Understanding Building Codes and Permits

Mar 10 - mkamplain


D. Gary Davis

County Mayor

Building a Better Bradley County

Understanding Building Codes and Permits



There is a perception that County building permits, building codes and enforcement are just another way for county government to levy a hidden tax and raise additional revenue. It’s true that the building permit process and enforcement of codes does generate revenue, however, that is not the primary reason for them.

Building codes are developed, changed, and enforced for one main reason - safety. Regular inspections of existing public structures by the Fire Marshall and code enforcement on new or remodeled structures by County building inspectors Don Wyatt and Tina Rice are designed to ensure that all buildings in the County are reliable and safe.

The underlying reason for this is to make sure that you, the taxpayer, are not exposed to a huge liability claim in court if an accident happens.

County Attorney Joe Byrd says “If the county knows of a code violation and does not show due diligence in enforcement it can be liable in the courts.”


That’s what happened in West Warwick, Rhode Island in February 2003. The band, Great White was playing its opening song at The Station night club when Pyrotechnics ignited the building’s flammable soundproofing foam. In less than a minute the entire stage was engulfed in flames. 100 people died in the fire and more than 200 were injured.


The West Warwick inspectors had not required the nightclub to install a sprinkler system when it converted from a restaurant to a club a few years earlier. As a restaurant it had been exempt from the sprinkler system code due to a lower building occupancy. However, the conversion increased the occupancy and the sprinkler system was legally required. This oversight created a huge liability issue for West Warwick. The resulting lawsuits amounted to more than $175 million with West Warwick and Rhode Island each agreeing to a $10 million settlement.


Fire is not the only code enforcement concern in Bradley County. Our inspectors begin by looking at the footings to ensure compliance with codes. The framing, plumbing, rough-in and final inspections are also subject to inspection to determine if a certificate of occupancy for the building can be issued. A building cannot be occupied until a certificate of occupancy is approved.


County inspector Don Wyatt says the process is important to new and future homeowners who depend on the County to make sure the structures are safe.


One of the most common questions asked of the County Inspections Department concerns codes for remodeling churches and/or fellowship halls. If a building is to be used for assembly of any type the plans must be completed, stamped and signed by a Tennessee state licensed architect or engineer. The only exception is when the total occupancy for a building is less than 100 people. Those buildings are classified under “business occupancy” and fall under different code requirements.


County inspector Tina Rice says those wishing to remodel or add onto an existing structure should first determine the building’s occupancy load. This is done by calculating the actual square footage of the building; not the number of people you plan to have in the building.


If your occupancy load is 300 or more the plans must be reviewed by the State Fire Marshall’s Office. If the areas are not separated by a 4-hour fire wall then both the old and new structures are used to calculate the occupancy load.


The best way to determine the occupancy size is to consult with a licensed architect or engineer. These professionals are familiar with the plans review and permitting process and can save your church or organization both time and confusion.


The Bradley County Building inspections team works to ensure sound construction of new buildings, promote steady maintenance of existing buildings and enforce regulations that are in place to ensure public health, safety to life and property from fire and other hazards. It is a very important job performed by people who understand that building safety is no accident.

If you would like more information about Bradley County building and safety codes visit www.bradleyco.netand click on the licensing link. You may also call the building inspections office at (423) 728-7106.

Filed Under: 2009

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