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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 l.jpg

(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

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  • 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.)

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  • 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.

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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.

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  • 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

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

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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

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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

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Configuration: Code Sets…

  • Construction Classification (IBC Table 503), which establishes your options.

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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

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Fire-resistance: You Decide…

  • Construction Classification as just noted, as a function of intended configuration, using IBC Table 503

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Fire-resistance: Code Sets…

  • Minimum Fire-Resistance Ratings, measured in hours

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Fire-resistance: Code Sets…

  • And indirectly: Construction Assembly Options

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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

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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.

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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

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum number of exits

  • Minimum provided Areas of Refuge

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum distance between exits

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance to closest exit

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance to an exit choice (“common path”)

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum distance travelled past exit (“dead end”)

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Minimum width of exit path

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Egress: Code Sets…


  • Maximum encroachment on path

    • Door swings

    • Knobs

    • Handrails

    • Drinking Fountains

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Egress: Code Sets…

  • When within the stair

  • When transferring between stairs

  • When discharging from the exit

Enclosure of vertical exits

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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).

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Habitability: You decide…

  • Which program spaces fall into which habitability category. Is it…

    • Habitable

    • Occupiable

    • Subsidiary

    • Uninhabitable

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Habitability: Code Sets…

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Structural Capacity : Code Sets…

  • Minimum structural capacities (resistance to live load) based on intended use and (if relevant) massing

  • IBC Chapter 16

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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.

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Quality: You decide…

  • The materials from which to build, based both on design considerations and such code mandates as fire-resistance.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Getting Started

  • Use the Table of Contents to focus your research

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Now It’s Your Turn

Questions and Discussion