Comparing Building Standards in North America and Europe

May, 1 2020

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Natalie Hayward

Here at StrucSoft Solutions, we work with clients across the globe, providing us a great insight into varying regulations and building types. StrucSoft set down roots first in Montreal, Canada, and more recently in Liverpool, UK.


Today, I want to have a look at how construction differs in the regions of our two offices with some insights from our technical staff. Let’s delve into the differences on each side of the Atlantic. Why are there different construction types and building processes? Are new construction types narrowing the gap?


modular houses UK and USAZoning and Building Types


Let's begin by having a look at European and North American building histories.


European cities are generally much older with a more concentrated population. As a result of this you are likely to see districts of mixed-use buildings, narrower streets, and enclosed squares for social gatherings. Concrete and masonry were widely used for housing across Europe.


With an extensive landmass across North America, you are more likely to find residential and commercial districts separate from each other with wider roads. Due to the vast forests across the US and Canada, using timber for housing has been a popular choice for centuries and retains its popularity due to price and speed. However, these traditions are starting to change as construction is being brought off-site and into the factory.


Building Regulations


An interesting similarity between North America and Europe is that both frameworks for construction management originated in the UK. Aside from that, the building codes for both continents have key differences in both standards and implementation.


The European Union implements a regulatory framework for all its member states including technical standards, health and safety, and the right to free movement for workers and construction products. These standards must be adopted by all member states however each country has different regulations that must work within the framework.


The USA and Canada each have a national code that is not adopted by all states/provinces or is partially adopted. For example, the national building code of Canada (NBC) has not been adopted by provinces such as Ontario, Québec, and Newfoundland.


The US regulations are more complex; The International Code Council Manages 15 different building codes including the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC is used as a base code by most of the USA and some other countries including Abu Dhabi and Columbia. Each state adopts some or all the 15 ICC codes. This is sometimes due to geographical differentials (earthquake zones with have a different code for instance). Older versions of these codes are being used in Texas and Indiana. As of right now, seven states do not use any form of the two main codes at all (IBC and IRC). For example, Chicago has its own set of building codes. NBC code of Canada


Standards in the design process


There are a few differences in the North American and European design process, most obviously the difference in units– this has been the cause of many groans among our technical team! The US has an extra measurement for LGS know as a gauge. Gauges specify the grade of the steel and can be converted from the regular ml measurement. Design projects in the USA generally lean towards timber framing more often and in some parts of the US, adverse weather conditions must be considered. This makes inline framing a popular choice. Additionally, a notable difference in the construction process is the responsibilities of an engineer- structural calculations from a UK engineer can be taken as guidelines whereas in the US the engineer has to approve building plans by law.




Climate change has kick started a revolution of new construction methods. The USA started to drift away from traditional timber construction to lightweight framing to stop forest depreciation. Metal framing is slowly becoming more popular as it removes the risk of root and insect infestation. Industry professionals are looking at new ways to lessen a new building's reliance on mechanical ventilation using climate-responsive material and radiant heating and cooling systems.


With a more temperate climate, Europe generally has a lower energy consumption per building however there is room for improvement. Modern European construction focuses on low carbon output and airtight ways of building with recycled insulation and framing techniques – all seen in offsite construction.


Offsite Construction


Volumetric construction

Emerging technologies are blurring the lines between continents particularly in offsite construction.


This system was first adopted in Europe with North America not far behind. Offsite construction maximizes site functionality which was an immediate need in parts of Europe but with rising materials costs and developing cities the market in North America now has a much greater need for this solution. The modular system includes volumetric design where a whole room or unit is made in the factory and non-volumetric or component design where walls and floors are made as panels and then assembled on site. Both solutions offer a plethora of ways to cut down building time, create jobs, and increase sustainability. Buildings types using offsite in North America can include hotels, dormitories, or healthcare buildings, although many smart housing systems for cities are in development. In Europe offsite construction is now at the forefront of radical design with it featuring in many award-winning buildings. StrucSoft's star solution MWF, is used in both continents for its cutting-edge automation paired with the streamlined planning and collaboration provided by Revit, MWF can be used for many stages of the design process.


<For more details on offsite construction, Check out our blog post "Offsite Construction" The Future of the Construction Industry" here.>


So, enough from me – let me know what you think in the comments. What are your experiences with cross-continental design?


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StrucSoft Solutions is the market leader in comprehensive Autodesk® Revit®-based BIM framing, with both off-the-shelf and custom solutions targeting the AEC and fabrication sectors. Our star solution MWF simplifies complex Revit® framing with its powerful range of tools for modeling, inter-trade clash detection, custom construction documentation and optional output to CNC machines.
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