NC Accessibility Code Update – Restrooms

For years, we’ve had the North Carolina Accessibility Code, a standalone volume of the Building Code devoted entirely to Accessibility.  However, as of January 1st, 2010, that volume is no longer valid.  What we now have is the 2009 NC Building Code with its Chapter 11 on Accessibility.  Chapter 11 references ICC/ANSI 117.1-03, American National Standard’s “Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.”

In addition to the North Carolina Building Code, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also in effect, but is not a “Code.”  It is civil rights law that is not enforced by the Inspections Departments, but rather through civil litigation.  The 2010 version of the ADA regulations was recently published in the Federal Register.  The new regulations go into effect on March 15, 2011, but won’t be mandatory until March 15, 2012.  A Summary/Commentary of the revisions is available online.  (Un)coincidentally, the new version of the ADA looks very similar to ICC/ANSI 117.1-03 in format and content.

There are LOTS of changes – some big, some small.  It will definitely be an adjustment, and will have far-reaching impacts, even on recently completed buildings that are already out of compliance with current code.

One such change involves single-user restrooms – “Unisex Restrooms” as they are mistakenly referred to on occasion.

A few things that may throw you for a loop (illustrations below are examples ONLY, many variations are possible):

  1. The lavatory (sink) can no longer overlap with clear floor space for water closet.  This one requirement alone is the single biggest reason why restrooms built one year ago will no longer comply with current Code.  In most cases, the lavatory encroaches on that floor space and will need to be moved (since it is usually easier to relocate a sink than it is a toilet).  This requirement will cause an increase in the width of the restroom (usually), at least in a typical fixture arrangement.
  2. The door is allowed to swing into the clear floor spaces and overlap the 60” turning circle, IF the toilet room is for individual use and 30”x48” clear floor space is provided beyond door swing.  This can actually save space within the restroom!
  3. Width of clear floor space for water closet has grown from 48” to 60”.  Alas, space must be added.
  4. More specific dimensions have been added to both grab bars, so there is no longer any advantage to moving either grab bar closer to its adjacent wall.  No space savings here.
  5. The water closet (toilet) centerline is now allowed to be anywhere from 16-18” from adjacent wall where it had to be 18” previously.  A generous tolerance is now specified, but don’t go over 18″!
  6. A 18” vertical grab bar has been added on the side wall above the 42″ grab bar to help aid the folks needing grab bars.
  7. The toilet tissue dispenser is now dimensioned from edge of water closet rather than rear wall, and more specific vertical dimensions added.

All of this has come about after 20+ years of additional study of accessibility requirements of the handicapped.  Turns out, the additional space besides the toilet (and the subsequent relocation of the sink) is absolutely necessary after studying how a wheelchair-bound person uses a restroom.  The old layout practically dictated that the person approach the toilet from the front, and transfer while turning his body 180-degrees.  This maneuver is extremely difficult for people with mobility handicaps or those that require assistance. However, by allowing the space for the wheelchair to “back in” beside the toilet, they can make the transfer much easier.

So, there is serious “method” to the code “madness.”

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