National Building Code Adoption Tracking Portal (BCAT Portal)

BCAT Portal image showing US colored according to level of code adoption

In a blog post the other day I shared information about the No Code No Confidence website where people can put in their zip code and find out the status of building codes in their area. Today I am going to introduce a similar site called the National Building Code Adoption Tracking (BCAT) Portal. According to FEMA which hosts the site, the BCAT Portal is an interactive WebGIS map that tracks five hazards (flood, seismic, tornado, hurricane wind, damaging wind) and displays:

  • Code adoption information for Census Incorporated Places
  • Additional metadata such as the latest decennial U.S. Census population and National Flood Insurance Program Community Identification (CID) number
  • Mutual aid layer displaying mutual aid laws
  • Regulations information from the annual Mutual Aid for Building Departments fact sheets
  • High risk areas and code adoption and weakening information for each individual hazard, or view a comprehensive combined hazards layer

People can use the map by clicking an area and then reading information about the community at that location. The information is displayed in a separate window on the left side of the screen as shown in the image at the top of this post. I’ve also embedded the portal at the end of the post so you can access it just by clicking on it.

In the example in the image, I have clicked on Custer county, Montana. You can see in the image the information that came up shows the county has adopted both the 2018 International Building Code (IBC) and the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). The county’s CID number in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is also displayed along with the county’s status in the NFIP which is participating. The population of the county based on the census is shown too. If you click the “State Building Code Link,” it will take you to the state website which offers information specifically about building codes in the state. In Montana, the agency which oversees building codes is the Business Standards Division. Each state regulates building codes, permits, licensing, and training differently so it’s important to check out the specific requirements in the state in which you live or work.

The BCAT Portal applies a color to each area based on the level of code adoption in that community. The legend below shows what each color means.

BCAT Legend

When zoomed out, the colors are applied at a county level. If you zoom in the colors are instead applied to the communities within the counties. I’ve included an image that is zoomed in around the Dallas area so you can see an example of how the colors change to show community adoption status when zoomed in.

BCAT zoomed in on Dallas area in Texas

If you are focused more on protection from specific hazards you can click on the tabs at the top of the map which highlight different hazards. The two mutual aid tabs show information regarding Emergency and Incident Management compacts.

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What Homeowners Need to Know about Building Codes

In June 2021 FEMA released a Building Codes Toolkit for Building Owners and Occupants. While I encourage everyone to check out the publication, I thought I would summarize some of the main points here in addition to adding a few of my own suggestions.

Why do we have modern building codes?

There are four primary reasons:

  • To minimize accidents and damages and related insurance claims
  • To eliminate squalor and impacts to health
  • To support local government in ensuring health and safety to taxpayers
  • To reduce damages and loss of life in the event of a disaster.

So why is this important to a homeowner? It’s important because having strong building codes which are supported by a good local inspection program helps make sure homes are built to protect people as much as possible. When I took training for becoming an electric inspector, they told us some provisions are added to the electric code because they have been proved to reduce deaths. Other provisions are in the code to protect against fires. I think most people want to be protected in their home as much as possible from fire and death.

But strangely enough when I was a building inspector I had a few experiences where people building a new home told me they shouldn’t have to follow the code because it was their home and they should be able to do what they want. The problem with this approach is that no one owns their home forever, and the home usually remains in the community long after the person who built it has moved on. So their decision to introduce a risk into the home impacts future occupants and the community. If something happens in that home such as a fire, there could be loss of life. And local firefighters who end up entering that home may face risks they are not expecting.

What codes should my community adopt?

While some states and local communities pass their own codes, many pass what is referred to as the I-Codes. These are standard codes developed by the International Code Council or ICC. This organization hosts hearings each year to consider suggested updates to the codes then publish a new version of the codes based on the outcomes of those hearings. A community may not need to adopt a new version each year, but it is important to stay up to date enough so that new building technologies and research that can lead to increased protection are incorporated into the code. Studies have shown many people believe their community is already taking care of this, but unfortunately many are not.

So how can you encourage your community to adopt up to date building codes? First you can check the No Code No Confidence website to see if your community has the latest version of the building code. If the codes are the most recent version, you could send a simple email like this to your elected officials:

“I was on the No Code No Confidence website and noticed our community has adopted the most recent building codes. I want to thank you for keeping our community safe by adopting these codes and ensuring they are up to date.”

If they are not the most recent, and especially if they are significantly out of date, you could send the following language in an email to your elected officials:

“I was on the No Code No Confidence website and noticed our community has not adopted the most recent building codes. I want to urge you to consider adopting the most recent codes. Not doing so puts property owners and building occupants at risk. Only by adopting up to date codes can we ensure our community stays resilient to disasters and other risks. Thank you for considering my request.”

What can I do to ensure my own home remains safe?

Sometimes we decide to make improvements to our own homes. In doing so, it is important to find out if the work you plan requires a building permit. You can find this out usually by visiting the building department website for your community or visiting or calling your local community and asking if a permit is needed for the work you plan. Getting a permit helps ensure the work that will be done on your home meets current codes and helps keep you safe.

Other resources in the toolkit

The FEMA Building Codes Toolkit also has a checklist with questions to ask your builder if you are having work done on your home or building a new home. There is also insurance information and links to many more resources.

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Using Second Life to Teach Building Codes

Because I initially joined Second Life as a means of promoting the awesome community that I live and work in, my primary focus was always to find displays or builds that would help our city reach out to the community. One of the ideas I had thought about implementing was a “Code House” – a building in which the the International Residential Building Code could be shown in 3-D.

As the city’s building inspector I discovered that many builders and homeowners do not have the time, the patience, or the motivation to sit down and read the code book. I do think that the code council has done the best job possible in setting up the book and presenting the information, but let’s face it, few people want to sit down and read a book of regulations. So I have often wondered how to best convey the information in the code book in an easy and simple way that will engage everyone’s interest.

I believe that the Second Life environment provides the opportunity to create a presentation that will show the code requirements in a simple and intuitive manner. If I need to find out the height at which to install switches or receptacles, I simply walk into the house and the dimension is shown on the wall. If I need to show the width of a doorway, I put phantom text hanging in the doorway space. How much simpler can it be?
Code House on Public Works

Well, I started building the house but have to admit that it has been slow going – too much to accomplish in Second Life and that darn real life thing (such as my real job) keeps me from hanging out in SL as much as I would like. So I was happy to find a kindred spirit in the avatar of Brand Woodin. Brand, who is from England, had been considering the same type of idea but of course, wanted to build a home that would convey the English code. So we thought, how cool is that to have homes built to teach codes from different countries.

Last night we discussed the project some more and came up with some fun and interesting side projects like creating a kit to wire a light switch where someone in SL could get the kit and practice actually wiring it as they would in real life. The completed wiring job would work (turn the light on) only if wired correctly. Otherwise maybe it would blow up or something cool like that. Well, now we need a good scripter to help us implement that idea.

Eco-Build Soon to Come
Anyway, the home I am working on is located on the Public Works sim for now. Brand will be building his “across the street” from mine. English and American. Now if only we can find others from different countries who are interested in creating homes to reflect their codes. There is so much that can be illustrated and accomplished, so if anyone is interested in joining in with us to implement this project or create related projects, we would love to have you join in and become part of our team.

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