ICC code changes

Here are some key changes that will appear in the 2009 editions of the IBC and IFC.


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The membership of the International Code Council (ICC) met in Minneapolis Sept. 17-23, 2008, to consider and act on changes to the various codes developed by the ICC. Code changes that were approved during the meeting will be incorporated with the code changes that were approved during the supplement cycle into the 2009 edition of the ICC codes.

Following are some of the key changes that will appear in the 2009 editions of the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC). The designation in parentheses indicates the code change number from the 2007-2008 (07/08) code change cycle. Key changes acted on during the supplement cycle include 06/07 in the code change reference in parentheses.

Changes impacting egress

Egress width factors: The reduction in egress width determination for sprinklered buildings was eliminated. Egress width calculations will be the same for sprinklered and unsprinklered buildings. There was no substantiation for this change. This change will have a significant impact on egress requirements, particularly in high occupant load buildings. (E19)

Additional exit stairway: During the 06/07 code development cycle, a requirement for a third stairway was added for buildings of other than R-2 occupancy that are more than 420 ft in height. The stairway is required to be redundant and cannot be used to accommodate any occupant load. The requirement was added in response to the World Trade Center disaster. This was a controversial change, and there were numerous proposals to eliminate the requirement during the 07/08 code development cycle. (G71-06/07)

Occupant evacuation elevators: Provisions for design and use of elevators for evacuation have been added to the code. For buildings more than 420 ft in height, occupant evacuation elevators also will be allowed to take the place of the third redundant stairway. A number of design features addressing reliability and communication are required to be incorporated in order to use elevators for evacuation. (E14)

Travel distance through atriums: Arup Fire submitted a code change that was approved to clarify that the atrium travel distance limitations are applicable only to travel distance within the atrium space, and not to travel distance in spaces that may be open to the atrium but that don't require travel through the atrium to exit. (G75)

Dead end limits: Dead end limits for Group E, I-1, and U occupancies have been increased from 20 ft to 50 ft when sprinkler protected. (F209)

Single exit buildings: The code language and table allowing single exit buildings have been revised to clarify that the allowances apply to mixed occupancy buildings and that the criteria can be applied on a story-by-story basis. (E127)

Areas of refuge: The exceptions to the requirements for areas of refuge in fully sprinklered buildings were reinstated. The exceptions had been in the legacy codes to the IBC and were removed during the development of the 2006 edition of the IBC without any technical justification. (E25, E27, and E28-06/07)

Changes impacting high-rise building design

Remoteness of stair enclosures: A requirement was added to the code requiring that stair enclosures be a minimum of 30 ft or one-fourth the maximum diagonal dimension of the building or area served. This requirement is applicable only to high-rise buildings. (G61)

Fire service access elevator: During the 2007 supplement code development cycle, the requirements for the fire service access elevator were expanded. Prior to the supplement, in high-rise buildings, a single elevator was required to serve all floors. The code will require the elevator to open into a rated vestibule that also provides access to an exit enclosure. There also are requirements to enhance the robustness of the elevator. (G63-06/07)

Fire service elevator hoistway lighting: The hoistway for the fire service elevator required for high-rise buildings must be illuminated at not less than 1 foot candle for the entire height when firefighters' emergency operation is active. (G195)

Fire service elevator lobby: A minimum size of 150 sq ft with a minimum dimension of 8 ft will be required for lobbies that fire service elevators open into. (G197)

Bond strength of sprayed fire-resistive material (SFRM): The minimum bond strength for SFRM in buildings more than 420 ft in height will be 1,000 psf. This will have an impact on the cost of the material and installation. (G68-06/07)

Fire command center size: The IBC and IFC were modified to increase the minimum size of the fire command center from 96 sq ft to 200 sq ft with a minimum dimension of 10 ft. (F84)

Sprinkler system design for buildings more than 420 ft tall: Requirements have been added to the IBC and IFC requiring sprinkler systems in buildings more than 420 ft tall to have alternating floors supplied by different risers. This proposal was developed in response to the World Trade Center disaster. (G46)

Smoke removal for high-rise buildings: All high-rise buildings will be required to have natural or mechanical ventilation for removal of products of combustion. The alternatives include operable windows at a rate of 40 sq ft per 50 linear ft of perimeter, or mechanical ventilation at a rate of four air changes per hour. Glazed opening for ventilation may be fixed if they can be cleared by firefighters, and there are exceptions for Group R-1 and designs producing equivalent results. (G64)

Elevator shaft pressurization: The requirements for elevator shaft pressurization used in lieu of elevator lobbies were revised. The minimum and maximum pressure differentials to adjacent floor areas have been changed to 0.10 in. and 0.25 in., respectively. A rational analysis as would be required for smoke control systems also will be required for construction documents. (FS67)

Other requirements

Two-way communication at elevators: A requirement has been added for a two-way communications system at elevators that serve as part of the means of egress. (E34)

Crowd managers: The IFC will require trained crowd managers for facilities or events where more than 1,000 persons will congregate. Crowd managers are to be provided at a rate of 1 per 250 people. (F59)

Emergency responder radio coverage in buildings: Requirements for approved radio coverage within new and existing buildings will be added to the IBC and IFC. This requirement may include the incorporation of repeater systems within buildings for compliance. Exceptions will allow the authorities to accept wired systems on a case-by-case basis. (F87)

Inspection of passive fire protection: Requirements that the owner perform annual visual inspection of passive fire protection were added to the IFC. Concealed fire protection that is not easily accessible through removable panels, ceiling tiles, etc. is not required to be inspected. (F105)

Site fabricated stretch systems: A definition and requirements for site fabricated stretch systems used as interior finishes were added to the IFC. (F119)

Sprinklers in gymnasiums and arenas: The exception for sprinklers covering areas used exclusively for participant sports has been removed from the codes. The rationale for this change focused on the potential hazard of alternative uses of the space. The committee recommended disapproval of this proposal, but the membership overturned the committee. (F132)

Sprinklers in E occupancies: The maximum allowable area for an unsprinklered E occupancy (schools) was reduced from 20,000 sq ft to 12,000 sq ft. (F133)

Sprinklers in M occupancies: An exception was added to the requirements for M occupancies (mercantile) that will require sprinklers, regardless of area, when the use is for the display and sale of upholstered furniture. (F135)

Application of NFPA 13R: The IBC will be changed to recognize that NFPA 13R, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height,” can be used as the basis of design and installation of sprinklers in Group R occupancies (four stories or less in height) in buildings that contain other occupancies as well. The other occupancies would be required to have sprinkler protection designed and installed in accordance with NFPA 13. (F140)

Retroactive requirement for smoke detection: A requirement was added to the IFC that will require installation of an automatic smoke detection system in corridors of existing hotels and motels that are not sprinkler protected. (F176)

Fire suppression for aircraft hangars: A new table has been added to the IBC and IFC defining the type of hangar based on fire area and building construction type. The hangar classification is then used with NFPA 409 to define the protection required. (G25)

Luminous exit path markings: Following the requirement for luminous exit markings in exit enclosures of new high-rise buildings of Group A, B, E, I, M, and R-1 that was added in the 2007 supplement to the IBC, a requirement was added to the IFC for existing buildings of the same occupancies. (F211)

Construction requirements for existing buildings: A new chapter has been added to the IFC consolidating construction requirements for existing buildings. The chapter applies to existing buildings constructed prior to the adoption of the 2009 IFC. (F294)

Exterior curtain wall/floor intersection: IBC requirements were modified to require all perimeter fire barrier joint protection systems to be tested in accordance with ASTM E2307, “Standard Test Method for Determining Fire Resistance of Perimeter Fire Barrier Systems Using Intermediate Scale Multi-story Test Apparatus.” This removes the option of using more traditional methods to seal the opening between curtain walls and the slab edge. There was significant debate over the challenges this will cause, particularly since many custom curtain wall systems have not undergone testing. Where assemblies do not strictly comply with a tested assembly, an engineering review can be performed to evaluate the expected performance. These engineering judgments are subject to approval by the building code official. (FS110)

Definition of primary structural frame: The IBC has been modified to require that bracing members essential to the vertical stability of the primary structural frame under gravity loading are to be considered part of the primary structural frame whether or not the bracing member carries gravity loads. (FS113 and FS115)

Stair pressurization criteria: The criteria for stair pressurization has been revised. The minimum stair pressure differential to the adjacent floor has been reduced from 0.15 in. of water to 0.10 in. of water. The maximum pressure differential of 0.35 in. of water remains the same as current code. The change was made to reduce the complexity of implementing stair pressurization while recognizing full-scale tests that have been performed to justify the change. (FS171)

Atrium smoke control: Arup Fire submitted a code change that was approved to clarify the code intent regarding the treatment of spaces that are allowed to be open to the atrium. The current code language has been misinterpreted to require the volume of areas open to the atrium to be somehow included in the ventilation rate provided for the atrium. This philosophy had been carried over from the previous requirements to provide a specific number of air changes to exhaust atriums versus the current methods. (G74)

Multilevel housing in I-3 detention: A code change was approved to clarify the code intent regarding multilevel housing units in I-3 detention occupancies. The change addresses definitions, separations, and egress. (G86)

Maximum stories: The maximum number of stories for Group B, M, S-1, and S-2 occupancies in Type IIB and Type IIIB construction has been reduced. These changes were rejected during committee hearings. The committee recommendation was overturned by the voting membership without any loss history to justify the change. (G115, G117, G119, and G120)

Delayed egress locks in I-2 occupancies: An allowance for the use of delayed egress devices in I-2 occupancies where necessary to accommodate the clinical needs of the patients was added to the code. A number of conditions must be met in order to use delayed egress devices. (E51)

Special occupancies: The allowable occupancies within the podium of mixed construction type buildings permitted under Section 509 were expanded to allow residential uses. (G154-06/07)

Fire alarm system monitoring: A code change was made that will require most fire alarm systems to be monitored by an approved supervising station. This usually will require off-site monitoring unless the system complies with the requirements of NFPA 72 for proprietary systems. (FS163-06/07)

Author Information
Grill is principal with Arup Fire, where he focuses on fire protection engineering. He is a member of Consulting-Specifying Engineer's editorial advisory board.


The ICC codes are on an 18-month code development cycle. The deadline for submission of proposals for the 2009/2010 code development cycle is April 24, 2009. Proposals acted on in that cycle will be published as a supplement to the 2009 ICC Codes.

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