The Top 3 Code Milestones of 2012

Feb. 21, 2013
How the upcoming model codes impact you, your tenants, and your pocketbook.

More than 1,500 changes to the International Code Council's 2015 model codes were proposed at the organization's annual conference in Portland, OR, last November, many of which promised to impact the commercial real estate industry significantly.

Safe, achievable, and cost-effective codes are the goal for these annual hearings, but the growing influence of powerful product manufacturers and special interest industry groups means that code hearings require strong participation by building professionals.

That's why a coalition representing building owners, real estate professionals, and construction groups focused on three key topics that could most impact commercial building professionals:

  • Coordinating ICC codes with the 2010 ADA standards
  • Including added advantages for sprinkler system installation instead of using more costly passive fire protection measures
  • Defeating onerous and costly proposals introduced by narrow industry groups

The progress made in Portland results in billions of dollars in savings for commercial real estate to the tune of $3.50 per square foot for existing buildings throughout the country.

1) Universal ADA Compliance
The 2010 ADA standards, which went into effect on March 15, 2012, are now required for all new commercial construction and most renovations to existing properties. An ongoing effort by BOMA to develop and implement these regulations resulted in the approval of a group of proposals defining new requirements within ICC's codes.

Those codes, which are routinely adopted by state and local governments, will result in more universal ADA compliance and added accessibility for persons with disabilities in new and existing buildings.

2) Streamlined Sprinkler Revisions
Voting members at the conference approved multiple proposals to accommodate the benefits of sprinkler systems into rewritten sections of the International Building Code.

These revisions include new tables that eliminate the need to separately calculate sprinkler incentives, making it easier to determine allowable building height and area. These changes result in potentially significant design and construction cost savings for building professionals.

Voters also defeated a costly proposal to require sprinklered properties up to 75 feet high to construct elevator lobby enclosures on all floors. This change would have forced unnecessary and expensive mandates on new and existing buildings alike, with a cost estimated at roughly $3 per square foot for a 10-story building housing 100,000 square feet. At an average of $30,000 to install all the necessary elevator lobby components on every floor, that prototype building ends up with a $300,000 bill.

Other onerous fire protection proposals – such as mandatory installation of fire-protected doors in existing buildings adjacent to new construction projects and the elimination of unenclosed stairs in business and retail spaces – met a similar fate, preventing costly code compliance mandates.PageBreak

3) Conflict Resolution and Cost Savings

Remote Voting Offers Easier, More Affordable Option

Facing pressure for members to cut back on travel and time off work, ICC's Board of Directors has a new solution for persistent participation issues.

The problem:
Local and state building, fire, and other regulatory officials are currently underrepresented in the ICC voting process due to increasing emphasis on reducing travel, limiting time away from work, and demands to streamline operations. Participation among these governmental voting members has declined steadily since the ICC family of codes was first published in 2000. Involving this group, especially in balloting on modifications to future model codes, has historically been one of ICC's biggest challenges.

The solution:
During the Portland conference, ICC's Board of Directors approved far-reaching recommendations by its Code Development Process Steering Committee. Among them was remote balloting, starting with proposals for the 2015 edition of the International Green Construction Code. This option will become available in 2014 following hearings for the new proposals.

The effect:
These process changes, which will be added to the annual code development process after their 2014 debut, will dramatically alter the opportunities that commercial real estate and other industry groups have to influence future code content as more local building and fire officials will be able to participate.

Larger ICC member jurisdictions, such as states or major cities, are allowed up to 12 votes for each code regulatory agency. If a city has four code enforcement agencies – such as a building department, fire department, zoning agency, and environmental agency – that city or state ends up with 48 votes.

Few jurisdictions currently have more than three or four voting members at code hearings, but remote voting potentially results in another 44 votes – and that's for just one of approximately 30,000 jurisdictions in the U.S. The new challenge facing advocacy groups is how to reach remote voters who, by definition, won't be physically present at the hearings and thus won't be available for face-to-face discussion.

However, a planned suite of new tools on the horizon will soon help encourage more aggressive code advocacy programs for local and state-level commercial real estate professionals. Look for these in the near future – and prepare to get involved.

One major debate at last year's conference revolved around a proposal to mandate firefighter breathing air replenishment systems in every new high-rise building, plus a mandatory retrofit in existing high-rise buildings.

The idea was well-intended – firefighters could refill their air bottles in the building instead of heading back out to the truck. However, the proposal failed to account for the wide variation in pump pressure and other features that differ between manufacturers, so a replenishment system that works for one local fire department may not work for firefighters from a neighboring town who show up to assist.

The solution? A code appendix negotiated by BOMA and the National Multi Housing Council with system manufacturer and fire service proponents. The provisions in this appendix, which will be proposed in 2013, will allow local jurisdictions to choose whether or not to require these systems.

Additionally, the ICC board of directors opted to head off potential conflicts between the International Building Code and the International Existing Building Code. Currently, the IEBC includes the same provisions as Chapter 34 of the IBC, so the entire chapter was deleted in favor of a reference to the Existing Building Code to prevent future conflicts.

The conference also saw the defeat of a host of damaging proposals not included in the $3.50 per square foot calculation, including:

  • Water leak detection systems on all plumbing fixtures and water lines in new and existing buildings
  • Floor drain systems in all bathrooms and kitchen areas
  • Recirculation pumps for all hot water piping over 50 feet in length
  • Mandatory installation of tornado shelters in new and existing buildings located in wind map areas greater than 115 mph, a proposal that could add up to a staggering $2.50 per square foot to the compliance costs of buildings in tornado-prone areas
  • Required radon-reducing measures in buildings located in EPA-designated high radon probability areas

The next two code hurdles on the horizon will come in 2013 and 2014 with final hearings on 10 more revisions. The 15 ICC model codes are divided into three groups, each having a different timetable within the organization's three-year publication cycle. The Portland conference heralded final votes on the five Group A codes.

Group B, which will be heard later this year, includes updates to codes from energy conservation to zoning, while Group C (heard in 2014) focuses exclusively on the International Green Construction Code. After the final Group C votes in 2014, all 15 revisions will be published and become available for state and local adoption.

Ron Burton is president of PTW Advisors, LLC and the former vice president of codes, standards, and regulatory affairs for BOMA International.

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