Building Codes and Regulations for the ARE Exam

December 13, 2023

The idiom “rules of the game” is rarely more apt than when discussing building codes and regulations for the ARE® Exam. Architecture, in many ways, is a beautiful combination of creativity and technical precision. And nothing embodies this precision more than the structured universe of building codes and regulations. For an aspiring architect, mastering these is akin to learning a new language, the lingua franca of safe and compliant design.

As a part of the Building Design & Construction Systems section of the ARE® Exam, these codes and regulations make up 7-10% of scored items, according to the ARE® Exam Guide. Thus, having a firm grasp on this aspect of the exam can set you up for success. However, the path to mastery might seem overwhelming. So, let’s break it down step by step.

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Incorporation of Codes and Regulations

Understanding the Importance

Building codes and regulations are more than just rules to follow; they form the essential framework within which architecture functions. This understanding should be at the heart of every architecture student’s study plan for the ARE® Exam.

  • Safety: Above all else, codes and regulations are in place to protect public safety. They ensure buildings can safely withstand environmental stresses, from everyday wear and tear to extreme events like earthquakes and hurricanes. They also address fire safety, electrical safety, and various other factors that could pose a risk to occupants.
  • Sustainability: Codes and regulations are increasingly geared towards creating a more sustainable built environment. They cover aspects like energy efficiency and water conservation, setting minimum standards for sustainable design and construction.
  • Quality of Life: The rules and regulations also aim to improve the quality of life for those who occupy the buildings. From ensuring accessibility for individuals with disabilities to controlling noise transmission between units in a residential building, they contribute to making buildings more livable.

Types of Codes and Regulations

Building Codes

Building codes form the backbone of construction regulation. They address the design and construction of buildings, focusing on structural safety, fire safety, and the health of the occupants.

  • Structural Integrity: Building codes cover aspects such as the strength of building materials, soil support, foundation design, and the structural design of buildings. They provide specific guidelines on factors like load calculations and the acceptable limits for building components.
  • Electrical and Plumbing Systems: The codes also contain specific sections covering electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems, ensuring they’re designed and installed safely and effectively.

Zoning Regulations

Zoning regulations govern how land can be used in different areas of a city or town. They control building functions, the density of buildings, building heights, and even the aesthetic aspects of buildings in certain districts.

Fire Codes

Fire codes play a critical role in preventing fire-related incidents and ensuring safe evacuation when fire incidents occur. They cover aspects such as fire-resistant materials and construction techniques, fire alarm systems, fire suppression systems like sprinklers, and emergency egress requirements.

Energy Codes

Energy codes are increasingly important in today’s world, as they contribute to energy conservation and sustainability. They cover energy use in buildings, including heating and cooling efficiency, building envelope performance, lighting efficiency, and the use of renewable energy systems.

Accessibility Codes

Accessibility codes are designed to ensure that buildings are usable by everyone, regardless of physical ability. These codes cover aspects like ramp gradients, door widths, elevator sizes, bathroom designs, and much more, ensuring that people with disabilities can access and use buildings effectively.

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Code Research

Code research is an essential part of an architect’s job and a crucial skill area for the ARE® Exam. Here are the key elements:

Understanding the Structure

Before you can interpret codes and regulations, you must first understand their structure. Typically, these documents are organized into different sections, each covering a specific aspect of building design and construction.

  • Chapter and Section: Most codes follow a hierarchical structure, with chapters divided into sections, subsections, and so on. Each section is numbered, making it easier to refer to a particular rule or requirement.
  • Tables and Diagrams: Codes often include tables and diagrams to illustrate certain requirements or provide condensed information. Understanding how to interpret these is essential.


Interpreting codes requires a careful reading and understanding of the language used. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Legalese: Codes and regulations are legal documents, and as such, they often use legal terminology. It’s essential to comprehend this terminology to interpret the codes correctly.
  • If, And, Or: Pay close attention to the use of conditional words like ‘if’, ‘and’, ‘or’. These can dramatically affect the interpretation of a code requirement.

Navigating and Searching

Knowing how to navigate through the vast amount of information in building codes and regulations is key.

  • Index and Table of Contents: Using the table of contents and index is a starting point for finding relevant information quickly.
  • Keyword Search: In digital versions of codes and regulations, the search function can be a valuable tool. Learning to use precise keywords can speed up your search and help you find specific requirements.

Code Compliance

Compliance isn’t just about understanding the codes and regulations, but also about demonstrating that your design adheres to them.

  • Compliance Pathways and Options: You must understand the different pathways to compliance, which can be prescriptive (strict adherence to set standards), performance-based (achieving the desired outcome, irrespective of the method), or a hybrid of both. Knowing the most efficient and practical pathway to achieve compliance for your specific design is crucial.
  • Documenting and Demonstrating Compliance: This involves adequately illustrating that your design meets all applicable codes and regulations. It requires precision in design documentation, clear communication, and, often, the ability to make a convincing case to building code officials.
Photo by jcomp via Freepik

Staying Updated with Code Updates

In the ever-evolving field of architecture, building codes and regulations are not static; they change and adapt to new technologies, construction practices, and societal needs. Therefore, staying updated with the latest code revisions and updates is essential. Regularly checking reliable sources and attending industry updates can help ensure your knowledge remains current.

By mastering the ins and outs of codes and regulations, not only do you set yourself up for a successful outcome in the Building Design & Construction Systems section of the ARE® Exam, but you also gain a valuable skill set that will serve you throughout your architectural career.

PrepArchitect: Your Ally in ARE® Exam Preparation

Remember, the path to understanding and applying building codes and regulations may seem challenging, but you don’t have to tread it alone. PrepArchitect is here to guide you through this journey. With comprehensive study materials, insightful practice questions, and a supportive community, PrepArchitect can turn the daunting task of learning codes and regulations into an achievable one.

Join us at PrepArchitect and start transforming your exam preparation today. Because, as architect Daniel Libeskind once said, “Architecture is a field of repression. You repress the wrong part of the project, and it becomes a masterpiece.” Let PrepArchitect help you master the rules, so you can create your masterpiece.

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