I have watched many inspectors who are intimidated by the “code” book and choose to ignore it in lieu of attempting to understand it. I have said many times that it takes inspectors around three years to start asking the right questions and another two years to know where to go to get the answers. Many times this is by developing systems and processes that help you find what you are looking for (or by asking someone for advice).
So let’s start with the basics. As an inspector I can only legally enforce the codes and standards that are referenced by the code we adopted. If our state has a state wide building code, then the document utilized as the building code would be our starting point. If my community has adopted NFPA 1 as the fire prevention code, then that is our adopted code. The standards that are referenced in the appendix or administration chapters are only enforceable to the extent that it was referenced by the adopted code.
For instance, the International Fire Code 2006 references NFPA 101 The Life Safety Code in section 1025.6.2 (Smoke Proof Seating). The reference is only for the section in NFPA 101 on a life safety evaluation. This does not imply the entire life safety code is up for grabs (from a legal standpoint). In my community we have adopted the IFC 2006 and many times I will refer to NFPA 1, 101 or other non-adopted documents to help me enforce our code (gain additional information or alternatives). Now that we know what the “code” is, getting around the book can take some time. All inspectors should memorize the general layout.
When I say memorize I only talk about the general layout (do not memorize code, it will give you a headache). Take NFPA 13, The Standard for Automatic Sprinkler Systems (2007 edition). The standard has a basic flair to it (just like NFPA has set all new standards to do). The beginning three chapters are administrative, scope, definitions and reference standards. Then you get into the meat and potatoes. The front chapters are setup for system components (piping, sprinklers, valves, etc…). Then the chapters turn toward design (general and specific). If I am looking for information on sprinkler obstructions I would go to the chapter specific to sprinklers.
Just flipping pages in a code book to find your section is not the place to start. If you are looking for something specific go to the index of the code or standard. If you are going to look at a wider range of items, go to the table of contents. This starts you in the correct manner of reading code. Let’s take the question about sprinkler obstructions. Going to the index and looking up sprinkler can lead us on several goose chases (lots of flipping pages and not finding what I am looking for). If I know the sprinkler is a standard upright, go to the table of contents and look up sprinklers, then standard upright. It will narrow my path and get me to my answer sooner.
Like anything else code administration takes time and patience. Develop a system which works for you so you can get your answers quickly without memorizing the codes.
Do you have code questions, visit our discussion forums and ask all the questions you want (for free)!