The International Code Council (ICC) recently held final hearings to determine the content of the 2012 editions of most of the ICC model codes. Hundreds of proposed modifications were debated, many with far-reaching impacts on commercial real estate. BOMA's code advocacy team was the first line of defense to preserve safe, achievable, and affordable building regulations against the growing influence of powerful groups lobbying for fundamental and costly shifts in building regulations.
ICC model codes, like the International Building Code (IBC), are adopted into building regulations by most state and local jurisdictions, as well as by federal agencies. This makes the stakes extremely high for commercial real estate, as many costly and unnecessary regulatory changes threaten to complicate emergence from poor economic conditions.
Proposals to increase the stringency and costs to provide mandatory fire protection, occupant egress, structural integrity, and plumbing and mechanical systems for new construction and existing buildings highlighted the hearings. Of even greater concern to BOMA is the unprecedented emphasis on retroactive implementation of many proposed changes in existing buildings.
The most sweeping changes proposed were for the International Fire Code and the fire safety requirements in the IBC. Many of these were approved as a result of the recent involvement of greater numbers of fire service representatives in the ICC code development process. They have become a major influence in the development of the ICC codes because of their ability to amass significantly more voting participants than the building officials who have traditionally dominated the ICC process. Not surprisingly, the involvement of groups representing products and services poised to reap significant market advantages from major new fire protection provisions has also skyrocketed in recent years.
Modifications that carry significant impacts for commercial real estate included:
- Mandatory automatic fire sprinklers and irrigation systems for roof gardens and vegetated roofs that qualify for green building credits.
- Posting of fire evacuation plans at main entries.
- Installation of two additional fire service elevators in newly constructed buildings.
- Prohibition of LP gas containers on roofs.
- Mandatory fire official notification when emergency alarm monitoring contracts expire.
- Required special inspections for penetrations in fire-rated wall and ceiling assemblies.
- Retrofit of fire extinguishers in buildings with automatic sprinkler systems.
- Defeat of a proposal to delete a list of minimum accessible features for any change of occupancy in an existing building – a list that exceeds the requirements in the ADA – and to subject this list to a 20-percent project cost limit.
Proposals giving fire officials veto over traffic calming devices, such as speed bumps, as well as control over local ordinances dealing with street width, were also approved.
BOMA was successful in keeping the following proposals out of the fire and building codes:
- Retroactive sprinkler installations in all existing high-rise buildings and any existing building containing upholstered furniture.
- Requirement from fire service authority regarding electrical system special inspections and retrofits in existing buildings.
- Smoke detection systems in HVAC ducts and ambulatory care facilities already fitted with sprinklers.
- Deletion of an exception for an extra stairway for buildings with tenant egress elevators.
- Deletion of additional tradeoffs for passive fire protection measures in buildings with automatic sprinklers.
- Significant reduction in the design distance between elevators and stairways in newly constructed buildings.
- Mandatory third-party elevator inspections for existing buildings.
- Installation of through penetrations for piping only by approved contractors.
- Mandatory smoke and draft controls for elevators.
In other actions, BOMA persuaded ICC voting members to disapprove proposals mandating accessible means of egress in excess of ADA requirements, requiring diaper changing stations in all toilet rooms with as few as two water closets, and installation of costly fire-retardant insulation on exposed pipes in toilet rooms. Proposals to require a significant increase in the number of required plumbing fixtures in small retail stores were disapproved; reductions in the number of required drinking water fountains, more reasonable emergency responder radio frequency coverage requirements, and allowing installation of gray water systems were all approved.
Another round of hearings to determine the outcome of proposals to modify the energy provisions in the International Energy Conservation Code will be held this October in Charlotte, NC. That will conclude the 2009-2010 ICC code development cycle and finalize the provisions in the 2012 ICC codes. BOMA and its allies in the real estate industry will continue the fight to maintain our system of developing the safest yet affordable building regulations for the built environment. B
Ron Burton is vice president of codes, standards, and regulatory affairs for BOMA International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.