Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
June 2007
Looking into the Building Regulatory Future

Imagine submitting a plan that you are certain complies with the codes to the local building department and getting approval in hours instead of weeks. Think of the time, money and resources it could save designers, builders and code officials alike.

Currently, the majority of building departments conduct plan reviews manually because building designs are submitted on paper. Similarly, designers and builders rely on code books to ensure projects comply with local, state and federal building regulations. What if there was a different option—automated code compliance checking? It may sound too good to be true, but it could be reality in the not-too-distant future thanks to a new, cutting-edge effort to automate code compliance known as SMARTcodes.

With SMARTcodes, designers could instantly check for code compliance during the design process before submitting plans to jurisdictions. Building departments could conduct plan reviews using SMARTcodes, which would reduce turnaround time, increase code compliance and allow code officials to focus more on enhancing building inspections and improving public safety.

The International Code Council's SMARTcodes project brings together a variety of stakeholders—standards developing organizations; the architectural, engineering, and construction industry; manufacturers; and federal, state and local agencies— it truly encompasses the length and breadth of the building industry.

The SMARTcodes project aligns with buildingSMART, an international endeavor fostered by the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI). The buildingSMART initiative is based on the idea that everyone in the construction process should be able to readily provide access and share information about a building. It is a whole new way of conducting business because it embraces the full range of possibilities offered by modern technology. Interoperability—the transparent flow of data and other information between users—is key and serves as the foundation of the buildingSMART initiative.

Much of the progress made to date is due to the International Alliance for Interoperability's development of Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), a kind of universal data model for buildings that provides a foundation for a Building Information Model (BIM); a source of data covering the physical and functional characteristics of a building. Credit is also due to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), under whose leadership a National Building Information Model (BIM) Standard has been drafted. The IFC model is a platform for communication between different software applications to address building design and construction preferences. The BIM standard organizes the resulting information, facilitating the ready application of a variety of valuable functions, one of which is automated code checking.

The goal of the SMARTcodes project is to automate code compliance checking for the International Codes and federal, state and locally adopted amendments to the I-Codes. Instead of the lengthy, time consuming, paper-based process currently in place, designers would see immediate benefits with SMARTcodes, such as enhanced communication with the building department; more timely and accurate validation of the building design, construction and operation; better delivery of service from the public sector; improved building safety; and a reduction in construction costs.

The International Code Council gave a live demonstration of the application in November 2006, at buildingSMART day in Washington, D.C. Referencing the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), an international team of experts performed a SMARTcodes automated code check and reviewed one building plan with three different model checking software applications. All three programs generated the same results (albeit in different visual formats), highlighting areas of the building in non-compliance. The entire process took just minutes. The team then demonstrated a manual code search process in which the user was prompted to answer specific questions about the building. SMARTcodes provided relevant code criteria and offered the ability to "drill-down" to referenced standards, code commentaries, interpretations, evaluation reports, product listings and manufacturer data.

The International Code Council is working to make the 2006 IECC SMARTcodes available for further demonstration by the summer of 2007. It is also developing a BIM guide for code officials and is slated to begin work on other I-Codes, including the International Building, Fire, Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes later this year. For more information regarding SMARTcodes and buildingSMART, go to www.smartcodes.org.

-- Henry Kosarzycki

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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