Along the path to creating a dream church building, there are numerous preliminary stops. In our last post, we covered zoning considerations. In this one, we look at building codes and how they impact building materials, area limits, fire suppression, accessibility, and egress.

What exactly are building codes? To put it simply, they are regulations that set minimum requirements for how residential and commercial buildings are designed and constructed. The International Code Council (ICC) sets the standard for most building codes in the U.S., though some locales use different codes.

Building Material Codes

Building materials are just one of the components that must fall in line with building codes. The codes determine what kinds of materials can be used for different types of buildings. It determines when wood, steel, brick, stone, iron, concrete, etc. can be used and if the building needs special treatment, like applied fireproofing. Additionally, these codes determine if materials used are considered sturdy enough to maintain the structural integrity and fire rating that may be required based upon material used.   

Use Groups and Area Limits

Codes are also established to determine how the building is being used. Called use groups, churches mostly fall under the assembly category because of worship spaces. An assembly is any space with over 50 people gathered in a room. However, church building spaces can also fall under education use groups, due to having classrooms, and business use groups because of office spaces. Use groups and material types of codes go together to determine the area limits of the build — the amount of square footage you can build without firewalls and fire suppression, for example.

Fire Suppression and Accessibility

Fire suppression codes play a role in determining how many sprinklers, if any, you need. The ICC states that a building must contain sprinklers if it has an occupancy of 300 or more people. Ohio has its own code, however, which has an exemption for sprinkling that relates to area — 1,000 people or 12,000 square feet.

Accessibility is another big component of building codes. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all buildings to be handicap accessible. So, components like elevators, lifts, ramps, doorways, and restrooms all come into play in your design to ensure that they are ADA compliant.


The building codes also determine how to get people safely and efficiently out of the building in case of an emergency, which is known as egress. Many times, churches don’t plan to have a space with enough egress, or they don’t have accessibility. When you build or remodel, you’ll have to get a building permit and undergo a building inspection. So, designing for egress upfront is important, since it prevents this issue coming up in inspection, saving you time and money.

In fact, all these types of building codes are very important to understand, and these codes are a reason why we recommend working with a church design professional to sort out how building codes will affect your new build or remodel.  

Want to learn more about church building and church design? Join us for our i3 webinar series. These live, interactive sessions are informative, free, and give you an opportunity to have your questions answered.