Dear Barry,

I need a good building-code reference book and am overwhelmed by the abundance of available volumes. Can you shed some light on the renowned Uniform Building Code (UBC), which you occasionally reference in your articles? For a home inspector or layman wanting a basic code reference, the number of options is daunting. First of all, the UBC comes in three volumes. Do you really need all three? And so many of the codes have nothing to do with residential construction. Who needs to know the code requirements for a hospital? In addition to the basic code books, there are commentaries that explain the codes. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the latest edition of the UBC is 1997, in spite of all the building-code changes that have taken place since then. And to top it all off, there are more code books than just the building code. There are the UMC, UPC, UFC, etc. How does one get the essence of all this without buying a library? –Willie

Dear Willie,

For those whose professions require a working knowledge of the expanding universe of building codes, a library of code volumes may be necessary. For home inspectors, and especially for the average person seeking to understand the basic requirements of home construction, much less is needed.

For perspective, let’s briefly summarize the history of building-code publications in America. The Uniform Building Code (UBC) was first issued in 1927 by the ICBO, the International Conference of Building Officials, and has been the most widely used of the building codes in North America, with second place going to BOCA, published by the Building Officials Code Administrators. The reason you found no UBC version newer than 1997 is that these two organizations, along with several others, joined forces to create the International Code Council (ICC). Since the year 2000, the UBC has been replaced with the IBC, the International Building Code. The IBC is printed in three volumes, but the first of these is all you really need. The other two contain esoteric engineering standards likely to induce mental paralysis among the uninitiated.

For those who are unconcerned about the construction of a football stadium, factory or hospital, there is the International Residential Code, containing those aspects of the building code that pertain exclusively to the construction of homes.

Additionally, there are code books covering construction requirements not contained in the building codes. The International Mechanical Code (IMC) contains requirements for fuel-burning equipment, air conditioners, ventilating systems, fuel piping, and more. The International Plumbing Code contains requirements for all kinds of piping systems and related fixtures. Additional standards are contained in the International Fire Code, the National Electric Code, and more.

But for anyone seeking the simplest and most straightforward digest of common building-code requirements, nothing compares with Code Check. This includes five concise, well-illustrated booklets that distill the essence of building codes in a common sense format that literally redefines the term “user-friendly.” Examples from this excellent resource can be viewed at www.codecheck.com.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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