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, www.ada.gov .

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 www.ada.gov.

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

 

Sprinkler Systems required soon for NC Single-Family Residences?

A tip:  Buy stock in sprinkler companies.

The International Building Codes are the model codes that North Carolina uses to produce its own set of Codes.  For instance, the 2009 NC Building Code is based entirely on the 2006 International Building Code.  (NC almost always adopts the previous version of the International Code 3 years after publishing.)

That means, come 2012, it’s a pretty good bet that North Carolina will be adopting the 2009 version of the International Residential Code.  Of course, NC will probably modify it with its own amendments (we have to make it our “own”).

One new requirement in the 2009 IRC that is getting much publicity in those states that are in the process of adopting the Code relates to fire sprinklers.  ALL townhouses constructed under the 2009 Code must have fire sprinkler systems installed in compliance with NFPA 13D. Single-family and Duplex dwellings will be required to have fire sprinkler systems beginning January 1, 2011.

In plain English:  Unless North Carolina adds an exception, ALL new single-family houses will be required to have a sprinkler system.  Once the new code is adopted in North Carolina in 2012 (assumed), you will be required to spend $4,000-8,000 for a sprinkler system for your new home.  You will also be required to maintain it (more $).

(Actually, exceptions to the sprinkler requirement for townhouses has already been proposed to the NC Building Code Council.  You can bet that exceptions will also be proposed for one and two-family residential structures as well.)

We’ll be watching this one very closely.

International Green Construction Code: Codified sustainability a good thing?

The International Code Council (ICC) has released the International Green Construction Code (IGCC).  Some jurisdictions are already adopting the IGCC for use.  Some folks are applauding it’s creation, while others are crying foul.  All hell is breaking loose!  (Well, that last one’s a bit of an overstatement.)

The ICC (the association responsible for developing the International Building Code, the code upon which the NC Building Code is based, as well as most of the other state building codes in the U.S.)  has now released the IGCC for public comment, and public comments are coming fast and furious.  However, I venture to guess that most Owners and Contractors, along with an embarrassingly large number of designers, are not even aware that this document exists!

For those that don’t, the IGCC is a Code, that is intended to be adopted by jurisdictions as mandatory (law), and is filled with both mandatory and voluntary language.  It is actually up to the jurisdiction enforcing the Code to decide what’s important and what’s not.

(That makes sense since what’s environmentally important elsewhere may not be as important in North Carolina.  For example, we’ve suffered through many recent droughts in North Carolina lately.  Water conservation may be something we’d be a bit more interested in than another state that has clean, fresh water coming out of their ears.)

A few highlights.  The IGCC:

  • Applies to New AND Existing buildings.
  • Is NOT a rating system (in contrast to LEED and other similar “checklist” systems.  Instead, it incorporates “electives” to allow designers and owners to pick and choose certain strategies while encouraging them to go “above and beyond” the minimum, stringent requirements of this Code.
  • Provides an opportunity for jurisdiction to specify enhanced building performance in many specific areas of local concern.
  • Is composed of mostly mandatory requirements, a number of which are set by the local jurisdiction.  LEED and other systems are mostly voluntary.
  • Should be formally available in 2012.

As released by the ICC, “This will be the first time code officials, owners and designers will have an integrated regulatory framework to put into practice that meets the foal of greening the construction and design of new and existing buildings, ” according to Code Council CEO Richard P. Weiland.  “Only a code that is useable, enforceable and adoptable will have the capability of impacting our built environment in dramatic ways.”

Obviously, this may be a disturbing event for some, but I welcome the codification of environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings.  Gasp!

First, take a deep breath and relax.  As far as North Carolina goes, it will be a few years before we see something similar here for private projects.  However, state and local municipalities are already requiring USGBC’s LEED certification for many public projects.  So, in essence, we already have a mandatory “Code” for certain projects.  I personally believe that the IGCC is a better avenue for sustainability than LEED (Quick aside:  While I consider this a well-intentioned act by our local governments to require LEED certification, I’m not quite sure requiring LEED compliance is the proper route to take given its added expense and other issues associated with this one program.  I suspect that will change in the near future as code requirements and other programs come on-line.)

For those against bigger government, and I count myself among you, consider the following…If it were not for codes, some buildings would still be built today with single-pane windows, minimal insulation, inaccessible restrooms, and too few fire exits.  The fact is, if left to the marketplace, building design would be unacceptable, discriminatory, and hazardous in many instances.  Codes were originally created, and have evolved over the years, out of necessity – out of an acknowledgement that the status quo sucked.

So too, in my opinion, is the reason for the inevitable adoption of a North Carolina Green Building Code, in one form or another……many years from now.  Just because a building owner or tenant can afford to waste massive amounts of energy and water doesn’t mean that they should.  In fact, it’s our duty to protect the environment from ourselves.

Suffice to say that a Green Building Code is not the end of the world.  It is, however, the only real way to effect change.

You can read more about the IGCC by going to http://www.iccsafe.org/cs/igcc/pages/default.aspx

Fire Protection Systems – Maintenance Requirements

(with help from David Whitney of Atlantec Engineers)

Fire protection systems are those things that can be easily forgotten until one of three things happen:

  • A false alarm sets off the system, causing irritation, disruption, etc.
  • A real alarm sounds notifying everyone to get out safely.
  • The fire marshal shows up unannounced to perform a routine inspection and asks to see the maintenance logs.  “Huh?!  What logs?”

Yes, Fire Protection Systems require maintenance and inspection so that building occupants are assured that the systems will function properly in the event of an emergency.  So, for the benefit of our building owners, tenants, and other interested folks, let’s review what systems require inspection and/or testing, what’s required, and how frequently it’s required:

Sprinkler system:  This particular fire protection system is required to be tested and inspected fairly frequently.  The National Fire Protection Association publishes “NFPA 25 Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.” This document recommends that control valves without electronic supervision be checked on a weekly basis, just to make sure that they are in the open position. Other system components have different requirements. Check with the NFPA 25 or the manufacturers’ literature for details.

Annually, a full sprinkler system inspection must be performed by a knowledgeable professional. This inspection includes visual inspection from the floor of all sprinkler heads, and testing of the main valve assembly.  Some states and cities require more frequent inspections. Most sprinkler contractors offer economical, long-term service agreements, and can help keep you in full compliance with the local requirements.

Fire Alarm system:  NFPA 72 governs inspections and maintenance for Fire Alarm systems.  Again, a maintenance agreement with the fire alarm system monitoring agency will help keep you in compliance.  Batteries are required to be tested monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually depending on their type.  Pull stations, smoke detectors and other initiating devices (devices that are activated to send a fire signal back to the alarm panel) should be inspected semi-annually.  Notification devices (devices that alert occupants of an alarm, such as horns and strobes) should also be tested semi-annually.

Emergency lights, Exit signs:  NFPA 101 deals with Emergency lights and exit signs.  For the emergency lights, a functional test is required at 30-day intervals for not less than 30 seconds.  For exit signs, they must be visually inspected monthly to confirm that they are illuminated as required.  In addition, an annual test is required on ALL lights and exit signs to confirm battery-powered light source is operational for 90 minutes (minimum).  

Fire Extinguishers:  NFPA 10 addresses portable fire extinguishers.  A visual inspection is required every 30 days to make sure that they are accessible and nothing is obstructing access to them.  An annual maintenance inspection is required, and additional service may be required depending on the age of the extinguisher (all extinguishers are permanently stamped on the tank with a manufacturing date). 

Of course, all of this is subject to additional requirements of your local jurisdiction.

Suffice to say that:

  • Testing and maintenance requirements should not be overlooked as they are referenced by the Code and are, therefore, the LAW.
  • The requirements can be complicated.
  • Seek professional assistance to make sure you are in full compliance.

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.”

Green Building Code Coming? (gasp!)

As recently announced by the International Code Council, the International Green Construction Code is due to be released in March 2010.  (ICC is the association responsible for developing the International Building Code, the code upon which the NC Building Code is based, as well as most of the other state building codes in the U.S.)  As released by the ICC, “This will be the first time code officials, owners and designers will have an integrated regulatory framework to put into practice that meets the foal of greening the construction and design of new and existing buildings, ” according to Code Council CEO Richard P. Weiland.  “Only a code that is useable, enforceable and adoptable will have the capability of impacting our built environment in dramatic ways.”

This may be a disturbing event for some, but I welcome the codification of environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings.  Gasp!

Some of you reading this may be outraged at the prospect of being required to implement green construction techniques into your privately funded project…

  • “This is something that should be purely voluntary, not required by law.”
  • “Green is too expensive.  The government will be requiring me to pay more for my building.”
  • “More government is bad government.”
  • “”Green” is just a fad.  What happens when it dies and I’m stuck with it?”

First, take a deep breath and relax.  The IGCC has not even been published for public review yet, let alone adopted by any jurisdiction.  And, as far as North Carolina goes, it will be many years before we see something similar here for private projects.  However, state and local municipalities are already requiring USGBC’s LEED certification for many public projects.  So, in essence, we already have one.  (Quick aside:  While I consider this a well-intentioned act by our local governments to require LEED certification, I’m not quite sure requiring LEED compliance is the proper route to take given its added expense and other issues associated with this one program.  I suspect that will change in the near future as code requirements and other programs come on-line.)

California recently enacted their own green building code, dubbed “CalGreen.”  Effective, January 2011, it requires builders to install plumbing that cuts indoor water use by as much as 20 percent, to divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills to recycling, and to use low-pollutant paints, carpets, and floors. It also mandates inspection of energy systems to ensure that heaters, air conditioners, and other mechanical equipment are working efficiently.  Does that sound like a bad thing?  And, as is usually the case, trends start at the left coast and spread to the right coast.

For those against bigger government, and I count myself among you, consider the following…If it were not for codes, some buildings would still be built today with single-pane windows, minimal insulation, inaccessible restrooms, and too few fire exits.  The fact is, if left to the marketplace, building design would be unacceptable, discriminatory, and hazardous in many instances.  Codes were originally created, and have evolved over the years, out of necessity – out of an acknowledgement that the status quo sucked.

So too, in my opinion, is the reason for the inevitable adoption of a North Carolina Green Building Code, in one form or another……many years from now.  The real questions are what is “Green,” who’s the governing body, and how will it be enforced.  More to come on THAT….

Suffice to say that a green building code is not the end of the world.  It is, however, the only real way to effect change.