Speaking in Code – IBC Building Code “Referenced Standards”

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Compliance with the Standard = Compliance with the Code

IBC Chapter 35 contains numerous referenced standards (codes) that are used to regulate construction materials  and methods of construction.  Compliance with the referenced standard is necessary to accomplish compliance with the code.

Let’s say that you are doing concrete special inspections on a project. What version or edition of the concrete code (ACI 318) do you use? Do you use the latest (and newest) version of the concrete code or does the IBC code offer some guidance as to the particular concrete code on which to base the special inspections? Finally, can the Registered Design Professional (RDP) select any version of the code that he desires? All of these questions are good ones and the answers related to which is the appropriate reference standard (or code) are not exactly clear but are often vague, hazy, indeterminate, nebulous, ambig…oh you get the picture, PICK YOUR OWN SYNONYM!

A good starting place is the IBC Building Code, Chapter 17, “Special Inspections and Tests” which is comprised of 29 pages and sets minimum quality standards for the acceptance of materials used in building construction.  Section 1701.1 of Chapter 17 states the scope of the chapter; “the provisions of this chapter shall govern the quality, workmanship and requirements for materials covered.  The materials of construction and tests shall conform to the applicable (referenced) standards listed in this code.”  Chapter 17 mandates special inspections for almost all of the various materials that are used to construct the building including the soils beneath the building and the chapter uses numerous IBC tables to provide guidance for the RDP, the contractor, the building official and the special inspector.  A lot of the testing and inspection tasks are actually spelled out within the confines of Chapter 17; however, the majority of the tests and special inspections required by the IBC Code will be defined and stipulated by the designation of the appropriate “referenced standard” cited within Chapter 17. These “referenced standards” may, simply, be one single ASTM standard for testing concrete masonry units (ASTM C 90 – Masonry Units) or the “referenced standard” may be the entire 500+ page “Structural Concrete Building Code” (ACI 318).

As mentioned earlier, the 29 pages that comprise IBC Chapter 17 do, at times, specify real tests and inspections within the chapter but it would be impossible for Chapter 17 to specify and direct 100% of all of the special inspections and tests required by the IBC code on all types of project work. The major portion of required special inspections and tests are mandated by the IBC “referenced standards” and these “referenced standards” is where the special inspector must learn to live and work in order to be aware of all the special inspection tasks that must be done. The “referenced standards” are located in Chapter 35 of the IBC code book and there are hundreds upon hundreds of “referenced standards” listed in Chapter 35. When a “referenced standard” is incorporated into the IBC code and listed in Chapter 35, the “referenced standard” becomes an enforceable part of the IBC code in its entirety.

Referenced standards listed in chapter 35 of the IBC code will generally not be the most recent or latest version of that particular standard or code. For instance, the current ACI 318 code listed in chapter 35 of IBC 2012 is the 2011 edition of ACI 318 even though ACI 318-2014 is out. This is not unusual and it is, in fact, a fairly common occurrence. If your project’s approved contract documents stipulates that ACI 318-2014 is the concrete code and IBC Chapter 35 lists ACI 318-2011 as the concrete code, then the jurisdiction’s building official may want to rule on which code to accept and use for the project. The Virginia Construction Code (VCC) contains verbiage that allows the use of a code or “reference standard” more recent than the one listed in chapter 35 of the IBC code in section 106.3 of the VCC. Most other states and jurisdictions have similar verbiage that allows the use of a later edition of a code or “referenced standard”. The edition of the IBC code cycle varies from state to state; therefore, the “reference standards” and codes listed in chapter 35 of IBC will vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please review the table below as an example of this phenomenon.

Every single building code or “reference standard” is not listed in Chapter 35 of IBC.  For instance, AWS D1.1 “Structural Welding Code” is NOT listed in Chapter 35 of IBC 2012 or IBC 2015 nor is it listed in Chapter 17 of these IBC editions (as a reference standard).  AISC 360 “Specifications for Structural Steel Buildings” IS listed in Chapter 35 of IBC and AISC 360 does cite AWS d1.1 as a standard.  This exercise of going from IBC, Chapter 35 and the AISC reference standard which lists AWS D1.1 as a (welding) reference standard is very important because if the project has structural steel or welding, then AWS D1.1 is going to be the primary building code on the structural steel welding.


In summary (whew!), the easiest way to determine which version (edition) of a specific building code or referenced standard should be used on a construction project is to START with chapter 35 of the IBC code. If your project’s (approved) contract documents stipulate a more recent edition of any particular code or standard, then review your statewide building code and consult with your local building official to determine the statewide policy regarding approval of a modification of the “reference standard” or code listed in chapter 35 of the IBC code.

We indicated earlier that the Virginia Construction Code (VCC) has a mechanism (section 106.3) to allow the acceptance and use of a more recent edition of a building code than the one listed in chapter 35 of the IBC code book. It should also be mentioned that the current 2012 North Carolina State Building Code has similar verbiage to allow for a more recent building code or “referenced standard” than listed in chapter 35 of the IBC code. North Carolina considers the use of these referenced standard editions as an “alternate method” and addresses this in section 105 of the 2012 North Carolina Administrative Code and Policies. Most statewide codes have some type of method to deal with the use of reference standards and codes that have not been adopted into their  statewide code.  HOWEVER, the acceptance of these newer editions of the code is NOT A GIVEN and must be evaluated by the code officials on a project-by-project basis.


We Have a Lot More to Say on this Topic

For a complete picture of the code and how it relates to Special Inspections, F&R would love to provide an AIA accredited Lunch & Learn presentation to the professionals at your firm.  Contact Alan Tuck for more details at: atuck@fandr.com