Building Codes – Hot Topics in 2003

Nov. 21, 2003
Building codes and the regulation of construction in the commercial real estate industry have been hot topics among real estate professionals in 2003. Recent events have focused attention on the development of these regulations at all levels – national, state, and local – and there is a keen interest in the potential for changes to these regulations as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the anthrax contamination in Washington, D.C., and the recent tragic fires in Rhode Island and Chicago.The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International has provided strong and effective representation for the commercial real estate industry in this arena for many years. Activities of the International Code Council (ICC) are of particular interest to BOMA members because the ICC publishes a series of national model codes that are the basis for building regulations adopted by the vast majority of states and cities throughout the United States. ICC has ongoing code development activities each year that result in new code editions every three years.BOMA International policy supports the adoption and implementation of the ICC International Codes – the only coordinated and integrated set of model building codes for the built environment – as a means of achieving more consistent, and more reasonable, regulation of the commercial real estate industry.Recently, the 2003 ICC Code Development Hearings were held in Nashville, TN, with debates on over 1,600 code change proposals before 16 code development committees. BOMA identified approximately 50 code change proposals of critical significance to commercial real estate and testified on behalf of our industry during the hearings in Nashville. As a result, the ICC committees concurred with BOMA’s position on 47 of those proposals. Here is a snapshot of some of the issues raised in specific proposals to change the ICC codes:International Existing Building Code (IEBC)The original intent of this code was that it would become the base code for all work in all existing buildings. However, the first edition of the IEBC met with stiff opposition resulting in references to the IEBC in the International Building Code only as an option for repair, alteration, or change of occupancy in an existing building. Code change proposals for the IEBC dealt primarily with sprinkler retrofit issues such as the level of rehab or renovation that would trigger sprinkler installations and the exemption of tenant spaces outside a rehab work area. BOMA worked hard to ensure that “supplemental” code requirements triggered by larger alteration projects would not deter other, more common, alteration work from being undertaken, and the IEBC committee concurred with BOMA’s recommendations. International Building Code (IBC)Among the proposals to change the IBC of critical importance to BOMA were those dealing with smoke control systems, elevator lobbies, fire sprinklers, fire-resistant construction, “hardening” of high-rise structures, and emergency egress.Again this year, numerous proposals were submitted to require enclosures at elevator banks (or elevator lobbies) at each floor in commercial buildings. However, no significant changes were recommended for approval. A proposal to require much broader use of concrete or masonry instead of gypsum for wall construction was recommended for disapproval, along with another proposal requiring exit stair and elevator enclosures in buildings taller than 250 feet to be constructed of masonry, concrete, or other similar material. Proposals seeking to “harden” high-rise buildings by establishing higher fire-resistance requirements for buildings exceeding 420 feet in height were also recommended for disapproval in the face of minimal substantiation for the 420-foot criteria. Related proposals sought to require all exit stairs in high-rise buildings exceeding 20 stories to be at least six feet in width with four-foot-wide exit doors and were recommended for disapproval for similar reasons. International Fire Code (IFC)BOMA identified several critical proposals to change the IFC including those dealing with emergency evacuation, fire drills, annual inspections, sprinkler systems, and crowd control. The IFC committee agreed with BOMA’s position and recommended disapproval of proposals to mandate the evacuation of all occupants upon activation of the fire alarm and verifying that all occupants are out and accounted for. BOMA and other experts argued that this proposal runs counter to practices that continue to be recommended by the fire service and could put more lives in danger. Another proposal sought to mandate annual inspections by an architect or engineer of all fire-rated assemblies such as floor trusses with applied fireproofing. This proposal was recommended for disapproval, with the committee noting that the code already requires maintenance of these systems. Also disapproved was a proposal to require a secondary water supply for fire protection systems in all high-rise buildings (the IFC currently mandates this for high-rise buildings in high seismic zones).A complete published “Report of the Public Hearings” is available and public comments on the initial committee recommendations from the Nashville hearings are due in January 2004. “Final Action Consideration” on these proposals will be held next May in Overland Park, KS. Further information and forms for filing comments can also be found online from the ICC at ( A more detailed description of the 2003 ICC code change proposals impacting commercial real estate can be obtained by contacting the BOMA International Advocacy Division at (

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