Spottlight - September 2016

Building Safety

Safety in building construction traces to the Code of Hammurabi around 1750 BC, offering rather straightforward dis-incentives of re-work or death. A mere six rules pertained to damages due a builder for his failure to properly construct a home. Building and natural catastrophes like the Great Fire of London (1666), the Great Fire of Chicago (1871), 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and more recent Hurricane Sandy led to voluminous developments to identify risks, create consistent standards, and changes to reflect new materials and methods.

The International Code Council’s (ICC) 2015 International Building Code contains slightly less than 700 pages; 35 chapters and 13 appendices, with the singular focus of providing a model for minimum acceptable safety standards to protect public health and welfare for every type of building occupancy. Modern codes go one step further and also provided minimum standards for sustainability related to energy consumption. And the IBC is just one of many standards and guidelines we work with in industrial, commercial, municipal projects. 

Inadequate Ventilation Design Impacts Air Quality

Since man began using indoor fires for heating, ventilation of indoor air has existed, and still today the primary source of indoor air quality issues result from inadequate ventilation. Contemporary building contaminants, including VOCs and synthetic fibers from building and furnishing materials; microbial, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, radon, asbestos, etc. can trigger discomfort, illness, allergic reactions, and temperature and humidity both impact concentrations of certain contaminants. In broad terms, ventilation design involves natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation, or local exhaust. 

Electrical Engineering Issues Supporting Building Safety

Opportunities for electrical faults and associated health risks to workers exist throughout industrial, municipal, and institutional facilities, with electrical distribution equipment and large equipment associated with manufacturing, process systems, research, HVAC, and central utility plants. The IBC by reference to the NEC (National Electrical Code) and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) dictates that an electrical system be evaluated for Arc Flash hazards and that equipment be appropriately labeled according to the protection required.

Hazards associated with electricity is a serious workplace hazard; The Electric Power Research Institute  (EPRI) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have very good videos describing research into arc flash and stories by those affected by incidents.

Maintaining Building Safety While Modifying Footprint and Function

The average building life cycle of non-residential structures extends many, many years. In fact, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2012 report, Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, “commercial buildings remain in use for many decades. Although about 12% of commercial buildings (comprising 14% of commercial floor space) were built since 2003, the commercial building stock is still fairly old, with about half of all buildings constructed before 1980; the median age of buildings in 2012 was 32 years.” It’s also true that within a short period of time, buildings become functionally unsuitable, or that facilities constructed for one product or purpose evolves to serve another. 

Regulatory Updates:

Tax Code: Section 179-D - Energy-Efficient Commercial Building Deduction

National BIM Guide for Owners Now Available for Public Review