Understanding Chapter 34
At JJCA, many of our projects involve modifying and expanding existing structures. As a result, we’ve acquired significant first-hand knowledge of the application of Chapter 34 of the International Building Code and its apparent successor, the International Existing Building Code (IEBC), which is becoming more and more recognized as a model code for addressing changes to existing buildings.
Existing buildings are very likely to contain elements that are no longer code-compliant but were compliant at the time they were constructed. Our ability to knowledgeably answer the age-old question “What do we need to bring up-to-code and what will be grandfathered?” is critical in helping us to have productive negotiations with code officials and effectively advise our clients.
We are often called upon by our clients to evaluate existing buildings that they desire to re-purpose or reuse. For instance, a client may be interested in buying an existing hospital or nursing home and converting it to a psychiatric hospital. Our knowledge of how the code handles these types of conversions is critical to the evaluation. Something as simple as an occupancy change can take a project from feasible to infeasible from a financial perspective.
The IEBC replaces/enhances Chapter 34 of the IBC and provides more detail for architects, engineers, and code officials in scoping what must be brought up-to-code during a renovation/expansion project. The IEBC expands Chapter 34′s three categories of work (alterations, additions, and repairs), which is considered the “Prescriptive Method”, adds the “Work Area Method”, and expands on the “Performance Compliance Method.”
Reducing the Gray
So when it comes to renovating a building what is the answer to the frequently asked question, “How far will we need to go to bring existing non-compliant items into compliance?” The simple rule of thumb is that “if you touch it, you fix it.” But for designers, code officials, and inspectors, this line can be blurred. One of the advantages of the IEBC, through the use of the Work Area Method, is that it provides greater definition – and provides a code-justified basis to fall back on – for answering the question of what is remediated and what is left alone. The IEBC allows the designer to pick a level of alteration that is occurring in an existing building, based on the percentage of the aggregate area of the building, then designates a specific chapter to that level and describes what elements of the building need to be brought into compliance and how.
Enhancing the Green
Our working knowledge of this new model code is a win/win for our clients and the environment. We can save our clients money by advising them on how to use their existing buildings in the most economical way possible while at the same time, providing a sustainable approach to re-using an existing structure.