The evolution of building codes

Rules for safe building have their roots in ancient times

By John D’Annunzio, Columnist,

Some may ask “why and when did building codes evolve?” Did it all start in the 1920s or later?

Well, we need to go back to a time when a Babylonian emperor named Hammurabi enforced his own code called the Hammurabi code. This was around 1800 BC. His thinking was if a builder built a home for someone and it fell down killing the home owner or the wife and/or the son or daughter, the builder or the builder’s wife, son, daughter would have to be put to death. In other words, who ever died in the home owner’s house someone in the builder’s house would perish. So this was an early rudimentary way of enforcing a better built home.

Let’s go back to the Roman emperor Nero around 64AD. When Rome had burned Nero starting working on a huge rebuilding plan. What he addressed were more sound construction principals such as fire resistance and sanitation to be installed in all structures. You’ve got to remember any sewage would run down an alley way or small street which would cause all kinds of disease.

In 1664 London had its problems with the black plague. All this was caused by unhealthy conditions such as sewage running down open drains down streets. Also people would dump trash and garbage in the streets and flees would carry the disease to the population. London had massive fire problems around 1666 which prompted Parliament to come up with the London Building Act.

In the 1700’s George Washington and Thomas Jefferson where concerned about the development or stricture building regulations

Also in the early 1900’s insurance companies wanted stronger building codes which would reduce the constant pay out on properties due to inadequate construction standards.

Then there were the Chicago fires in 1871 and the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.

So in 1915, the Building Officials and Code Administration (BOCA) was developed. Then in 1927 the International Conference of Building Officials was developed this code was mainly used in the Midwest and the Western United States.

In 1940 the Southern Building Code Congress International was developed which was mainly used in the southern states.

In 2000, the first comprehensive and coordinated set of the IBC was published. So now all three organizations (BOCA, ICBO, &SBCCI) agree to adopt the IBC (International Building Code.

So does that call it quits for any more regulations? New codes are always being added due to the hearings the code organizations have yearly. This is to keep up on new material, new safety problems etc. Also independent testing agencies are always testing new building products.

From way back then to now, we have come a long way; we  have new science technology on are side, and we will continue to advance.

John D’Annunzio is a local Commercial and Residential builder who has held nearly every job in the construction industry from heavy equipment operator to home builder. He is ICC building code certified and lives and operates in Chester County, PA. His column will appear weekly and address various home improvement and building issues with special attention to subjects of interest locally.
Contact John at

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