Building Codes and Your Historic Rehabilitation Project | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Building Codes and Your Historic Rehabilitation Project

Building Codes and Your Historic Rehabilitation Project | Wisconsin Historical Society
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Wisconsin has adopted the International Building Code as the state building code. Source: WHS - State Historic Preservation Office.

When you are planning the rehabilitation of your historic commercial building, it is critical that you follow all local, state and federal codes. The State of Wisconsin has adopted the International Building Code (IBC), so all Wisconsin communities must enforce the provisions of all the International Codes: Building, Fire, Electrical, Plumbing and Mechanical and the International Existing Building Code (IEBC).

You should work closely with your architect and local code enforcement officials to ensure you meet all the required code regulations while keeping your building historic.

Using the IEBC to Keep Historic Features of Your Building

Wisconsin uses the 2015 version of the IEBC. The IEBC might allow you to keep or maintain historic features that would not be allowed by the IBC. The intent of the IEBC as stated in Chapter 1, Section 101.3 is as follows:

"The intent of this code is to provide flexibility to permit the use of alternative approaches to achieve compliance with minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and welfare insofar as they are affected by the repair, alteration, change of occupancy, addition and relocation of existing buildings."

Chapter 12 of the 2015 IEBC may provide certain provisions that might allow you to maintain the architectural integrity of your building. For instance, Chapter 12 allows building owners to use original materials and construction techniques that are not permitted under other building codes. However, your building must meet certain requirements to qualify for the provisions of Chapter 12. For example, Chapter 12 does not apply to one- and two-family dwellings.

Qualifying as a Historic Building

To qualify to use Chapter 12 of the IEBC, your building must meet the code’s definition of a historic building. The IEBC definition of a historic building is as follows:

"Any building or structure that is listed in the State or National Register of Historic Places; designated as a historic property under local or state designation law or survey; certified as a contributing resource within a National Register listed or locally designated historic district; or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed on the National or State Registers of Historic Places either individually or as a contributing building to a historic district by the State Historic Preservation Officer or the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places."

Wisconsin amended this definition to also include buildings listed on a local register of historic places.

Verifying Your Building’s Eligibility

If your building meets the IEBC requirements, you will be able to keep most of the character-defining, historic elements of your structure. In order to use the IEBC, you should get confirmation that your building is qualified to use the IEBC from the applicable code review agency. The State Historic Preservation Office of the Wisconsin Historical Society will provide verification for buildings associated with the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places. For buildings designated under a local ordinance, an authorized municipal official can provide verification.