The Code and Cars – How They Relate and Why You Should Know

Choosing the right code can be like driving a car. When driving, finding the best route to your destination can sometimes be difficult, especially if you aren’t sure where you are going. As some of you may already know, the building code is a very mysterious and illusive route to follow.  But if you understand the underlying premise of keeping the public health, safety and welfare foremost in your thoughts, it’s clear that the Code fills an important role in guiding you through this type of profession.

Being the seasoned veterans that we are here at HagerSmith, the first question that we typically ask before starting a project is which code book do we take for a spin?  The three options available to use are the 2013 NC State Building Code, the 2012 Rehab Code and the 2015 Existing Building code. Each Code edition has its own distinct path to a successful project, along with its own twists and turns to code compliance.  Below is a simplistic look at all three.

2012 NC State Building Code

The 2012 Building Code, the go to code edition, is used for the design and construction of all new, change of use, addition and alteration projects. Since the code is incredibly detailed, reading it can sometimes put you to sleep.  However, truly understanding it can you save you a lot of time and expense. This specific code addition includes the following:

  • Building Code (including the Accessibility requirements)
  • Plumbing Code
  • Mechanical Code
  • Electrical Code
  • Fire Prevention Code
  • Energy Conservation Code
  • Residential Code

The base code for the 2012 NC State Building Code is the IBC (International Building Code). This base code was adopted in 2000 to help standardize the code across many States.  What makes this code unique, is that it incorporates all the latest requirements included by the ICC (International Code Council) and all of the North Carolina Amendments which are all adopted by the North Carolina Building Code Council.  Like all codes, this one gives you a road map for designing and building a safe environment for use by the public.

The 2012 NC State Building Code is the “no questions asked” straight forward approach to any project. It’s the Corvette of codes, if you will.   It’s clear that it is a great car to drive, but sometimes your budget or current circumstances may prevent you from driving one.  Have no fear though, there’s hope for us all.  Luckily, with having three options to choose from, it’s easier to reach your destination.

2012 Rehab Code

The Rehab Code was adopted by the NC Building Code Council several years ago.  Its origins begin in highly developed urban environments, such as those in New Jersey. Charlotte’s code agency, with support from Raleigh, spearheaded the adoption of this code by the NC Building Code Council. It is now recognized throughout the State as a “Code Alternative.”  This Code created the first “fork in the road,” literally.  This code option is very difficult to read and follow but it does begin to make sense after the 23rd or 24th reading.

The Rehab Code can be used for any building that has been previously occupied.  In short, this code allows many existing conditions to remain without being modified to meet all of the requirements of the most current NC State Building Code.  In order to take advantage of this alternative code, designers must include in their documents a “Decision Diagram.”  This diagram is a guide that leads to the sections of the Rehab Code that must be met.  It includes Change of Use, Historic Structures, Alterations, Repairs, Renovations and Reconstruction.  All of these categories have their own descriptions and requirements.

So if the NC State Building Code is the Corvette of codes, you could say the 2012 Rehab Code is the 1972 Ford Pinto.  It’s a good car, drives straight, but you may want to fix that exploding gas tank situation before you consider it safe to drive.  Moving along, let’s talk about the sensible 1995 Honda Accord: the 2015 Existing Building Code.

2015 Existing Building Code

The 2015 Existing Building Code was adopted in 2015 and went into effect January 1, 2016.  The Existing Building Code replaces what was Chapter 34 in the 2012 NC State Building Code, now just a fond memory in the history of codes.  This code is a median code that falls between the NC State Building Code and the 2012 Rehab Code.  As its name indicates, a building must meet the obvious requirement of already being built and approved certificate of occupancy.

While the rehab code has its Decision Diagram, the Existing Building Code has its score sheet that can be used to “flip” a building to the current code (if your score passes).  By “flipping” a building we can take advantage of some benefits that the 2012 NC State Building Code allows such as not rating demising walls between occupancies of the same use when the building is sprinkled.  The Existing Building Code has three levels of alterations depending on the extent of the work being done.  Each level increases the requirements of the code.  It also addresses moved structures, Change of Occupancy and Historic Buildings.

Like the 1995 Honda Accord mentioned earlier, this Code is timeless, and reliable, with good gas mileage and only a few minor scratches.  However, some extra work may be required to pass inspection.

In the end…

As the blog title insinuates, selecting the correct code path for a project could save a significant amount of time and money while still protecting the public health, safety and welfare.  All owners want to spend their money wisely and without waste.  If you have an existing building and find that the cost of renovations or alterations is breaking the bank, try applying your project to either the 2012 Rehab Code or the 2015 Existing Building Code…you might be pleasantly surprised.  But really, if you are still driving that 1972 Ford Pinto you might want to go ahead and fix that gas tank.


To see how these 3 Codes have successfully gotten us to our final destinations, check out our portfolio today.