HB 738: Texas Adopts 2012 Versions of IRC and IBC; Addresses Residential Fire Sprinklers

The Texas Legislature, through House Bill 738, (1) adopted the 2012 versions of the International Residential Code and International Building Code, and (2) prohibited municipalities from requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in most residential dwellings, with some exceptions.

Texas Local Government Code Section 214.212 adopts the International Residential Code (“IRC”) as the municipal residential building code in Texas, which applies to “all construction, alternation, remodeling, enlargement, and repair of residential structures in a municipality.” Similarly, Section 214.216 adopts the International Building Code (“IBC”) as the municipal commercial building code in Texas, which applies to “all commercial buildings in a municipality” and “any alteration, remodeling, enlargement, or repair of those commercial buildings,” regardless of when construction began.[1]

Prior to House Bill 738, the 2000 version of the IRC and the 2003 version of the IBC were in effect, and were among the oldest in the United States at that time. However, the 2012 versions of both the IRC and IBC (the “Codes”) are now in effect for residential and commercial construction either beginning under an agreement made on or after January 1, 2022, or, in the absence of an agreement, beginning on or after that date. Construction beginning under an agreement made before January 1, 2022, or, in the absence of an agreement, that began before that date, is governed by the law in effect at the time of the agreement or the commencement of construction.

In addition to establishing procedures to administer and enforce the Codes, municipalities may now adopt local amendments that add, modify, or remove the Codes’ requirements, but only if the municipality: (1) holds a public hearing on a local amendment before adopting it, and (2) adopts the amendment by ordinance. A municipality may also review and consider amendments to the Codes made after May 1, 2012, excluding electrical provisions. And specifically with respect to commercial construction, municipalities may continue to adopt more stringent commercial building codes than the IBC, as well as their future editions.[2]  

House Bill 738 also adds Section 250.011 to the Texas Local Government Code, which prevents a municipality, county, or emergency services district from requiring the installation of fire sprinkler systems in new or existing one- or two-family dwellings. They may, however, allow a specialist or contractor to install a fire sprinkler system in such dwellings for a fee. If a municipality already had such a requirement in effect on or before January 1, 2009, the restriction does not apply.[3]

Residential and commercial contractors, owners, and design professionals should take care to make sure their projects, at a minimum, meet the requirements of the 2012 Codes, as applicable. However, many municipalities throughout Texas have already adopted versions of the Codes that are more stringent than those now statutorily required. The practical effect of the bill will generally be to streamline those minimum requirements across all Texas municipalities. As ever, industry members should carefully research and study each jurisdiction’s codes, and take care to negotiate contract terms requiring reasonable compliance with standards applicable to any given project—rather than strict or absolute compliance, which may lead to insurance coverage problems and open the door to more difficult and dangerous claims.

[1] The previous version of § 214.216 limited the IBC’s applicability to construction beginning on or after January 1, 2006. And, as before, neither the IRC nor the IBC apply to “the installation and maintenance of electrical wiring and related components.” Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 214.213.

[2] Municipalities were required to establish rules and procedures to implement these changes to Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 214 prior to January 1, 2022.

[3] The restriction is also inapplicable to emergency-services districts that, prior to February 1, 2013, had adopted requirements that conflict with the new restriction, so long as the district is (i) “in or adjacent to a general law municipality with a population of less that 4,000 that is served by a water control and improvement district governed by Chapter 51 [of the Texas] Water Code”; and (ii) in a county with a population greater than one million and is adjacent to a county with a population greater than 420,000.


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