Building Code

The construction and renovation of buildings is regulated by the Kentucky Building Code.  Key building code concepts are use of the building, type of construction, height and area of the building, sprinklers, accessibility, and provisions for renovation of existing buildings.

Building Codes and Permit basics 

Construction in Louisville/Jefferson County, as well as the rest of Kentucky, is regulated by the Kentucky Building Code produced and promulgated by the state Department of Housing, Buildings, & Construction. The Kentucky Building/Residential Code has two components: the 2015 International Building/Residential Code and the Kentucky Amendments. The Kentucky Residential Code regulates one and two family residential structures and townhomes, while the Kentucky Building Code covers all other building types. In Chapter 1, the codes specifically state when a permit is and is not required. A common misconception is that a permit is not required when a wall is “non-structural” or “non loadbearing” but a permit IS required any time a change is made to walls and/or structure. A permit IS NOT required for finishes like carpet/paint/cabinetry. Also, a permit IS NOT required for residential accessory structures less than 200 sf. The building codes, permits, and inspections are administered locally by the Office of Construction Review. When in doubt, contact the Office before starting your project.



Grandfathering and non-conforming rights

 An existing building that was built in accordance with the building code in place at the time of its construction is considered to be code compliant, even if it does not meet current code. However, any changes to the structure shall comply with current codes. Renovation and rehab projects are almost always a bit unique and require some flexibility – Chapter 34 of the Building Code provides the tools and methods to guide flexibility along with sound building safety. 



Shipping containers/tiny homes

These project types represent new and exciting trends in construction and housing. As they are unique in their benefits and lifestyle, these structures also pose some challenges to standardized codes. For example, a shipping container is not built to any recognizable standard for human occupancy and requires modifications to be a habitable structure for living and working such as insulation, openings for windows and doors, foundations, etc. Tiny homes can be of several varieties including shipping containers, pre-fabricated homes, homes on trailers with wheels, and some are simply very small homes built with conventional construction methods. To help clarify these points we have assembled some informational brochures here. Please also contact the Office of Construction Review as you are planning your project.




The building code specifics when permits are, and are not, required. Generally speaking building permits are not required for finishes such as paint and wallpaper, cabinets, residential accessory structures under 200 square feet, and commercial structures under 120 square feet. Most everything else needs a permit! Application information, fees, process info etc. can be found here.




Work that requires a permit, also require inspections. It is up to the permit holder to contact the Office of Construction Review when they are ready for an inspection. The installed work must pass inspection before work can proceed further. Careful planning and collaboration with your inspectors will help ensure that the project is completed on time and without surprises. More information here.



Building Placement on site 

Building placement on a site is primarily regulated by the Land Development Code Chapter 5 in terms of setbacks and “yards.” The Building Code regulates how the building is built – generally speaking the closer the building is to a property line or another building, the greater the threat of fire and therefore more requirements about fire ratings. Generally speaking the zoning code regulates where a building can be, the building code regulates how to build it.



Renovation vs. New Construction

Although both are “construction”, these are two very different types of projects and require different skills. New construction is regulated strictly by the current code. There is little room for interpretation or variation. Methods and materials are modern and usually clearly documented and understood. Existing buildings can present a wide variety of materials, construction method, hidden conditions, and impacts from long term use and exposure – each project is nearly unique. The importance of experience and knowledge cannot be understated when undertaking a renovation project. The Kentucky Building Code devotes an entire chapter – Chapter 34 – to this topic.  Recognizing that renovation work is not always clear cut, it sets out safety priorities and methods for determining best compliance with current codes for the renovation work. Touching base with the Office of Construction Review when planning your project is a good idea, as is enlisting the help of experienced contractors and design professionals when necessary.




Accessibility to buildings, goods, and services is a priority for the community and is also reflected in the building codes. Accessibility requirements begin once there are four or more dwelling units in a structure and all non-residential structures.  Chapter 11 of the Kentucky Building Code specifies the accessibility requirements for new construction and Chapter 34 explains accessibility in renovation of existing buildings. Generally speaking the broader the scope of the renovation, the more accessibility is required.



Historic Preservation

Great renovation projects are the key to keeping buildings in service for longer periods of time and are key to successful preservation of historic buildings. The building codes provide some relief when it comes to renovations of historic buildings based solely on historic value but not much. Text of Chapter 34 historic “restorations” – i.e. returning a historic building to its original state – is given more flexibility, else the renovation project simply follows the Chapter 34 requirements for work in existing buildings.



Mixed Use

Often the most exciting projects involve a mix of uses and activities. A mix of use types can diversify rents and encourage synergy among different businesses. Developers of mixed use projects should know, however, that the building code may require “fire rated” separations – floors, walls, doors, etc. – between different use types to improve fire safety. These safety measures could also require a sprinkler system – an expensive item which could really impact a pro forma for a project. Early and complete planning can identify these requirements and avoid costly surprises.



Design Professionals

In various instances – usually based on occupant load – a design professional such as an architect and/or engineer may be required by the Building Code. Additionally, if a design or project element is not readily addressed by the code, the Building Official may require the applicant to retain the services of an architect or engineer. This could be an added cost not anticipated, so identifying this need early in the planning process is advised.


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