Breaking a centuries-old tradition, the first single coordinated set of national model building codes and State of California amendments is scheduled to be published this July 4th.
The International Building Code (IBC), developed by the International Code Council (ICC), along with state amendments, will be adopted on projects submitted into local building departments on or after January 1, 2008.
The IBC is not just another set of codes; it’s a historic achievement. Since the early 1900s, our country’s system of building regulations has been based on codes from three different groups. The East Coast and the Midwest used codes developed by BOCAI*, the Southeast used codes from SBCCI†, and the West Coast has used the Uniform Building Code (UBC) developed by ICBO‡. Consolidation was long overdue.
“The IBC represents a completely different set of code changes,” says Dennis Richardson, former Chief Building Official for San Jose and now Vice President of Construction Code Compliance for Bureau Veritas North America Inc. in Pleasanton, CA.
“The good news is that since others have adopted it first, most of the bugs have been worked out.” California is the 49th state to adopt it; Hawaii was the last hold out but they too will be adopting the IBC soon. “The bad news is that we’re still enforcing the 1997 UBC so along with the state amendments, it will be a major transition,” says Richardson.
The new code obviously means lots of changes but some will be greeted more positively than others. The following are some key new terms and definitions in the IBC.
- Fire Wall, Fire Barrier, and Fire Partition – These new terms are explained along with their applicability. Smoke dampers no longer apply in occupancy separations.
- Incidental Use Area – This is an undefined term but applies where a building or portion contains two or more occupancies or uses.
- Assembly Occupancy – This is now defined by the type of occupancy rather than the number of occupants.
- Non-Separated Uses – Some occupancies that used to be formally “separated” by rated construction are no longer required to have separations between them.
- Common Path of Egress Travel – A new term that applies to all occupancies and takes the place of other restrictions in the UBC.
The Good News
On the positive side of things, there are several areas in the IBC that are less restrictive than in the past. For example, more reliance on sprinklers gives architects and designers more freedom.
- In fully-sprinklered buildings, the IBC will allow the separation of exits to be reduced to 1/3 of the diagonal of the room or space rather than the more restrictive 1/2 of the diagonal. This helps building owners and tenants with irregularly shaped buildings and corner tenant suites.
- In most occupancies, only one exit is required for spaces with 50 occupants or fewer. Under current UBC requirements, two exits are required when the occupant load exceeds 30 for an office space. This also provides building owners and tenants with relief when faced with challenging tenant space configurations.
- Again in office buildings that are fully sprinklered, the “dead-end rule” has been modified to allow up to 50-foot dead-end corridors or hallways in lieu of the current 20-foot restriction.
The Not-So-Good News
The following areas are considered more restrictive than in the previous UBC code:
- Exit travel distances are more restrictive in the IBC. This should not impact existing buildings that are fully sprinklered, but it could create problems for building owners with older non-sprinklered buildings or buildings with very large floor plates.
- Disabled access for areas of refuge now has new requirements, which means widening out stairwells or rooms adjacent to stairwells. This should not impact existing multi-story office buildings but will impact new building design and buildings undergoing major retrofits.
- The allowable area requirements are more restrictive in the IBC for many one story buildings, which will be challenging when occupancy changes occur. For example, in a large commercial strip mall, if one tenant wants to change from a mercantile use to a restaurant use, it will be problematic if the building is over the maximum allowable area.
Optimizing Code Changes
While the IBC code changes are extensive, there are several advantages in terms of design and flexibility. Reel Grobman and Associates is well-versed in every aspect of current and impending building code changes and is supported by strong, long-standing municipal relationships. Communicating with clients and building officials is key to interpreting and optimizing the net effect of the new code requirements for each project.
* Building Officials Code Administrators International
† Southern Building Code Conference International
‡ International Conference of Building Officials