1651075415473 B 0110 Boma Ronburton

Code Hearings Highlight New Challenges

Dec. 22, 2009

Fire protection and occupant egress are among the provisions that could become more stringent

The International Code Council (ICC) held the first round of code development hearings this fall to determine the content of the next edition of ICC model codes. During 16 days of nonstop hearings, BOMA’s code advocacy team was largely successful in representing the interests of commercial real estate despite the growing influence of powerful groups lobbying for fundamental and costly shifts in this country’s building regulations.

However, the influence of special interest groups and the federal government at this year’s hearings was especially evident. This shift presents unique challenges to BOMA in its commitment to maintain safe, achievable, and affordable building regulations.

Posing the greatest challenges are increasingly stringent measures targeting fire protection, occupant egress, structural integrity, energy efficiency, and green building. Of greater concern to commercial real estate professionals is the unprecedented emphasis on retroactive implementation of many proposed changes in existing buildings.

Members of the fire service and their lobbying teams have been joined by groups representing products and services poised to reap significant market advantages from major new fire protection provisions. These measures include more stringent fire ratings favoring masonry construction; blast-resistant stair and elevator shafts; reintroduction of mandatory fire extinguishers; added smoke detection systems; mandatory retrofit of building electrical systems installed as late as 2003; fire sprinklers/standpipes and added structural measures for green roofs; expansion of emergency responder radio frequency capability in existing buildings; and smoke control doors on all elevators.

More than 2,000 representatives from the fire service were brought to the hearings to influence the decisions on select proposals. While the participation of any group or individual impacted by the model codes is encouraged, the influx of any large special interest group could result in control over any hearing actions. Not only is this counter to the intent of the code development process, it renders futile any efforts by competing interests to receive a fair hearing on their views, and it poses a serious threat to the development of private sector codes and standards.

DOE’s Push for Energy Efficiency
Energy and environmental groups with stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have teamed with DOE and the ever-present product interest groups to push for significant increases in energy efficiency and the introduction of green/sustainable building provisions. DOE’s goal of reaching 30-percent savings over the 2006 energy code has now been realized with the approval of the majority of DOE’s major proposals this year. While BOMA supported many DOE proposals, other proposals – including those that negatively impact existing building retrofits, tenant fit-out projects, upgrades to HVAC and lighting, and window and door replacement – earned BOMA’s opposition, as well as that of many groups representing those who must pay for these measures. Proposed new provisions would require automatic lighting control on all circuits, extensive building commissioning prior to occupancy, the addition of an appendix including a “stretch” code far beyond International Energy Conservation Code requirements, and mandatory on-site renewable energy to satisfy 5 percent of building energy use for new buildings and existing buildings undergoing major renovations.

Ron Burton,
Vice President,
Codes, Standards, & Regulatory Affairs,

While BOMA positions were sustained on the majority of critical structural and occupant egress code change proposals this year, the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) and its industry allies continue to push for adoption of extensive changes to these provisions in the ICC codes. Most of the troublesome proposals were developed from the NIST report on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, some of these proposals go far beyond what is reasonable to include in minimum baseline model codes.

Furthermore, NIST has refused repeated requests from BOMA and other groups for the cost/benefit analysis normally required for changes to federal rules. Not only are there no details of possible benefits, the costs to implement the more stringent measures are unknown, and it is impossible to assess the impact on the hundreds of industries and millions of Americans that will be asked to pay for these changes.

The current code development cycle concludes in 2010 with final action hearings in May and October. BOMA continues to work with its coalition partners and those with opposing views to reach compromises on many of the most troubling issues. Importantly, DOE and its allies have agreed to work with BOMA before the October hearings to resolve its concerns with the commercial building energy proposals.

Regardless of the outcome of the proposed changes, the code development process has undergone a fundamental shift. BOMA’s challenge now is to find effective ways to continue to make its voice heard.

Ron Burton is vice president of codes, standards, & regulatory affairs with BOMA International. He can be reached at [email protected].

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