While there are a host of codes and standards that govern commercial buildings (ANSI, ASTM, ASCE, etc.) the document with arguably the greatest influence is the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC emanates from the International Code Council, which is also the originator of nearly a dozen other major specs (including the International Residential Code and the International Energy Conservation Code). But the real weight of the IBC comes from the fact that it’s used by all 50 states as the basis for their own Statewide Uniform Building Codes.
Consequently, each three-year revision to the IBC creates a ripple effect felt throughout the industry — a cycle that’s underway right now with the advent of the new 2012 edition. This new version brings significant implications for those who plan, construct, or maintain commercial buildings because of the emphasis given to occupant safety in many of its provisions.
One of the largest sets of changes in IBC 2012 pertains to fire protection, with a group of guidelines ranging from small details to major structural considerations. Among the new requirements:
- More widespread placement of smoke detectors in buildings operated by universities and colleges (potentially extending to utility rooms, laundry facilities, common areas, etc.).
- Construction sites must now begin to maintain a water supply for fire protection as soon as combustible material arrives on the job site.
- Buildings incorporating gas appliances must maintain carbon monoxide alarms.
- Automatic sprinkler systems must be installed in areas where mattresses and furniture are manufactured or stored.
- Certain high-rise buildings will be required to maintain two fire service elevators (one of the most substantial changes affecting metro-area commercial real estate).
The 2012 IBC also includes elements that recognize the role played by window integrity in occupant safety:
- Wind design requirements have been heavily modified, shifting wind load provisions for glass windows and doors to an “ultimate strength” design standard, as opposed to an “allowable strength” standard.
- Other substantial revisions relate to the proper utilization of fire-rated glass, as well as to the testing and placement of safety glass.
Significant attention also goes to factors that might affect the safe evacuation of a building, such as stairwell capacity, doorway dimensions, as well as the minimum number of exits from a floor. Property managers should recognize that some of the IBC accessibility requirements are now even more stringent than those of the Federal Housing Administration, and may come into play during renovations of existing structures.
In total, the 2012 IBC additions reflect lessons learned through changing technology, changing times, and even recent natural disasters; a close look will reveal guidelines to accommodate the increasing popularity of open-air malls and rooftop gardens. There’s even an appendix devoted to Tsunami-generated flood hazards.
Ultimately, IBC 2012 serves a reminder that there are countless details that contribute to the well-being of a building’s occupants.