Please note that the Texas Historical Commission does not review buildings for compliance with building codes.
Introduction to Building Codes
The purpose of all codes is to provide minimum requirements for new and renovated buildings in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Fire prevention and life safety are their primary focus. Building code requirements vary depending on the occupancy or function of the building and the type of construction.
In Texas, there is not a state building code, though state regulations do govern certain aspect of new construction or rehabilitation (see Other Rules That May Apply to Historic Buildings). Local governments officially adopt a specific building code, such as the International Building Code. A local code may contain amendments or changes particular to the local environment or conditions. The authorities may also adopt different codes for mechanical or electrical work, for example.
Contact your local building authority to learn what codes govern your project.
Building Codes and Historic Buildings
Some historic buildings were constructed prior to any building codes, others to codes that were very different from the current standards. This does not necessarily mean the buildings are unsafe. When permits are required for building alterations, or other permits needed (such as for occupancy), the building may be deemed out of compliance with the current code. The Texas Historical Commission does not have the authority to overrule a local code official. However, the ruling of the local code official may be appealed to a higher local official or board.
Some building codes have sections that specifically reference work on historic buildings. For example:
International Building Code 2006, Section 3407, Historic Buildings
3407.1 Historic buildings. The provisions of this code relating to the construction, repair, alteration, addition, restoration and movement of structures, and the change of occupancy shall not be mandatory for historic buildings where such buildings are judged by the building official to not constitute a distinct life safety hazard.
Be aware that rehabilitating a historic building may be a complicated process, and the professional services of an architect, engineer, or other building consultants may be advisable or required by law. To avoid expensive surprises in the rehabilitation process, consult with your local code officials early in the project planning stage.
The Keys to Finding Code Solutions for Historic Buildings
Understand the intent of the code and how the applicable code treats historic buildings. Understand the constraints of the code official and how to utilize variance and appeal boards, if necessary. Determine the preservation priorities and explain them to the code official. And remember: consult early and often!
- Texas Accessibility Standards (Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation). See also Providing Access to Historic Properties.
- Lead Paint Rules and Regulations (Texas Department of State Health Services)
- Asbestos Rules and Regulations (Texas Department of State Health Services)
- Energy Conservation (State Energy Conservation Office)
- Fire Safety Inspections (State Fire Marshall’s Office)