White House Announces National Building Code Initiative

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The most reliable way to ensure our nation’s infrastructure is resilient, and that we are truly building back better, is the widespread adoption and enforcement of modern, up to date building codes.

ASCE was pleased to see the White House recently announce the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes, an effort to help state and local governments be more resilient by adopting the most up to date building codes and standards. The Biden Administration intends to use the initiative to push recipients of federal funding to meet modernized building standards to the “greatest extent feasible” and will use $225 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to encourage local adoption of modernized energy codes. The initiative also directs Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to implement its new Building Codes Strategy, as well as update the Building Code Adoption Tracking portal to identify that status of building code adoption relative to climate hazards in a community. Finally, the initiative commits the federal government to expand its efforts to adopt above-code resilience and energy efficiency standards across federal buildings. The interagency initiative will be led by FEMA in conjunction with the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other relevant federal agencies.

ASCE is a long-time advocate for the widespread adoption and enforcement of modern, up to date building codes. Since the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, ASCE has strongly encouraged federal agencies to incentivize the use of up-to-date codes and standards and the organization applauds the announcement of the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes.

Programs like FEMA’s Building Resilience Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program are already requiring the use of up-to-date codes and standards and can serve as a model for other programs across the federal government. For example, the Department of Energy should require that any new projects dedicated to modernizing and hardening the electric grid follow ASCE 74, Guidelines for Electrical Transmission Line Structural Loading.

At the state and local level, we are already seeing localities adopt stronger building codes to combat the impacts of a changing climate. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the City of Houston voted to require all new construction in the city’s floodplains be built two feet above the 500-year floodplain. Florida, meanwhile, has made a series of updates to their building codes over the past twenty years, including the mandated use of stronger nails, relocation of vents, and more thorough inspection processes. These are strong examples of how codes can be modernized and ASCE standards can be incorporated to strengthen a city or state’s resilience.

Other ASCE documents and standards that the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes should urge states and localities to adopt to enhance resilience include:

  • ASCE 7, Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures (ASCE/SEI 7-22), currently an integral part of U.S. building codes, describes the means for determining soil, flood, tsunami, snow, rain, atmospheric ice, earthquake, and wind loads, and their combinations for resilient structural design;
  • ASCE 24, Flood Resistant Design and Construction, prescribes a standard for cost effectively increasing resiliency by reducing and eliminating risks to property from flood hazards and their effects;
  • ASCE 41, Seismic Evaluation and Retrofit of Existing Buildings, standardizes methods for the retrofit of existing buildings to increase resiliency in communities after a seismic event;
  • ASCE Manual of Practice 140, Climate-Resilient Infrastructure: Adaptive Design and Risk Management, provides guidance for and contributes to infrastructure analysis/design in a world in which risk profiles are changing due to climate change per the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

Additionally, while ASCE will continue to work with the Administration and federal agencies to incentivize the use of up-to-date codes and standards, ASCE supports the development, adoption, and enforcement of a national model code as a key method of minimizing climate impact and creating disaster resilience in communities. Furthermore, ASCE urges Congress to provide robust funding to those federal agencies like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEMA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) whose mission includes both developing the data necessary for ensuring standards can address the impacts of climate change and preparing and implementing a national model code that considers increasingly strong storms.

ASCE will continue to work with the Administration, federal agencies, and state and local governments on the adoption of updated building codes and standards and applauds the White House for understanding the importance of updated codes to infrastructure resilience.

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