Adopting the 2015 Codes

Recently you may have heard that the ‘powers that be’ here in NH considered the adoption of the latest edition of the family of ICC building codes, that’s the 2015 editions. The last time we moved forward to new editions of the code was in 2010, when the 2009 versions were adopted, along with several amendments.

The process for adopting the 2015 codes now resides with a vote of the State Legislature; the New Hampshire Building Code Review Board (NHBCRB) which had been charged with this task in the past is now only in an advisory role. Discussion and public hearings on the idea have been going on over the past year, shepherded by the NHBCRB (17 professionals involved in various capacities in the building industry). This resulted in a recommendation from the NHBCRB to adopt the 2015 codes. The AIA Board of Directors also recommended moving forward with the 2015 ICC codes.

After the NHBCRB sent their recommendation to the Legislature in the form of House Bill 1282, The New Hampshire Home Builders Association requested nine amendments to the International Residential Code (IRC), seven of which were later accepted by the NHBCRB. These proposed amendments would have a two year window to be ratified. The Home Builder’s Association hoped to incorporate them into the codes during the legislative process.

On March 9 the State Legislature, for a myriad of reasons, decided in a vote of 307 to 49 NOT to adopt the 2015 ICC code editions at this time. The next likely time for their reconsideration of the issue will begin in January of 2017, as it would enter the committee process again in the next session of the legislature.

One of our important responsibilities as registered design professionals is to have knowledge and awareness of the issues regulated by the State Building Code and State Fire Code, as well as local codes mandated by the municipality in which our projects are located. The requirement to design buildings to meet or exceed minimum standards is one of the important responsibilities required of registered design professionals. It is one that requires them to be licensed by the States in which they practice their profession. (Yes, some building types such as one and two family residences under a certain size are not required to be designed by registered design professionals, unless deemed so by the local building code official.)

Most people acknowledge this need readily when it comes to building safety. Examples would be structural loading requirements, fire protection of building components, fire separations, the limits on building sizes for different uses for certain types of fire-rated construction, and means of egress requirements. As responsible adults we accept the need for a respectful balance of the rights of the community over those of the individual. Codes are about the responsibility part of the building industry.

As experienced Architects we know that building codes guide us in our choices in many ways as we design, and that is their intent. They also allow us to be inventive in our methods of meeting the intent of the code. Our experience and training can be brought to an issue to propose a reasonable performance alternative to meet the intent of the code where a prescriptive requirement seems inappropriate or too limiting. The code allows for this performance based approach. Yes, this requires approval from the local authority having jurisdiction (local building inspector and sometimes fire department). It requires knowledge, a rationale, and often calculations to go this route, but it is clearly provided for in the language of the building code. Prescriptive methods required by building codes are designed to make it easy or simpler to meet the code requirement by following the prescription, but when you feel there is something about the prescriptive language or method that doesn’t fit the overall requirements for a project, one can sometimes meet or exceed the overall requirements and intent with a more inventive solution.

Another example of this is the energy conservation code (IECC), where the intent is to design buildings that meet minimum standards for energy performance. The 2009 edition of the energy code (and subsequent editions) allows a performance-based approach based on a reference building, as well as a method for considering the total building envelope load, versus prescriptive requirements. These approaches enable us to use alternate methods for meeting the overall intent of the energy code, where we believe a particular prescriptive provision is not well suited to a project, or a part of a project.

I have always believed that we as Architects need to do our own building envelope calculations, or review our consultant’s calcs in significant detail. This allows us to thoroughly understand component energy losses and gains for the building envelopes we design, and completely specify. This part of the building is clearly the Architect’s scope, not our Mechanical consultant’s. Understanding the numbers in detail allows us to make the most responsible choices to meet or exceed the minimum performance requirements for our building envelopes.

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