expect it to be a safe and comfortable experience. Building codes are what help with safety. But what are they exactly? Meriam-Webster defines building code as “a collection of regulations adopted by a city to govern the construction of buildings.” Another less inspiring way to think of building codes is them being about the worst building you can legally make.

Building codes are rooted in human history

Dow building icon for efficiency For as long as there have been buildings, there have been building codes. The earliest known building codes date back to the 1750s BCE in the Code of Hammurabi. While Hammurabi’s building codes were slightly more draconian than today’s – one states: “If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death” – the idea that buildings must adhere to a set of regulations is deeply ingrained in our society.

One of the primary purposes of building codes is to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structure. A building code becomes law of a particular jurisdiction when formally enacted by the appropriate governmental or private authority. Building codes can cover such things as mechanical equipment and structural issues, seismic provisions, energy provisions for hot and cold climates and moisture management, among others.

Typically, building codes are used by architects, engineers, constructors, interior designers and regulators. However, they also are used for different purposes by safety inspectors, real estate developers, environmental scientists, subcontractors, building products and materials manufacturers, insurance companies, facility managers and tenants, among others.

It’s important to note that most building codes are state laws, except in a few places where they are adopted by cities. The United States does not have a national building code or energy code; instead, states or local governments can choose to adopt one of the national model energy codes, a modified version of the model code, or their own state-specific code.

Energy codes make buildings more resilient

Dow building icon for durability While energy codes are just one of many building codes – such as fire, electrical, structural or plumbing – there is strong evidence that they can help your building better bounce back from extreme weather events. Despite often being viewed as unimportant from a safety perspective, energy codes can help save lives.

When a flood or massive storm hits, often the safest place for people to be is inside their homes. Strong building energy codes mean structures are less likely to lose power. Energy codes cover the building itself — including the walls, floors, ceiling insulation, windows, air leakage and duct leakage. When combined with strong building codes for flood resistance, this facilitates buildings to stand stronger in the face of whatever natural disasters come their way.

Likewise, it's increasingly becoming more important for meeting our climate goals, growing our economy and improving health of residents that we continue to push to make buildings more efficient and safer in cases of natural disasters.

When natural disasters hit, untold millions of dollars’ worth of FEMA aid is used to rebuild quickly – but not necessarily better. Imagine what we could achieve if this money were put toward creating and enforcing better building codes instead? Check out the FEMA technical bulletin titled “Flood Damage – Resistant Materials Requirements” to ensure use of the right materials.