(3.5-min read)

For the construction amateur, building codes and other laws dictating how structures are to be built can feel like an encroachment on freedoms. The truth, though, is that building codes save lives. Without the existence of building codes and regulations, it’s doubtful is any of us would want to set foot under the roof of any modern structure. Building codes are also nothing new. Rules about how to build structures have existed throughout human history. In this piece, we’re going to look at two of the first instances of documented building codes in recorded human history. 

Code of Hammurabi’s Building Requirements

The history of building codes can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi — one of the first translatable Babylonian legal documents. The document is some 3,000 years old. While Hammurabi’s building codes don’t go into specific detail about the techniques or materials required in home construction, the law does, however, mete out punishment on a reckless builder. We’ll paraphrase below:

  • If a faulty house collapses and causes the death of its owner, the builder of the house shall be put to death as punishment. 
  • If the owner’s son is killed, the builder’s son is taken from him and killed as well as punishment. 
  • If a slave of the owner dies in the collapse, one of the builder’s slaves is to given to the man in payment. 
  • The builder shall repair or replace any properties damaged by the collapse of his handiwork at his own expense. 

These laws are thought to have deterred shoddy craftsmanship or to keep inept builders out of the trade. In modern times, similar penalties apply to incompetent builders in the form of fines and or jail time for violating legally mandated building codes. Even though no violation of building codes has resulted in a builder’s death in modern times, such violations have resulted in the deaths of those unfortunate enough to have been the victims of these violations. 

Biblical Building Codes

While we’re all familiar with at least the idea of the 10 Commandments, there are, in fact, some 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible. One of these laws includes some of the oldest building codes on record. Unlike Hammurabi’s building codes, the Bible’s building codes are more specific about the kinds of safety measures to be taken — specifically for roof-top leisure spots. 

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” – Deuteronomy 22:8

A parapet is a form of low wall or fence used to border high, flat roofs or balconies. While the Biblical requirement for these structures was to keep roof-top party-goers from falling to their deaths, modern parapets also help to contain fire and heat from going outward of a burning roof, which would be dangerous to other surrounding structures. With that being said, there are building code requirements for railings even on raised stoops and patios. It seems like the nature of this law is still intact. 

As both construction professionals and just people who frequent buildings, we are very grateful for building codes. We take them extremely seriously for absolutely every construction project we undertake.  


You’re invited to learn more about the construction professionals from Cowen Construction — a proud Oklahoma-based construction company.