In response to America's need for a single set of consistent construction regulations, the International Code Council (ICC) developed, through the governmental consensus process, the first set of coordinated and comprehensive construction, fire, and property maintenance codes for use nationwide. Most U.S. cities, counties, and states that adopt and enforce codes choose those developed by ICC, which maintains a current list on its Web site.
All 15 of the ICC model codes impact healthy homes in some form. However, the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) is the most important because it applies to all existing buildings, and many communities use it as part of their housing code. It provides a road map to the “Keep It Maintained” principle for a healthy home.
Most of the other codes focus on construction or rehabilitation rather than ongoing maintenance in existing buildings. They set standards on how a building should be built or remodeled and are triggered by a permit to perform the work. While some codes, most notably the International Fire Code (IFC), set minimum standards for existing buildings that require a permit, the IPMC is the only one to set minimum standards for all buildings.
The IPMC is a good code; however, it falls short of many of the provisions in the National Healthy Housing Standard
that are essential for a healthy home. See NCHH’s comparison for the details. The IPMC's primary weaknesses follow:
- The purpose of the IPMC is to “ensure public health, safety, and welfare insofar as they are affected by the continued occupancy and maintenance of structures and premises.” However, it is a consensus process, with many stakeholders that prefer incremental changes and tend to prioritize safety and cost over health.
- The IPMC is typically administered by state and local building code officials. These officials approach codes to guide construction and respond to permit requests. Some are not comfortable with enforcing or lack the means to enforce the IPMC on existing homes without a permit to trigger their review.
Among the remaining codes, users should recognize the line ICC has drawn between one- and two-family homes and all other structures. The International Residential Code (IRC) applies to these homes except for townhomes more than three stories above ground. All other homes are handled by the International Building Code (IBC), the International Existing Building Code (IEBC), and the others dealing with specific items, such as fire, plumbing, mechanical, energy conservation, and swimming pools.
The ICC has an open but complex process where anyone can submit a proposal to ICC to revise a code. The proposal is considered by a committee and accepted or denied, with or without modifications. The public may comment on the committee's decision and is free to re-propose the same proposal or revise it for consideration by the full assembly. Proposals accepted by the committee need a majority vote by the full assembly, while resubmitted or revised proposals require a two-thirds majority vote. NCHH has submitted proposals to improve the IPMC and occasionally the IRC and IEBC, in the four review cycles since 2007, with varying degrees of success. See the proposals in the Resources section below.
In the 2015 round, NCHH submitted five proposals regarding pest control, carbon monoxide alarms, lead-safe renovations, and health standards for radon, lead, and asbestos. The code committees will vote on them in late April in Memphis. Contact Tom Neltner
at for more information.