Most individuals, when approaching their first construction project, are vaguely familiar with building codes, otherwise known as building controls or building regulations. They are the rules that dictate how buildings should be constructed, what materials can be used, and how those materials should be implemented in the construction. Building codes also address issues outside of structural integrity such as fire resistance, fire prevention and control, sanitation, water supply, safe exits, lighting, ventilation, and energy conversation. 

Building codes are considered a double-edged sword by many commercial property owners. On the one hand, it can be expensive and time-consuming to comply with building codes. On the other hand, building codes are designed to safeguard the health and safety of all occupants in the building. 

Knowledge of building codes is an essential factor when choosing a commercial contractor for your next construction project. An experienced commercial construction company will have intimate knowledge of building codes that will ensure your construction job goes smoothly without costly setbacks. Building designers also use these codes during the design process. Your commercial construction contractor will submit your building’s construction plans to your local building department before construction begins. The building department will subsequently issue permits for the inhabitance of the building, and inspectors will verify compliance to these standards during development. 

Types of Commercial Building Codes

All fifty states and the District of Columbia follow the International Building Code (IBC) as a national standard. These are subdivided into the International Commercial Code (ICC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). Furthermore, each state has its own adopted fire and building construction safety codes and standards. 

Commercial Building Codes – More Details

Commercial building codes aren’t just a set of rules designed to keep you safe while inside a new or existing building. Building regulations also ensure the structural integrity of buildings during natural disasters, protect local tax bases, and ensure continuity of essential services. Generally speaking, building codes outline the minimum standards for a building to safeguard health, safety, and general welfare.

The thing about building codes: there’s a ton of them, and many can be somewhat confusing. On top of that, additional codes with more specific requirements apply to places of business. If you’re preparing for a commercial construction project, here are the top 15 commercial building codes that you need to know.   

1. Means of Egress

The means of egress building code governs the number of exits a commercial building must have, as well as the minimum width of aisles, hallways, doorways, and other means of leaving a building. You’ll want to ensure that your building has been designed with the proper sizing and dimensions to conform to the means of egress building codes in your area. 

2. Plumbing Notching or Boring of Framing

Plumbing systems are an integral part of your commercial building. For this reason, ICC building codes dictate the allowable sizes and locations for holes and cuts into studs needed to make room for plumbing in your building. These commercial building codes help to ensure the structural integrity of walls in your establishments by not allowing too many pieces of your framing to be removed to make room for pipes.

3. Mechanical/Fuel Gas System Duct Insulation

One of the most missed commercial building codes involves the proper duct insulation for mechanical/fuel gas systems. This commercial building code comes from the International Mechanical Code (IMC), which establishes the minimum requirements for the mechanical systems in your building. Ductwork, especially that which is used for a kitchen hood ventilation, needs the proper outside covering to protect it from corrosion, exposure to outside air, or vibration.

4. Electrical Grounding/Bonding 

Having all power transmission and distribution systems grounded and bonded provides personnel safety, reduces the risk of shock and flash injury, and minimizes power interruptions. You’ll want to make sure that your contractor uses an approved method of grounding for the building codes that apply to your project. 

5. Labeling of Circuits

The NEC, or National Electric Code, is one of the building code systems that your electrical contractor will follow. One of the easiest to perform, yet often overlooked, is the labeling of circuits. The NEW 408.4(A) from the NEC states that “every circuit and circuit modification shall be legibly identified as to its clear, evident, and specific purposes or use.” Thus, this is an important final checklist item for your commercial contractor to have in place. 

6. Air Sealing of Penetrations (electrical, ducts, venting)

The proper sealing of penetrations from electrical, plumbing, HVAC ducts, and vents relates to the energy codes needed for commercial buildings. Any penetrations, whether leading internally or externally, should be sealed using approved material to ensure air cannot pass through the openings. 

7. Ledger Connections to Building

Commercial building with an exterior deck is regulated by building codes that explain an adequate ledger connection to the rest of the building. The ledger (the part that connects deck and exterior of the building) must be correctly bolted or lagged to a band joist. This connection is of vital importance as it keeps your deck from collapsing. 

8. Fire Blocking

Fire blocking is another vital area where many buildings fail inspection. Fire blocking is used to prevent the spread of fire through the concealed, open cavities in your building. This is a critical fire safety building code, as, without the proper fire blocking, a fire can use these areas as a chimney, making any fires significantly more dangerous and damaging. 

9. Flashing

Having flashing improperly installed on chimneys, wood decks, roofs, and doors is another area where code violations are common. Improperly installed or absent window flashing attributes to over half of all flashing code violations. Installation of flashing keeps your building dry and durable, preventing water intrusion and moisture damage. The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) outlines the proper materials, thickness, installation temperature, and expected UV exposure for flashing. 

10. Erosion Control

Building codes involving erosion control ensure that a stormwater pollution prevention plan is in place and that erosion and sediment control measures are installed on all sites to prevent erosion from impacting adjacent properties and drainage systems. 

11. Downspout/Drainage Controls

Section 1503 of the IBC states that all commercial roof decks should have a roof drainage system. This section of the building code also dictates when and where secondary or emergency overflow roof drains should be installed.

12. Reinforcement or Support of Rebar

Building codes state that reinforcement should be secured in the proper location in the forms of tie wire or a rebar support system to ensure the structural integrity of the concrete. 

13. Roofing Underlayment

Chapter 15 of the IBC outlines roof assemblies and rooftop structures for commercial buildings. Where roofing underlayment (the layer of protection between your deck and insulation) is concerned, the IBC refers to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for specifications of felt used in roofing and waterproofing. These standards address material characteristics and physical property requirements of roofing underlayment. 

14. Handrail Height or Spacing

Having the proper handrail and guard railing height and spacing is another frequent commercial building code violation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) applies to all areas that are not accessible to the public and states that handrails must have a minimum clearance of 2.25 inches from other objects, be between 30in-38in, and can withstand at least 200 pounds of load. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) have further requirements for the correct height and spacing of handrails and guard rails that your contractor and/or designer should know and be able to explain to you. 

15. Stair Rise and Run

The IBC states that stair raiser heights should be a maximum of 7in (178 mm) and a minimum of 4in (102 mm). It also states that stair treads and risers shall be of uniform size and shape and that winder treads shouldn’t be used in egress stairways of commercial buildings except for curved or spiral stairways. 

Tennessee Commercial Construction 

If building codes are not followed precisely, it means that your commercial building will not pass inspection, meaning you’ll have to modify your construction and then have the inspector return for a follow-up inspection. Code violations typically arise from a contractor’s lack of code knowledge, cost-cutting shortcuts, or a lack of coordination between different trades (example: a plumbing contractor damages a framing contractor’s work). 

At Nella Constructors, we avoid building code violations through our formal means of communication with subcontractors and by holding them accountable for their work. We have over 100 years of commercial construction experience with a focus on quality work and communication. Contact us online or by calling (865) 471-1015 today for more information about starting your next building project.