(Written by Pat Casey – NMHBA President – Originally published in the August 2013 Housing Journal)

 New Mexico Building Code Primer

As I have traveled around the state the past few years, it seems that there is one constant question I’m asked, “What building code are we on?” While some of the confusion was brought on by the lawsuit filed recently by the Environmental Law Center, I find most of the confusion happens because builders don’t understand the building codes in our state.

The International Code Council (ICC) develops and publishes many of our codes. While the ICC does develop a complete set of codes, we don’t use all of them in New Mexico and we add our own amendments to the ICC basic codes that we do use.

For residential we adopt several codes. Most builders are familiar with the International Residential Code (IRC). The ICC actually develops the IRC to be a stand-alone code, which means if fully adopted the IRC is the only code you need to build a standard stick framed home. New Mexico, however, does not adopt the IRC in its entirety. We have only adopted chapters 1 through 10, chapter 44, and appendix J. By doing this, we remove the energy, mechanical, plumbing, fuel gas, and electrical portions of the IRC and replace them with other codes. The mechanical and fuel gas code is based on the Uniform Mechanical Code; the plumbing code is based on the Uniform Plumbing Code; the electric code is based on the National Electric Code, and the energy code is based on the International Energy Conservation Code.

We then take all those codes, amend them to make them work better for New Mexico, and rename them. The official names of the residential codes we build to are: New Mexico Residential Code, New Mexico Energy Conservation Code, New Mexico Mechanical Code, New Mexico Plumbing Code, and the New Mexico Electric Code. There are also a few specialty codes that may be used in residential construction. They are: New Mexico Earthen Building Materials Construction Code, New Mexico Non-Load Bearing Baled Straw Construction Building Code, New Mexico Historic Earthen Buildings Code, New Mexico Swimming Pool, Spa, and Hot Tub Code, and the New Mexico Solar Code.

Now just in case this isn’t confusing enough, local jurisdictions that have their own building departments can further amend the codes to make them specific for their jurisdiction. The only rule the local jurisdictions must follow when amending the state codes is that they must remain as stringent as the state minimum codes. Santa Fe has probably done the most amending of the state’s building codes, but many other local jurisdictions also make some sort of amendment as well.

Basic code books (or even better the CD versions) must be obtained as the starting point in understanding our building code. Holmans (www.holmans.com), on Jefferson in Albuquerque near the NMHBA office, carries a full line of code books or they may be ordered directly from the respective code development organization. In order to have the complete code you will need the basic code book as published, and also the state and local amendments to supplement the published code.

All the state amendments are published in the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC). In order to build to the proper code, you need to get the appropriate code book and then go to the NMAC section for that particular code and download the amendments. That will get you the New Mexico codes that Construction Industry Division (CID) enforces. The CID website has the NMAC sections that deal with the codes on their website under “Rules and Laws.” The link is www.rld.state.nm.us/construction/Rules_and_Laws.aspx. This will take you directly to the NMAC page on CID’s website where you can download the appropriate code amendments. If you are building in a jurisdiction with its own building department you will need to check with that jurisdiction for any local amendments.

There are two other important facts to remember about our building codes. First, it is important to know what code edition we are using. Even though it is 2013, all of our building codes except the electrical code are based on the 2009 edition codes. The electric code is based on the 2011 National Electric Code. The second thing to remember is to check the NMAC often. The Construction Industries Commission (CIC) meets every two months and at those meetings new code amendments are sometimes adopted. Once an amendment is adopted and published in the NMAC it is in effect. However, you need only build to the code that was in effect when the permit was issued.

As you can see, just trying to figure out our building codes can be quite complicated and I have only touched on the residential side. If you are also involved in commercial construction, you have even more code books to buy and amendments to download. I hear from many builders and architects who say the codes are more complicated than they need to be. It is important to remember that as a contractor it is your responsibility to know the code and build to it. I hope the information in this article helps you do just that.