Building and Construction codes are tricky things. They can seem completely unnecessary and cumbersome or strangely inadequate, depending on your application. According to Wikipedia a building code is a “set of rules that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety for constructed objects”. In history, they were meant to be applied to buildings and non-building structures, in reference to materials and methods of construction. Now, codes have been expanded to include guidelines for such things as parking, canopies, signs, walkways etc.
As geographical and meteorological factors differ among regions, so do building codes. Structures in areas with a particularly high annual rate of rain will require much different codes than those in areas with a very dry climate. The same is true for regions that experience a lot of earthquakes. In 2000 the International Code Council (ICC) wrote a the International Building Code (IBC) to be used as a model building code around the world. It is designed to set guidelines for local governing bodies to build upon according to the specific needs of their region. Here in Australia we have the National Construction Code or NCC.
Building Occupancy Classifications
This topic covers how the structure will be utilized and what fire codes will need to be enforced. Group A (IBC) or NCC Class 5-9 is for the purpose of assembly, such as a church, stadium, theater or restaurant. Group B (IBC) or NCC Class 3 is for businesses, where services such as banking and medical practice take place. Group E (IBC) or NCC Class 9 is for educational structures such as schools and daycare’s. Group F (IBC) Class 7 is dedicated to factories where non-hazardous materials are manufactured. Group H (IBC) refers to structures being used for the manufacture of flammable or toxic materials. Group I (IBC) NCC Class 3 is for institutional buildings where the occupants need assistance in exiting the building, such as prisons and hospitals. Group M (IBC) or NCC Class 6 applies to mercantile structures that display and sell goods, such as grocery stores and gas stations. Group R or NCC Class 1 is for residential buildings where people sleep, not including institutions. Group S (IBC) or NCC Class 7 refers to storage facilities (except hazardous materials) such as warehouses and garages. Finally, Group U (IBC) or Class 10 is dedicated to utility structures and miscellaneous such as barns, towers and silos.
Building Heights and Areas
Building height can vary greatly, depending on the local laws and environmental restrictions. The outer building height may need to be restricted to allow for electrical towers, flight paths, city planning guidelines or earthquake risks. Interior building height usually relies upon rules for comfortable movement in the space or access to amenities, depending on the occupancy classification. Particularly in residential applications, the building code may restrict the amount of space between the structure and the property line. Variations from region to region are vast, but the IBC and NCC lays the groundwork for local government.
The rules for interior finishes will usually lie in the type of materials used and their impact on the user of the structure. For example, lead based paint will not be allowed. Particular minimum requirements may demand a Group I structure have better ventilation than perhaps a Group U structure. Group E buildings will most likely have more strict guidelines regarding finishes, such as adequate lighting and bathroom facilities.
Foundation, Wall and Roof Construction
Weather and seismology have a great deal of impact on the building code requirements of foundations, walls and roofs. Areas with more than average earthquake activity will need different methods of securing structures together and perhaps deeper foundations. Regions that experience a great deal of strong wind, hurricane or tropical storms will require more stringent building codes for roof construction. Particularly hot or cold climates require more comprehensive methods of insulation.
Fire Protection Systems
Fire prevention, protection and notification systems are needed no matter what area of the world one lives in. The type and complexity of sprinkler systems, and design of the structures (in terms of fire prevention and egress) will vary in degree depending on what classification the structure falls under. Obviously if the building is a Group A, the method of egress will correlate with the maximum occupancy. A Group H structures will focus on prevention, containment and extinguishing the fire.
This area of code is designed to encourage builders to use materials that support the integrity and life of the building. Eliminating the use of items with toxic emissions or that will easily fail under pressure is vital in maintaining the integrity of any structure. However there are certain specification that are designed to ensure a longer life for the building as well. For example the kind of wood used to building is important. Using pressure treated wood on a deck will mean a longer life of the deck. Copper wiring is a safer and more efficient material to use.
Elevators and Escalators
The installation of devices such as these have a whole different set of guidelines that are complicated, but vitally important to the user. Location of the elevator, the weight it bears and the safety of the passengers are strictly enforced. The same is true for escalators.
Existing buildings are not exempt from building codes, especially if the purpose is to bring the building to an acceptable level of safety. Adding to the structure, changing either the interior or exterior and moving electrical or plumbing does require a review of the local building code. Even the smallest changed may require particular actions or materials.
Means of Egress (the ability to exit the structure in the event of an emergency)
Means of egress is divided into three areas: the path of travel to the exit, the exit itself and the path to a safe area outside of the structure. Each component must be addressed in a specific manner and adhered to. The means of egress is also reliant upon what classification the structure falls under. A greater number of people in the building will require more exits. A structure classified as Group I will require an exit process that can be utilized by those who are limited in their physical movements.
Codes and Standards are in place for the protection of our properties and our lives.
Yours In Fire Safety