May 23, 2024

When building or maintaining a home, there are long lists of regulations known as building codes. They tell you how things have to be done, and if you deviate from the codes, it can mean big fines and bigger trouble. You need to know the codes in order to do things correctly, and that can be a bit of a journey.

Today, you’re going to get some help tracking down your local codes so you can learn them and apply them safely.

Start With Universal Codes

Building codes in the United States are not straightforward. Any one set of codes might make sense, but regulating them is a bit of a mess. You see, each state has sole discretion over building codes within its territory. On top of that, many local governments add their own codes to the state list. Despite all of that, some codes are written at the federal level and adopted across the U.S.


The National Electrical Code (NEC) is a federally regulated set of fire codes for construction in the United States. While each state gets to pick its own codes, the NEC has been adopted by all 50 states. So, this is a universal code and a great place to start understanding what codes cover and why.

The NEC primarily focuses on electrical components in a building, such as wiring, and protecting them to minimize fire dangers. White the NEC makes a nice starting point, it’s important to remember that states can add to it as they see fit. So can local governments.


In the United States, FEMA runs the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This program designated flood danger zones and which zones qualify for (and often require) flood insurance.

The NFIP also sets regulations on construction to determine qualification and coverage for flood insurance.
In short, if you live in a designated flood zone, you want your building to live up to the NFIP regulations. They are federally managed, and through flood insurance, they are ultimately enforced across the country. However, if your building is not in an insurable flood zone, that enforcement disappears (unless your local regulations require buildings to follow NFIP rules).


The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) operates similarly to the NFIP and is also run by FEMA. This set of codes aims to reduce damage to structures that stem from earthquakes. Naturally, this code is not important in all areas around the country, but most regions that do experience significant and/or frequent earthquakes adopt NEHRP standards.

If you want to dig into it, you can find plenty of other federal standards that see mixed adoption rates across the country. By far, the most common federal standards are the NEC, NFIP, and NEHRP, in that order.

Go to State Resources

Aside from federalized standards, you will find the majority of your building codes designed and enforced at the state level. After all, each state gets to pick its own rules. Most states implement multiple building codes that pertain to different aspects of construction.

For instance, electrical codes and plumbing codes are usually found in separate documents and regulatory lists.
That does make building codes complicated, especially when you consider how much variation you can find from one state to the next. Still, you can find the codes listed with each state, usually at your state’s formal .gov website.

Don’t Forget Local Codes

Unfortunately, that’s still not the whole list. Each county and municipality can also add building regulations. Whether or not these codes can contradict state rules depends on the state, so things get quite convoluted.

When delving into local codes, remember to separate them by county and municipality. You can usually find county codes on your county website. If you want physical copies, the county clerk’s office is a great place to start. If you happen to live in an unincorporated region, then you don’t have to worry about any more codes.

If not, then you also want to check with your city, township, village, etc. There are no universal methods here. Start with the local .gov website. If that doesn’t work, you can often find copies of municipal codes within county records.

In the end, you’re searching for differences between codes from one level to the next. Most local governments outsource the majority of codes development to the state, and many states outsource that to federal agencies. Find the local deviations, and you can build a complete picture of building codes a lot faster.