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Building codes are in place to keep occupants safe, especially in the event of a fire. In the United States, building codes are adopted at the state level, and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is responsible for seeing them through.
Infringing on a building code is a serious offense because it negatively impacts the life safety of everyone inside. That’s why a single violation can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. And resolving the issue may require renovations that cost even more.
But with so many building codes, it can be challenging to know when there’s an issue. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the most common building code violations and their solutions.
Whether you’re constructing a new building or renovating an existing one, having all your permits and documentation in order is essential. Otherwise, you risk lengthy plan review comments, significant design revisions, permitting delays, and cost overrun. Examples of critical documentation include:
Solution: Refer to your local building code official for guidance on what is required in your local jurisdiction.
Compartmentalization is one of the fundamental principles of fire protection. Fire and smoke-rated barriers and partitions are specified to prevent the movement of fire and smoke from one area of a building to another. Building and fire codes specify how each opening in fire/smoke-rated barriers must be protected. Any unprotected openings could allow for the passage of fire and smoke and undermine the objective of the building code.
Solution: It’s essential to have a fire protection engineer who can understand the space and help provide options for adequately protecting openings. UL Product iQ provides quick access to the UL Listed database of options for protecting openings in fire-rated construction.
To ensure the safety of all building occupants, all doors and exits must be clear at all times. That means no boxes or other obstructions in any hallway, stairwell, or doorway as these could threaten the lives of building occupants in the event of a fire.
Solution: Work with your building manager to ensure all pathways are unobstructed no matter the time of day. If you are making any modifications to the existing means of egress, it is important to consult with a fire protection engineer to ensure that adequate exit access is maintained.
Atrium smoke exhaust, stairwell pressurization and elevator pressurization smoke control systems alike all serve to maintain a tenable means of egress during a fire event. After these systems are initially installed and commissioned, they tend to get neglected and, over time, will not function as intended.
Both new and existing smoke control systems depend on proper design and installation to perform when needed most. Common issues include improper sequencing, inadequate fan sizing, missing smoke control panels, monitoring inconsistencies, and insufficient makeup air supply.
Solution: Have a licensed fire protection engineer perform CONTAM modeling or computational fire modeling through Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) and prepare a Smoke Control Rational Analysis to ensure a code-compliant smoke control system design.
Providing sufficient exits allows the occupants to quickly egress a building during a fire event. However, it is not always so simple to satisfy the prescriptive code for assembly spaces and other densely populated uses. For example, increasing the exit capacity on the 26th floor of an existing highrise building might mean providing a new stair, which is usually not feasible.
Solution: A performance-based design approach could employ the RSET v. ASET method to determine an alternative means of code compliance, resulting in a more useful building.
A fire pump helps to ensure that your building’s sprinkler system has the water it needs in case of a fire, and a fire riser is described as “a pipe or system of pipes through which water can flow, as for the operation of fire hoses on upper floors of a building.” Because these systems are essential to life safety, keeping their rooms free of debris is vital.
Solution: Don’t treat the rooms as storage closets or makeshift offices. And make sure there is clear access to the rooms so firefighters can access them if needed.
Firefighters connect their hoses to exterior fire department connections (FDC) and use a fire department hose connection on upper and remote floor levels to control the flow of water. Firefighters can't combat fires if these fire department connections and valves are blocked.
Solution: Work with your facility manager to ensure the fire department connections and valves are always free of debris. This means clearing any overgrown vegetation and keeping cars away from the area.
Fire extinguishers are effective for small fires. But if your extinguishers are missing from their cases or damaged, you can’t fight the fire effectively–or at all.
Solution: Hire a professional fire safety technician to periodically check that your fire extinguishers are in place and working properly.
Fire safety equipment is only useful if it works. Broken smoke detectors, fire alarms and pull stations negatively impact the life safety of all building occupants. Whether there are batteries missing or the equipment is simply obsolete, it’s important to get your fire safety equipment up and running so you can know when a fire starts at first flame.
Solution: Let a fire protection engineer review your fire safety equipment and check for any issues. If repairs or new installations are necessary, they can help.
Whether your building was previously renovated or you’re looking to make changes to the current structure, it’s essential to update the sprinkler system. Otherwise, you could be under protected, and the sprinklers won’t effectively protect your building or occupants in the event of a fire.
Solution: Choose a fire protection engineer to review your sprinkler system to ensure it meets the local fire codes. They can help you make informed decisions on sprinkler system improvements.
Sprinkler heads and pipes may seem like the perfect places to hang decorations for the yearly office party, but you should really reconsider. Doing so could accidentally set off the sprinkler system, and you will violate building codes in the process.
Solution: Inform everyone in your building that they can’t hang anything from the sprinkler heads or pipes. Many people are unaware of the risks, so it can help to let them know.
Building code violations are serious matters that should be avoided at all costs. By following building codes, you can improve the life safety of your occupants in the event of a fire and prevent fires entirely.