Code vs. Standard: What’s the Difference?

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Codes and standards can seem very similar at first glance, but they serve very different purposes and are used in different industries. Codes are usually drafted by federal or state governments, while standards are developed by industry associations or other private organizations to ensure that certain products meet certain performance or safety requirements. If you’re wondering how codes and standards differ from each other, read on to learn more about the two terms and how they’re used in the real world.

Main Difference

Standards are guidelines that help people understand what they should do to make sure their properties are safe and healthy. They are often created by professional organizations like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These standards are voluntary and not always followed by developers.

Codes are laws that govern how people can use their property. They are usually written into zoning ordinances and building codes. Codes are enforced by local governments and typically include things like maximum height limits, parking requirements, and lot sizes.

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What is a Code?

A code is a set of regulations that apply to a certain category of construction or activity (for example, commercial building codes and electrical codes). A code might be written by one or more private entities, and it’s usually adopted by local jurisdictions (cities, counties, states) as part of their laws; these are generally referred to as adopted codes.

What is the Standard?

A standard (or specification) is a document or set of documents generally agreed upon and supported by a group or community that details, defines, and prescribes procedures, components, methods, materials, processes, etc., with which to comply for activities or behaviors undertaken within that group.

The standard may be mandatory or voluntary [i]. Standard is often used interchangeably with a specification but refers more specifically to technical standards which can have a regulatory status.

Sample Code Example

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets codes for a variety of home and building-related products, including electrical systems, fire alarms, and sprinkler systems. These are known as NFPA codes or standards; they set guidelines for everything from where you should place smoke detectors to what types of handles should be on your stove to whether they’re propped up against oven mitts when they’re not in use.

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Disadvantages of Codes Overstandards

Codes are often strict, which can be frustrating if you want to use products or materials that don’t meet their standards. Codes may also restrict your ability to add amenities to your homes, such as a screened-in porch or garage. In addition, many codes cover only certain aspects of construction—such as energy efficiency—and you’ll have to look elsewhere for details on topics like accessibility features for people with disabilities and air quality standards for new homes.

Sample Standard Example

The International Plumbing Code (IPC) is a model code published by The International Code Council that establishes minimum regulations for plumbing installations. Although it’s not mandatory to follow its provisions, they are a useful benchmark for many professionals who work in building construction, remodeling, and other similar fields.

Comparison Chart Between Code and Standard

Code Standard
Generally accepted guidelines or an ideal set of rules to be followed is called a code. A detailed series of experiments and elaboration to follow the codes is called standard.
Enabled by law Not enabled by law
Mode of Action
What to do How to do
Cannot be standard Can be a code in business contracts
Abstract Meaning
Possess abstract meanings Does not possess abstract meanings
As a system As a mechanism
Acceptance by the Member States
Required Not required
A program Program’s instructions
Systematic collection of laws or statues The act of controlling and directing according to codes
International Building Code, AWS D1.1, Vessel Code, ASME Boiler, etc. ISO standard, Ex ASME 31.3


Codes and standards are both important, as they provide guidelines for safe practices and save lives by providing valuable information on how to avoid dangerous situations. It’s important to familiarize yourself with both codes and standards if you work in any industry that deals with physical spaces or products; however, it’s easy to get caught up in focusing on one over another.