2009 INTERNATIONAL BUILDING CODES
The International Code Council (ICC) completed work on the 2009 editions of the ICC codes last month in Minneapolis. Thanks to NMHC/NAA’s efforts, a wide variety of proposed changes that would have dramatically increased construction costs for apartment firms were rejected. Changes to the 2009 codes were considered in two code cycles. This Building Codes Update summarizes changes approved and rejected as part of the 2007/2008 cycle.
Changes for Low-Rise Properties (Four Stories or Less)
These properties, which include the typical four-story wood-frame property and pedestal buildings 60 feet or less in height, represent 87 percent of apartment construction and are a top priority for NMHC/NAA’s building codes initiatives. They are also the buildings that receive the most proposals for code changes every year. This year, NMHC/NAA embarked on an even more aggressive effort to fend off adverse proposals by hiring fire protection engineers/building code consultants Marshall Klein and Jeff Shapiro to help educate local code officials and to support our position at code hearings.
While NMHC/NAA have extensive data to support our positions in the code debates, it is still difficult to get the local building and fire officials who vote on the changes to understand the potential impact of their votes on the apartment sector. With the support of our consultants, we were able to reach out to those local officials and effectively make our case as well as to expand our lobbying efforts at the national hearings. As a result, NMHC/NAA successfully defeated all of the proposed changes to this class of apartment. As in past years, proposals were submitted to: (1) remove sprinkler design options; (2) increase fire ratings; (3) lower allowable building height limits; (4) lower the number of permitted stories; (5) reduce allowable building areas; (6) increase exterior wall fire ratings; (7) revise building separation requirements; (8) add requirements for areas of refuge; (9) add elevator lobbies; (10) limit the use of NFPA 13R sprinkler systems (and thus require the more expensive NFPA 13 system); and (11) add additional requirements for fire dampers.
Our efforts worked. We overcame a proposal to reduce the number of permitted stories for non-protected construction types IIB and IIIB. Separate changes were submitted for each occupancy type, and all were all approved except for the one addressing residential occupancies. NMHC/NAA also restored provisions to the code that exempt apartments from requirements related to fire alarms and manual fire alarm boxes; these were removed during the previous code cycle.
As expected, energy efficiency emerged as a hot topic during the code cycle, and officials considered many onerous proposals, including one that would have imposed a blanket 30-percent increase above current code and another that would have increased code stringency by 50 percent over average building performance (as measured by Department of Energy data). These changes were successfully defeated and others were mitigated to lessen their impact. We also helped defeat a proposal to require full building air-leakage testing in multifamily construction.
The biggest change for apartments is a new provision requiring 50 percent of permanently installed interior light fixtures in dwelling units and common areas be fitted with high-efficiency (compact fluorescent) lightbulbs. Other changes include:
- Limits on lights for exterior walks and building entrances.
- Adjustments to the allowable window U-values and Solar Heat Gain Coefficients (SHGC) in Zones 1-4. Although these changes limit the choices builders have currently, they should eventually reduce construction costs as new technologies are introduced into the market.
- Adjustments to wall insulation levels so the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is more in-line with requirements in the ASHRAE 90.1, Energy-Efficient Design of New Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.
Apartments were spared from new requirements for duct insulation, leaking and inspection, provided the ducts are within the conditioned space. Apartments with pools will also need to check the new requirements for heating and drain covers. Other changes address procedures and requirements for total building performance calculations and procedures for closer inspection of energy performance issues during the building construction process.
ICC members considered a number of changes recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) based on its investigation into the WorldTradeCenter’s collapse. The NIST recommendations have been controversial for the past few years because many are advocated by politicians who are under pressure to “do something” even though they do not fully understand the consequences of their proposals. As a member of the ICC Code Technology Committee (CTC), NMHC/NAA have been able to modify many of the initial proposals to exempt apartments or limit their impact on apartment construction. Fortunately, the timing of the ICC hearings, coming on the heels of the political conventions, severely restricted the participation of federal representatives.
When the final votes were taken, most of the approved NIST-proposed changes apply only to buildings over 420 feet tall, or less than one percent of apartment construction, and some of the more onerous provisions for super high-rises were modified to exclude apartments (such as the new requirement that high-rise properties include extra stairways or a special occupant evacuation elevator and luminous markings of exit paths). The major changes that were adopted pertain to fire protection in steel-framed buildings, exempting the more typical concrete-framed properties constructed in the multifamily sector. Specific changes are detailed below.
If emergency radio coverage exists in the community, but local radio coverage does not penetrate the building, the code will require the installation of emergency responder radio communications in all new and existing buildings. Local fire departments can require this even if the building already has a hard-wired system. The original proposal would have required the radio transmitting systems in all buildings, regardless of occupancy type or size, even if the local community did not have an emergency radio system. Fire service personnel have assured NMHC/NAA that the change, as modified, will not affect wood frame construction since the local service should penetrate the building. It could, however, affect buildings with concrete or steel frames.
New Requirements for Buildings Over 420 Feet Tall:
- Increased exit stairway width: Apartments are generally not affected since stair width is controlled by minimum width requirements versus occupant load.
- Hardened exit stairway and elevator shaft enclosures: Affects all occupancies in buildings taller than 420 feet. Concrete or masonry shaft walls are assumed to comply. The original proposal was modified and now allows certain types of drywall and other materials; the original version would have only permitted reinforced concrete or masonry exit stairway and elevator shaft enclosures.
- Exit stairways must be separated by at least 30 feet or one-quarter of the building’s diagonal, whichever is less. The distance to be measured is a straight line between the nearest points of the stairway enclosure.
- There must be at least two sprinkler water supply risers in separate riser shafts, with each riser to supply sprinklers on alternate floors.
- The fire rating of structural components and structural assemblies was increased by one hour.
- The bonding strength of sprayed fireproofing applied to steel structural members was increased seven times over current code, with special provisions for installation and testing.
New Requirement for Buildings Over 120 Feet Tall:
- A special fire service access elevator is now required. The elevator can be one of the regular elevators with additional requirements.
New Requirements for Buildings Over 75 Feet Tall:
- The bonding strength of sprayed fireproofing applied to steel structural members was increased three times over current code, with special provisions for installation and testing.
- Increase the area of the Fire Command from 96 square feet to 200 square feet.
2009 INTERNATIONAL RESIDENTIAL CODE
Apartment developers that also build townhouses should note a change advanced by AvalonBay and approved for the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) that requires townhouses to be sprinklered with the NFPA 13D system or a system designed to the specific provisions contained within the IRC. With the installation of such a sprinkler system, the two-hour firewall between units can be reduced to one hour. According to AvalonBay’s testimony, the cost of the sprinkler system is offset by the reduction in the cost of the firewall. Firms should note, however, that four-story townhouses are covered by the International Building Code, not the IRC, and must have the NFPA 13R sprinkler system.
For more information on this Building Codes Update, please contact NMHC's Vice President of Building Codes, Ron Nickson, at 202/974-2327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.