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The state building code and how it affects the City of Marshall

From time to time, we are approached about the purpose and meaning behind our building inspection work as it relates to the State Building Code. While there is a single State Building Code, it is composed of many smaller codes each focused on a particular technical area or type of structure, such as plumbing, electrical, elevators, accessibility, energy, or residences.

Most of the language of the code comes directly from national and international standards, such as the International Building Code, that are incorporated in whole or in part into the State Building Code via rule making. Below some frequently asked questions regarding the building code derived from State of Minnesota building code guidance documents:

• Who administers and enforces building code?

The code is administered by the state Department of Labor and Industry in conjunction with cities, townships, and counties throughout the state. For the city of Marshall, the building code is enforced by the Community Planning Division with staff made up of a Plans Reviewer, Building Official and Building Inspector and they are responsible for reviewing plans and blueprints, inspecting work sites and various aspects of construction as per the building code. 

• What is a permit?

A permit is a legal document that gives you permission to commence a building project in accordance with the approved drawings and specifications.

• When is a permit required?

Permits are usually required for the following: new buildings, additions, decks, garages, garage doors, fireplaces, porches, pools, water heaters, building renovations, plumbing systems, and HVAC work.

• Why should the government be involved (in the form of a building permit) when I want to work on my property/house?

With the average family moving once every seven to 10 years, enforcement of the building code provides for sound construction that contributes to the strengthening of the value of the property; it provides minimum design standards for the local construction industry that help to level the playing field in the bidding and construction processes; it assures that required life-safety features are provided for and are operational. In addition, each year the city is surveyed by a building insurance analytics firm that evaluates the city’s building code program and provides a rating to insurance companies who in turn use that information in underwriting and developing property insurance premiums for the buildings. Therefore, it can be said that the benefits of adopting the State Building Code benefits the community as a whole.

• Can the city modify the code by making local amendments or changes to it?

State law prohibits local amendments to the State Building Code. No changes may be made to the content or application of the State Building Code.

• Can the city choose to adopt or enforce only the portions that we want or like?

No, the State Building Code may not be changed or amended in any way, nor can a city pick and choose which sections they want to enforce or not enforce. Once the State Building Code is adopted, the entire code would apply and must be enforced.

• Can the city council grant waivers to persons grieved by a building code requirement?

No person (including the building official) or board or commission may grant variances or waivers of any type to the State Building Code.

• What is the purpose of the State Building Code?

As established in Minnesota law, the primary purpose of the Minnesota State Building Code is to provide minimum standards to safeguard life and limb, health, property, and public welfare by regulating and controlling the design, construction, quality of materials, use and occupancy, location, and maintenance of all structures and equipment specifically covered by the code in a municipality that adopts and enforces the code.

The State Building Code preempts and supersedes all local regulation for the construction of buildings. An important goal of the legislature establishing a single State Building Code was to promote uniformity of construction standards throughout Minnesota.

Uniformity is important for several reasons: reduced cost and contractors only have to learn and understand one code. This enables them to become more efficient in their design and construction methods, thus minimizing construction costs.

Building product manufacturers are able to reduce their costs as they can design their materials to meet just one standard. The State Building Code also levels the competition as the entire construction industry uses the same standard, estimating construction costs will be equitable and relatively stable.

— Sharon Hanson is the city administrator for the city of Marshall

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