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(Building) Code Assessment Drawing on the Experience of Others Barry D. Yatt, FAIA, CSI Arch 402/503 School of Architecture and Planning The Catholic University of America Why? In poorly designed buildings, people can get hurt .

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building code assessment

(Building) Code Assessment

Drawing on the Experience of Others

Barry D. Yatt, FAIA, CSI

Arch 402/503

School of Architecture and Planning

The Catholic University of America

  • In poorly designed buildings, people can get hurt.
  • People want assurance that the buildings they live in meet a minimum standard of quality.
  • Architects sometimes need a little help designing safe buildings. (Nobody is born with the knowledge and schools don’t provide enough exposure.)
  • Codes let designers decide what functionality and overall form they want.
  • Designers let codes set minimum performance levels to increase the chances that the design will be safe.

It's all about if/then relationships.

  • If you decide x…

…then the code will require y.

  • If you don’t like y…

…then you can change decision x.

  • Configuration (bldg size, compartmentation)
  • Fire-resistance (how long it lasts)
  • Egress (occupant count, path to safety)
  • Habitability (size, comfort, hygiene)
  • Accessibility (movement through bldg)
  • Structural Capacity (load handling)
  • Quality of Materials and Workmanship

Let’s look at these issues, one at a time

configuration you decide
Configuration: You Decide…
  • Use: “Use Groups” (IBC Chapter 3). Yes, you decide—the code just tells you what to call it.
  • Size: Area, height, number of stories
configuration you decide9
Configuration: You Decide…

And to a lesser degree…

  • Budget: To the degree that it permits use of more fire-resistant assemblies
  • Degree of Enclosure: Openness
configuration code sets
Configuration: Code Sets…
  • Construction Classification (IBC Table 503), which establishes your options.
configuration options
Configuration: Options
  • AFS: Automatic Fire Suppression. Doubles area, adds height.
  • Street Frontage: For Fire Dept access. Default is 25%
  • Compartmentation: Smaller compartments justify lower-rated assemblies
fire resistance you decide
Fire-resistance: You Decide…
  • Construction Classification as just noted, as a function of intended configuration, using IBC Table 503
fire resistance code sets
Fire-resistance: Code Sets…
  • Minimum Fire-Resistance Ratings, measured in hours
fire resistance code sets15
Fire-resistance: Code Sets…
  • And indirectly: Construction Assembly Options
fire resistance options
Fire-resistance: Options…
  • Wrap required assemblies in preferable coverings. For example, enclose Type V (heavy timber) in drywall.
  • Provide minimum clearances. For example, keep ceilings 20’ above floors)
  • Change Construction Classification, backing up a step to rethink your earlier decision
egress you decide
Egress: You decide…
  • Use, Arrangement and Sizes of Rooms. So, until there’s a design, one can’t proceed.
  • Occupancy count, as a function of room use and size.
egress you decide19
Egress: You decide…
  • Egress strategy. What method do you want to use to get occupants out?
    • 1 Direct Exits
    • 2 Horizontal Exits
    • 3 Vertical Exits
    • 4 Escapes
egress code sets
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum number of exits
  • Minimum provided Areas of Refuge
egress code sets21
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum distance between exits
egress code sets22
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance to closest exit
egress code sets23
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance to an exit choice (“common path”)
egress code sets24
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance travelled past exit (“dead end”)
egress code sets25
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum width of exit path
egress code sets26
Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum encroachment on path
    • Door swings
    • Knobs
    • Handrails
    • Drinking Fountains
egress code sets27
Egress: Code Sets…
  • When within the stair
  • When transferring between stairs
  • When discharging from the exit

Enclosure of vertical exits

egress options
Egress: Options
  • Design the exit path cleverly: use horizontal exits, exit passages, etc.
  • Use AFS (sprinklers)
  • Try using “timed exiting” (if the design is amenable to it and if you have access to sophisticated fire-modeling software).
habitability you decide
Habitability: You decide…
  • Which program spaces fall into which habitability category. Is it…
    • Habitable
    • Occupiable
    • Subsidiary
    • Uninhabitable
habitability options
Habitability: Options
  • Not much. These standards really are minimums. Be honest in applying them.
    • Don’t design a space with less than 5’ of headroom, then let it be counted as useable SF in the sales brochures.
    • Don’t design a bedroom in a space that has less than 4% of operable window.
  • This does have implications for affordable housing. It’s intended to.
accessibility you decide
Accessibility: You decide…
  • How program spaces are to be arranged, both vertically and horizontally
  • Where operable devices (doors, vending machines, paper towel dispensers, etc.) are to be located
accessibility code sets
Accessibility : Code Sets…
  • Maximum difficulty of getting to program spaces (can deny access but not participation)
    • Minimum widths for doors (32”/36”) and halls (42”/60”)
    • Maximum slopes (1:12) and distances between landings (30” rise) at ramps
  • Vertical placement of operable devices (buttons, pulls, etc.) for reach
accessibility code sets36
Accessibility : Code Sets…
  • Maximum difficulty of use
    • Grasping railings (1½” diameter, 1½” from wall)
    • Turning knobs and levers, grip-ability
    • Pushing doors open or closed
  • Minimum levels of dignity
    • No acceptable marginalization
    • Views past others
accessibility options
Accessibility : Options
  • Still very much a designer’s call. ADAAG and ANSI 117.1 provide some guidance.
  • Errors caught mostly by frustrated users rather than permit review process.
  • Enforced by lawsuit demanding compliance with ADA.
structural capacity you decide
Structural Capacity: You decide…
  • Program, which determines anticipated usage loads (libraries, warehouses, factories, etc).
  • Location, with its associated wind, rain, and seismic loads
  • Massing, which determines where…
    • snow buildup might occur
    • seismic loads might concentrate.
structural capacity code sets
Structural Capacity : Code Sets…
  • Minimum structural capacities (resistance to live load) based on intended use and (if relevant) massing
  • IBC Chapter 16
structural capacity options
Structural Capacity : Options

Options are often less needed since:

  • Codes mostly set minimum loads, not the way they are handled.
  • Requirements can usually be met without adversely affecting architecture.
  • The risk of failure is sufficient to discourage code avoidance.
quality you decide
Quality: You decide…
  • The materials from which to build, based both on design considerations and such code mandates as fire-resistance.
quality code sets
Quality : Code Sets…
  • Minimum standards for the manufacture and installation of those materials.
  • They usually do this by mandating standards written by other groups:
    • Publishers such as ANSI, ASTM
    • Trade associations that represent manufacturers such as BIA, AWI
    • Trade unions that represent installers
quality options
Quality : Options
  • Code mandates are minimums. It’s unlikely that avoiding them would carry substantive advantages.
  • Standards may not be available for some recently-developed materials. Without them, the materials may not be allowed. This can be frustrating, but there is usually no alternative.
the bottom line
The Bottom Line
  • Code officials want to protect the public. They understand that codes are only one way to increase predictability.
  • If you can demonstrate the safety of a non-compliant design (through testing, modeling, etc.), it’s quite possible that it will be approved.
communicating compliance
Communicating Compliance
  • Indicateapplied codes (full name [IBC, IPC, NFPA 101, ANSI 117.1], year).
  • Show occupancy count: Floor plans that show populations in each room, plus location, configuration and width of egress paths
  • Summarize: Issue - Required - Provided
getting started
Getting Started
  • Use the Table of Contents to focus your research
now it s your turn
Now It’s Your Turn

Questions and Discussion