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Why Do I Have To Do It Like That?

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Do you remember the Schoolhouse Rock video from the ‘70s about how a bill becomes a law? Unfortunately, they never made a cartoon about how the building codes are developed, so let me shed some light on the process.

There are many rules that govern how an HVAC contractor can and must do work. The most fundamental rules when it comes to the built environment are the building codes, which are intended to protect the health, safety, and welfare of people by creating safe buildings. But the codes that you work to may vary greatly from those your colleagues in other areas work to, and that can create a lot of confusion. To demystify the discrepancies, let’s see how the model building codes are developed, and how these subsequently become the law of the land in your jurisdiction.

Let’s Start From the Top: Model Codes
States have their own version of building, mechanical, fuel gas, energy conservation, etc. codes. Sometimes one code covers multiple subjects; e.g., the Virginia Construction Code includes electrical, plumbing, and mechanical provisions. But the specific requirements are originally derived from the national model codes. Of the International Code Council’s (ICC) 15 separate codes, those most likely to affect HVACR contractors are the International Residential Code (IRC), International Mechanical Code (IMC), International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC).

Every three years the ICC publishes a new version of all 15 codes, but this is the culmination of three years of development work, which starts with the previous version. It takes three years, because the codes are divided into three groups, and one group is revised per year in the period between publications.

For example, in 2015, experts from around the country will work on developing the 2018 version of the IMC. Proposals to modify the current IMC were submitted in January 2015 to the ICC. All proposals are consolidated and posted for public viewing in March 2015. Any interested party can download the file and review any and all change proposals of interest to them. Then at the Committee Action Hearings (CAH), proposal proponents and opponents testify before each committee to make the case for or against individual proposals. The committee hears the arguments and votes on each proposal. After every committee vote, the attendees can make a motion to overrule the committee vote, and if the motion receives enough support then the assembly public carries.

The results of these hearings are posted in June, again for public viewing. Then anyone can submit a public comment to any result of the CAH (to disapprove or modify). The consolidated public comments are then published for all to review. In late September, attendees of the Public Comment Hearings then discuss each public comment and collectively vote on approval or disapproval of each. This is the final action and will result in the 2018 IMC. The process is repeated during the next two years for Groups B and C.

The ACCA Codes Committee identifies places where the various codes can be improved to allow our contractor members to better perform their work. ACCA submits code change proposals and public comments, and staff and members attend the hearings to testify for or against those and other proposals and public comments.

State Level Adoption Process
Each state has its own method of developing their building codes, but it generally boils down to the adoption of a modified version of the national model codes. And this process itself can take up to three years to ensure that constituents and affected parties have a chance to participate in the process.

For example, a state can elect to automatically adopt the latest version of the model codes statewide. Or, it can compare each requirement of the newest model code to their existing code. They will announce the process in which all state residents and affect parties can provide input to state officials on how (or if) to adopt the newer provisions. Usually there are recourses for anyone to offer not only comment, but also appeal the action from a previous stage of the whole process. At the end, those states that go this route will have a code that looks very similar to the previous version of code (i.e., the code that goes into effect statewide in 2012 will be the result of modifying the 2009 model codes over the preceding years).

Take Your Seat at the Table
The next set of rules that you will have to comply with are being developed right now, both nationally and in your state. We encourage all of our members to become active participants in the development of the codes that will affect the way you run your business.

Luis Escobar

Posted In: ACCA Now, Technical Tips

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