Washington, D.C. – The new building code being developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) cleared an important hurdle in its development process at the NFPA Annual Meeting held in mid-May in Minneapolis when the organization’s membership voted to approve the new code. Controversy over the development of this new code has been building since it was announced nearly two years ago.
In December 1994, the three regional model code organizations formed the International Code Council (ICC) with a goal of developing a single set of coordinated codes for the built environment. Utilizing more than 190 years of collective experience shared by its member organizations, the ICC accomplished what commercial real estate had been demanding for over 25 years – one single comprehensive, coordinated, and integrated set of model codes for the built environment. With the completion of the International Codes series in 2000, the existing National Codes, Uniform Codes, and Standard Codes previously published by the respective organizations that constitute the ICC ceased development in favor of their national successor.
War of the Words
When BOMA International endorsed the development of a single set of model building codes for the built environment, it was always expected that the NFPA and the ICC would partner in this effort. After several failed attempts to find common ground on this critical issue, NFPA quickly formed a partnership with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to develop its own family of codes, the NFPA Consensus Codes with an all-new code as the centerpiece of this duplicative code set – the NFPA Building Code (NFPA 5000). With this announcement, both NFPA and ICC began to aggressively push for adoption of their respective documents.
Without any cooperation between the two largest players in model code development, the nation faces the likelihood of a “patchwork quilt” system of model codes. Consequently, this unacceptable situation creates the need for numerous local and state amendments or interpretations, and thus reduces the level of consistency that could be achieved by the use of one, coordinated package of codes. It is clear that commercial real estate will be best served by a proven set of codes that are ready for adoption across the country – the International Codes.
NFPA Developmental Flaws
As an active participant in the development of the NFPA Building Code, BOMA International has concerns with both the development process and the content of the document. It is clear that the development of this draft code was rushed – in fact, this code was scheduled for only 18 months of development, as opposed to the International Building Code (IBC), which took three years to develop – and there was an abundance of participation on the NFPA technical committees by special interest groups.
Technical Concerns with the NFPA Building Code
As written, all existing buildings that are not in accordance with the code’s new construction provisions are deemed to be “fire hazards…[which] are declared to be public nuisances and shall be demolished and removed from the premises concerned or shall be made safe and sanitary in a manner acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction.” It appears that upon adoption of the NFPA code, the starting point for negotiations with the local building official will be, “How much do I need to do to not have to tear down my building?”
NFPA 5000 takes a much broader approach to regulating compliance than the International Codes. Other strenuous requirements of the NFPA Building Code include requirements that will increase the width of exit stairs in most high-rise buildings over 12 stories high by more than 12 inches; mandatory enclosed elevator lobbies in all high-rise buildings; and “quality assurance” measures that will require an owner to retain the design structural engineer and design civil engineer for construction observation services. In a surprise move during the final deliberations on the building code, a proposal mandating sprinkler protection in all one- and two-family homes was also approved.
At press time, BOMA anticipates that the NFPA Building Code will be given final approval by the NFPA Standards Council in July, although a large number of appeals have been filed by industry groups. BOMA has formally asked for an extension of time to file appeals. Unless delayed by successful appeals, the code will be published by early fall.
With the impending issuance of NFPA 5000, commercial real estate will find itself in the middle of the battle for code supremacy. To prevent any possible confusion, BOMA International policy now encourages the industry to oppose any efforts to adopt NFPA 5000 at the federal, state, and local levels. Industry is encouraged to proactively work directly with legislative and regulatory officials responsible for code adoption and express desire for adoption of the International Code Council’s set of coordinated and integrated model codes.
For more information, please visit BOMA International’s Building Codes and Voluntary Standards Resource Center at (www.boma.org/codes.htm) and the International Code Adoption Resource Library™ at (www.boma.org/icarl).