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Illinois Country Living

Michael L. Ashenfelter, Safe Electricity Advisory Team

Safety & Health:

Building Codes Save Lives and Property
Insist your builder follows the code and inspection requirements

In my position as an electrical inspector, every now and then someone will ask me why have building codes? Why can’t I just build my structure the way I want to? The answer, because it’s the law doesn’t properly answer this question.

Officially a building code is the government’s statement on building safety. Technically, building codes set the minimum safety standards for construction through a compilation of laws. Building codes are arranged in a systematic manner and (codified) for easy reference. Building codes embrace all aspects of the building construction – fire, structural items, accessibility as well as the plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.

The earliest known code or law was known as the Code of Hammurabi. The Code of Hammurabi was an ancient law created around 1790 BC in ancient Babylon. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted it. Hammurabi ruled from 1796 BC - 1750 BC and decreed that he was chosen by the gods to deliver the law to his people.

Wow does that sound like some inspectors you know! Nah! Well, at least maybe they come by it genetically.

One of Hammurabi’s laws was as follows: If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.

Another variant of this was if the owner’s son dies, then the builder’s son should be put to death. And you thought the Illinois State Plumbing Code was tough didn’t you.

Well, we’ve come a long way since then and building codes have evolved. I know this won’t sound very reassuring, but frankly many times codes were developed by trial and error. An example of this is the National Fire Protection Associations NFPA 13, the sprinkler code, and NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code. These codes were born out of necessity from our fire history right here in Illinois.

These fire safety codes date back to pre-electric lighting history when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the kerosene lantern sitting on the bale of hay. Throughout this history we have learned valuable lessons from catastrophic events such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. We learned that keeping ignition sources away from combustibles are a good practice and that there was a need for building codes to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Today’s fire, building and electrical codes are developed by architects, engineers, manufacturers, distributors, contractors, insurance companies, testing labs, building and fire code officials and other interested parties in building safety. It’s in the knowledge they bring with them and the codes they have developed that will help prevent tragic accidents in the future.

So, who needs building codes? We all do! Building codes protect us in our homes, offices, schools, stores, factories or places of entertainment. We rely heavily on the safety of the structures that surround us in our everyday living. The public need for protection from disaster due to fire, structural collapse and general deterioration underscores the need for modern codes and their enforcement.

Safety is achieved through proper design and construction practice and a code inspection program that verifies compliance.

Did you know that before you moved into your home, office or factory, an average of 10 inspections had been made to verify conformity to minimum standards affecting electrical safety, and sanitation as well as structural, fire, and the like?

So why have building codes? Building codes give a standard for contractors to build and bid by putting all contractors on a level playing field. Building codes provide for your personal safety and that of your family and friends that enter your home. Building codes ensure the economic well being of the community by reducing potential fire spread and lowering insurance costs. They make our homes and businesses more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. They assure and protect future home and business owners that structures they occupy will be safe.


For More Information:

Michael L. Ashenfelter is the Sangamon County Electrical/ Mechanical Inspector and a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Team (, 217-747-5111. Sources: Data referenced from the NFPA, ICC and The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and


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Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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