Builders Win Some, Lose Some in 16-Day Code Hearings
During 16 grueling days of hearings on subjects as diverse as energy efficiency, wall bracing, accessibility and fire sprinklers, the International Code Council recently took action on 2,345 proposed changes to its 13 construction codes.
The Final Action Hearings for these proposals are set for May and September of next year.
Staff members from NAHB’s Construction, Codes and Standards Department testified on more than 900 of the proposed changes at the ICC Code Development hearings, which were held in Baltimore on Oct. 24-Nov. 10.
NAHB was also represented by 20 members on 12 of the ICC Code Committees, including eight on the two committees overseeing changes to the International Residential Code (IRC).
These code committees make the initial decisions to approve or reject proposed changes after listening to the arguments presented at the public hearings. Their actions are critical to the final outcome on any given proposal.
Last June, NAHB submitted 54 proposals. Among these were proposals to add prescriptive provisions that would allow builders to achieve a 30% increase in energy efficiency over the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
Other NAHB proposals dealt with tradeoffs for construction methods and materials in the installation of a fire sprinkler system and with provisions related to wall bracing to resist wind and earthquakes.
Among changes that are of significant interest to NAHB members:
- Wind Loads. The IRC Building/Energy Committee approved a number of proposals that, if they receive final approval, should bring more logic to the construction of dwellings to resist wind and seismic loads. The committee unanimously approved new basic wind speed and earthquake ground motion maps that are based on the updated maps in ASCE 7.
Builders in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions would benefit from the new maps, which represent the latest science and modeling and reflect an improved understanding of hurricane and earthquake risks in the Eastern U.S.
- Hurricane-Prone Regions. In a related move, the committee approved an NAHB proposal to restore the original wind limits of the IRC in hurricane-prone regions. In the wake of the 2003 hurricane season, the limit had been reduced from 110 to 100 miles per hour, which safety officials now realize was an overreaction to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The approval was linked to passage of new provisions for roof uplift connections, the result of a rare collaborative effort involving NAHB, the insurance industry and the wood engineering community.
- Wall Bracing. In recognition of the excellent work done by NAHB and other members of the ICC Ad-Hoc Committee on Wall Bracing over the past three code cycles, the committee’s comprehensive reorganization and clarification of the wall bracing provisions were unanimously approved, along with the new simplified wall bracing method for one- and two-story houses in areas with low wind and seismic hazards.
- Decks. The IRC Committee rejected the proposed increase in design loads for residential decks. The committee agreed with NAHB that the increase was not technically justified and would not address the issues of durability or poor deck-to-house connections that are the cause of most deck failures.
The committee recognized the substantial improvement in deck construction represented by the deck ledger and lateral load connection requirements contained in the 2009 IRC.
- IRC Residential Energy (IRC). NAHB's “Home Builders’ 30% Solution” was one of seven proposals submitted to improve residential energy efficiency by 30% over the 2006 IECC — and the only proposal recommended by the IRC Building/Energy Code Committee for adoption in the next version of the code.
The NAHB proposal provides builders with more options for building energy-efficient homes in a cost-effective manner, allowing tradeoffs between appliances and the building envelope.
A proposal from the U.S. Department of Energy did not allow such tradeoffs when using the performance method. In addition, for builders using the prescriptive method, the DOE proposal would only allow a trade-off between more energy-efficient equipment and the air-tightness of the home.
Other proposals were submitted by interest groups, including the Northwest Energy Codes Group and Energy Efficient Codes Coalition.
Four proposals were submitted to completely eliminate the energy provisions of Chapter 11 of the IRC and substitute the International Energy Conservation Code in their place; one was approved.
NAHB opposed this proposal because it raises questions over which code committee has jurisdiction over the provisions in the IRC.
- International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). NAHB’s “Home Builders 30% Solution,” along with five similar proposals, was disapproved. However, a Department of Energy proposal identical to the one submitted and disapproved for the International Residential Code was approved for the International Energy Conservation Code. If the proposal is accepted next September at the Final Action Hearings, the IECC code provisions will differ significantly from those of the IRC.
- Other Proposals. Also approved were: a significant increase in prescriptive wall insulation levels in climate Zones 3 and 4 (to R-20) and in Zones 6 to 8 (to R-20+5); higher window U-values in nearly every climate zone (with slight changes in the North and more sizable reductions in the South); and increases for duct and whole house tightness.
All of these increases are very aggressive levels that will be tough to meet, NAHB testified.
Fire Safety — Multifamily
- Emergency Egress and Rescue Windows. NAHB was successful in obtaining approval of a code change that would exempt one- and two- family dwellings that are equipped with sprinklers and smoke alarms from the need for emergency egress and rescue windows.
- Floor Assembly Protection. A proposal representing an effort to reach a negotiated agreement among the fire service, manufacturers and NAHB on the need for certain floor assemblies to be protected by a one-half inch layer of drywall — such as those using engineered wood trusses — was disapproved. The proposal would have required a material already used throughout the house to be installed on the underside of floor assemblies in certain situations to provide firefighters with additional time when performing search and rescue operations and to reduce the risk of structural collapse.
- Visitability. A proposal submitted for both the IRC and the International Building Code to mandate visitability was disapproved. The code committees agreed with NAHB, recognizing that this provision would far exceed the scope of the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and realizing that topography, site design and compliance with flood zone requirements would severely restrict the implementation of the proposal.
- Accessibility. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the United States Access Board and others submitted proposals to expand the ADA and FHAct accessibility requirements beyond those required by federal law.
Of greatest concern was a proposal that would have required all existing multifamily buildings undergoing a renovation and existing buildings being converted to multifamily to comply with the FHAct. Current federal law only requires new multifamily buildings to comply. The committee approved a proposal that would impose FHAct requirements only in the case of the complete renovation of an existing building.
- Other Proposals. Also disapproved were: a proposal that would have required private homes with day care facilities to be fully accessible; provisions that would have expanded the accessibility requirements for trash chutes and mailboxes, requiring all mailboxes to be accessible; and a provision that would have required an accessible elevator to be installed not just in common areas but in individual multistory dwelling units.
- Sprinklers: In a seven to four vote, two NAHB proposals that would have moved the requirements for fire sprinkler systems in one- and two-family homes from the main body of the 2012 International Residential Code back to its appendix were disapproved.
- Property Maintenance. In any remodeling or renovation work in an existing home that requires a builder or remodeler to pull a building permit, the installation of carbon monoxide detectors would be required.
In addition, contractors who paint any dwelling built before 1978 must first obtain a certificate verifying the absence of lead-based paint. Without certification, the dwelling would be presumed to have lead-based paint and an EPA “certified contractor” would have to be used.
The committee also approved a proposal to require the installation of locking caps on all existing HVAC equipment when any service work is performed on a Freon system.
- Fuel Gas. Approved was a recommendation to remove an existing requirement to use only metal hangers in favor of reinstating the use of any hanger material, which was allowed in the previous edition of the code.
In all affected codes, the requirement to elevate flammable vapor ignition-resistant water heaters 18 inches above the floor was also recommended for removal.
- Plumbing. A proposal to eliminate air testing of drain, waste and vent (DWV) piping was disapproved, which would allow a commonly-used air test procedure to be continued.
- Mechanical. A proposal requiring “whole house ventilation” was approved. If this proposal is also accepted at the Final Action Hearings, a properly sized bath fan would meet this requirement.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.