Expertise and experience are necessary to determine accurate costs for the repair of damaged buildings

Determining accurate costs for the repair of damaged buildings requires expert knowledge of building codes, as well as a solid understanding of local construction market conditions.  The International Building Code (IBC), used throughout the United States, updates every three years.  Some years have produced major code changes, such as in 1991 after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake.

The collective building code expertise of Nelson Forensics’ team of architects, engineers, and cost estimators can assist in determining how code changes affect new and rebuilt structures and how much those changes may cost.

Evaluating Code Upgrade Requirements

Evaluating the cost of code upgrades is a complex task that requires knowledge, not only of the existing code, but also of the code changes that have occurred over the years.  Before the year 2000, there was a wide disparity in codes adopted by each state and locality.  The International Code Council (ICC) brought together several code organizations and created the model International Building Code widely used today.

Evaluating the necessity for code upgrades on an existing building requires a review of both the current codes and those that governed the construction of the building.   The task is more difficult and extensive for buildings constructed in conformance with codes which were in effect before the International Code Council (ICC) unified regional codes in 2000.  It would be prohibitively time-consuming to analyze every code change made over any period; however, it is useful to recognize areas where major changes have occurred.


Each edition of the International Energy Conservation Code has increased the energy efficiency standards over previous editions.  Designers now have the option of modeling energy usage, instead of the past practice of using prescribed energy features.  Some of the methods used to meet the current energy efficiency requirements include:

  1. Heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) units with high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) ratings;
  2. Continuous exterior wall insulation as opposed to insulation between wall studs;
  3. Double or triple-glazed windows;
  4. Energy recovery ventilation (ERV) units, used to temper outside air before conditioning;
  5. Light-colored roofs that reflect heat;
  6. E.D. lighting, light occupancy sensors, photocells, and high-efficiency lighting;
  7. Photovoltaic power systems.

Code enforcement agencies require designers to complete energy compliance forms that describe the systems used and the total energy consumption of the building.  Analysis of this documentation by a professional engineer will allow for an accurate estimate of the work required for a code or ordinance upgrade.


Most states have adopted the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which require the use of Best Management Practices (BMP).  The greatest impact is a retention system to reduce water run-off to the storm drainage system.  Examples of this include retention basins, underground filtration systems, and/or depressed landscape areas that can fill with water before overflowing to the public way.


The ICC has responded to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes by modifying the code’s structural requirements.  New codes can require extensive retrofit of existing gravity and lateral load carrying components and systems, depending upon the cause and extent of structural damage.
The advice of a structural engineer who is experienced with code requirements for structural repair and retrofit of existing buildings can be very useful in determining associated costs.

Fire and Life Safety

The damage caused by wild fires throughout the country has changed the fire resistance requirements for buildings in susceptible areas.  The requirements in areas prone to wild fires are often included in local ordinances.  Some common upgrades include:

  1. Sprinkler systems in all buildings, including single-family homes;
  2. Exterior protection of vents and fire-resistive exterior wall assemblies;
  3. Class A (i.e., the highest fire resistive rating) ratings for roof systems;
  4. Safety glazing at exterior windows;
  5. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors;
  6. Non-combustible building materials, including framing material.


In 1991, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law and was subsequently incorporated into building codes.  There have been many changes and interpretations of the ADA’s requirements since that time.

Many of the changes to the accessibility requirements involve low-cost improvements such as signs or mounting heights, but buildings built before 1991 can be significantly affected when accessibility upgrade requirements are triggered.  Costly updates may include:

  1. Elevators;
  2. Larger restrooms;
  3. Ramps;
  4. Handrails;
  5. Parking modifications.

Most authorities having jurisdiction will limit the required scope of accessibility upgrades to the undamaged portions of partially destroyed buildings.  However, for the rebuilt portions, full code compliance is mandatory regardless of cost.


Expertise and experience are necessary to determine accurate costs for the repair of damaged buildings.  Identifying requirements for upgrades can be difficult, especially for older buildings.  It requires an understanding of the intent of the code, in-depth research, and familiarity with how codes have evolved over time.  When an existing building simply cannot be repaired to its pre-damaged condition, the task becomes even more complicated.  The properly licensed and highly qualified professionals at Nelson Forensics can assist in navigating the complexities of code requirements for repair, retrofit, and replacement of existing and/or damaged buildings.

For more information, contact Joe LoBasso, AIA, CSS