New A.D.A. Guidelines Now in Effect!

The U.S. Justice Department’s New A.D.A. (Americans with Disabilities Act) Guidelines went into effect March 15th.  The revised guidelines are the first major revision to the guidelines originally issued in 1990.  The regulations apply to the activities of state and local government and places of public accommodation, including stores, restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, museums, sporting arenas, movie theaters, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, hotels, jails and prisons, polling places, and emergency preparedness shelters.

Although the new guidelines are “in effect.” they are not mandatory until March 15, 2012.  So, you might be under the impression that you have some time before you need to worry about this.  WRONG.

These Guidelines effectively mirror ICC/ANSI 117.1-03, American National Standard’s “Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.”  The ICC/ANSI standard is already referenced and mandatory per the 2009 version of the North Carolina Building Code.

In addition to the new Guidelines, the Justice Department is also releasing a new document, “ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business,” which is intended to help small businesses understand the new and updated accessibility requirements.  What is a small business required to do?  The document is available on the DOJ’s ADA website, .

According to the document:

“The ADA requires that small businesses remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable” to do so. Readily achievable means “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense.” This requirement is based on the size and resources of a business.  So, businesses with more resources are expected to remove more barriers than businesses with fewer resources.”

What does that mean?  If you have barriers to access, you must remove them.  And, the more money a business has, the greater the expectation to remove those barriers.

The ADA regulations recommend the following priorities for barrier removal:

  1. Providing access to your business from public sidewalks, parking areas, and public transportation;
  2. Providing access to the goods and services your business offers;
  3. Providing access to public restrooms; and
  4. Removing barriers to other amenities offered to the public, such as drinking fountains.
To help ease the pain of small businesses that are attempting to comply with the ADA, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code includes a Disabled Access Credit (Section 44) for businesses with 30 or fewer full-time employees or with total revenues of $1 million or less in the previous tax year. Eligible expenses include the cost of undertaking barrier removal and alterations to improve accessibility.  Also, Section 190 of the IRS Code provides a tax deduction for businesses of all sizes for costs incurred for architectural barrier removal work in existing facilities or alterations, up to $15,000 per year.

Don’t wait until the mandatory effective date to start removing barriers.  It is already federal and state law for businesses to remove barriers to accessibility, and waiting merely increases your exposure to civil lawsuits.  Yes, you can be sued for denying access.  Have your facility assessed for architectural barrier removal today!

You can read more about the new guidelines at the USDOJ’s Website and

New NC Codes coming soon! (again!)

It seems like just yesterday that we had a new version of the Code to deal with.  Well, hold on to your butts, because here we go again.

After much squabbling amongst legislators, home builders, code officials, et al, we appear to finally have a set of approved Codes in North Carolina.

The 2012 NC Codes are based on the 2009 International Codes issued by the International Code Council.  Most volumes became effective (available to be used on voluntary basis) in September of 2011.  That means that they could have been used, but weren’t mandatory until 2012.

Effective Dates for the 2012 Codes and 2011 NC Electrical Code

NC Code Effective Date Mandatory Effective Date
2012 Building Code 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2011 Electrical 6/1/2012
2012 Fire 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2012 Fuel Gas 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2012 Mechanical 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2012 Plumbing 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2012 Administration 9/1/2011 6/1/2012
2012 Energy Conserv. 1/1/2012 3/1/2012
2012 Residential 1/1/2012 3/1/2012


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.”

New NC Code Now in Effect

Happy New Year!

With the passing of another New Years Day, those of us practicing in the “First in Flight” state are now wrestling with a new Code. Since July 1st, 2009, designers had the option of using the 2006 NC Codes or the 2009 version. As of January 1st, 2010, the 2006 version is “no more” and compliance with the 2009 NC Code is mandatory.

The good news is that a lot of the Code remains the same, including the overall concepts for uses, allowable area and height, egress, and others. However, some major changes have been incorporated.

In particular, required fire ratings between some occupancies have changed. For instance, the 2006 Code required a 2-hr fire barrier between Business and Mercantile (in certain situations). however, the 2009 version considers them equivalent risks and therefore requires no fire barrier between them. Yeah! For building owners, that can equate to a substantial savings in initial construction, and later if a retail client moves out and an insurance office moves in. Where demising wall upgrades would have been required just a few months ago, none may be required now.

Of course, it’s not all good news. Assembly-2 occupancies (restaurants and nightclubs) are still required to be sprinklered if occupied by 100 or more people. This is uniquely North Carolinian, and while rumors persist that it may be increased back to 300, it is still Code today.

Accessibility is one of the larger issues that has been adjusted in the new Code. The North Carolina Legislature amazingly voted to leave the IBC version of the Accessibility Code intact, and removed our homegrown Volume 1C version. So, we now refer to the Accessibility Code as “Chapter 11”.  Chapter 11 references the ANSI standard, A117.1-03.  In my opinion, this was a welcome move as our accessibility requirements are now in-line with national standards and consistent with laws in adjacent states. Consistency among jurisdictions is ALWAYS a good thing.

Some Accessibility items to be aware of include:

  • Single-user restrooms (one lavatory, one toilet) are required to be slightly larger than previously allowed.
  • Restroom grab bars count increased by one:  a new 18″ vertical grab bar is now required in addition to the previous two horizontal grabs.
  • Break Room sinks do not automatically require knee space underneath, although the height remains at 34″ which continues to eliminate conventional dishwashers (ADA dishwashers are available, but are typically not available off-the-shelf).
  • 20% rule is still in effect for existing buildings (see earlier post).
  • Many, many other minor tweaks and tugs.

Bottom line is that there is a new Code in effect for all projects in North Carolina.  Some rules have loosened, some tightened, but most have remained unchanged.

The 20% Rule

Did you know that if you want to renovate a portion of a building, you may be obligated (by the Building Code and Federal civil rights law) to upgrade your handicapped parking? Or, the drinking fountain? Or, the pay telephones? Or, ADD an elevator?

Truth is, as a building owner, you’ve been obligated to do so since 1990.

For those who don’t know, the “Americans with Disabilities Act” (A.D.A.) has been in effect since 1990. Most commercial and civic buildings are affected by this federal law in some form or another, but local governments had no jurisdiction to enforce A.D.A. regulations as A.D.A. is civil rights law.  The local building inspector had no authority to require provisions of A.D.A.  In 1999, however, the North Carolina Accessibility Code essentially incorporated the A.D.A. into its pages (with some exceptions), and made it North Carolina Law. As of July, 2009, the North Carolina Building Code replaced the NC Accessibility Code (Volume 1-C) which also includes a provision for upgrades.  These provisions are now being enforced locally. This is a subtle, yet important development.

Here’s why….

One lesser-known provision buried in this section is “Disproportionality.” When an Area of Primary Function (i.e. the dining room in a restaurant, the lobby in a bank, the retail area in a store, etc.) is renovated in an existing building, the Path of Travel to that area must be brought up to Code, unless the cost and scope of such alterations is Disproportionate to the cost of the Area of Primary Function renovation. And the level at which costs become disproportionate, is 20%.

An Example: You are remodeling a Conference Room and a few offices in a 3-story office building. The budget for this renovation is $100,000. That’s all you want to do. However, in front of the building, handicapped parking spaces exist, but without the wider van space. A ramp exists up to the front entrance, but doesn’t meet current Code. The restrooms have grab bars, but the stalls aren’t wide enough. The drinking fountain is not a high-low arrangement. There is no elevator.

As of July 2004 (and continuing under the current NC Building Code), you are obligated under NC law to remove those barriers up to a cost of 20% of $100,000, which is $20,000. So, you will be adding a van-accessible parking space and re-striping the parking lot. You will renovate the ramp and restrooms. You will replace the drinking fountain with a pair of fountains that meet Code. You will remove all barriers up to 20% of the original project cost.

Chances are, you won’t have to install the required elevator for the above example, since that cost would far exceed 20%, but if you come back next year and do another project, you’ll have to look at it again.

Of course, if no barriers exist, you are not required to do anything.