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Here comes the new commercial building code

Steve Klessig is vice president of architecture and engineering at Keller Inc., Kaukauna.

Steve Klessig is vice president of architecture and engineering at Keller Inc., Kaukauna.

Whether we’re ready or not, the 2015 International Building Code is nearly upon us. All indications are the effective date will be June 1.

This has been a long time coming. The Commercial Building Code Council was asked by Gov. Scott Walker to work with the Department of Safety and Professional Service to review the 2015 International Building Code so that it could become Wisconsin’s new building code. We are now working under the 2009 IBC.

The Commercial Building Code Council started its work back in December 2015. We met once every two months the following year.  The council is made up of people affiliated with industry, engineering, architecture, the mechanical trades, building inspections, fire service and the construction trades, as well as employees of the Department of Safety and Professional Services.  I was privileged to serve.

The council methodically went through every chapter of the new code and debated the merits of each proposed change. It should be stated that the council is advisory to the DSPS.  The members of the group worked very hard to respect each other’s opinions. We were charged with considering the economic effects of our decisions, which could come into conflict with our goal of maintaining the highest degree of safety. Some debates could not be settled and additional information needed to be collected. At times we needed a simple majority to rule.

One of the topics that was debated heavily was the current exception to the code for the use of smoke and heat vents.  These exceptions are called “Wisconsinisms.”  The particular Wisconsinism at issue here prevents building owners from having to provide smoke and heat vents. These devices are very expensive, and they have a tendency to interfere with the proper operation of sprinkler systems. Fire-protection officials wanted to eliminate the Wisconsinism because they believed that the new code adequately dealt with sprinkler operations by making the use of vents a manual operation by the fire department and not an automatic vent opening. This didn’t deal with the economic effects of this provision. We are still waiting to see how this provision will end up in the final draft.

Elsewhere, the state avoided, in my opinion, a big catastrophe with the defeat of a requirement calling for special inspections. Some wanted every project to not only be inspected by an architect or engineer of record but also by an independent inspector. All of this before the local and state inspectors could do their jobs. We calculated that this would have cost the owner of an average project $16,000. Happily, people saw the folly in this bureaucratic mess.

As you can see, the council has been instrumental in helping the industry avoid overly onerous building codes. I have only touched on a few of many examples. The council has helped the state establish a reasonable building code that reaches a delicate balance between the safety of its citizens and keeping construction costs affordable for the owners who employ those citizens.

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