What To Know About The New Ohio Building Code

Building Codes change from time to time, and as a professional designer it’s part of my job to keep current with the changes. At the start of November 2017, Ohio’s new building code went into effect. Let’s take a look at what some of the more significant changes are; might these have an impact on your construction project?

Some of the changes are simply in how the code is organized, which may cause consternation to those of us who are accustomed to finding information in certain places, but it doesn’t inherently alter the code’s requirements for a project. As an example, prior building codes had some definitions of terms included in the first section of each applicable chapter, but the 2017 OBC has all definitions given in Chapter 2. This means that paragraph and table references have changed in many cases.

Another example is that the allowable building heights and area that used to be given in a single Table 503 is now given in three separate tables (504.2, 504.3, and 504.4), one table each for allowable height in feet, allowable number of stories, and allowable area. The values in the new tables include an accounting for increases due to sprinklering, whereas the prior code just gave a formula for sprinkler increases. The values in the new tables are the same as what would be calculated under the prior code.

More impactful changes include differences in the types of building uses or occupancies, found in Chapters 3 and 4. Assembly A-2 has expanded by the addition of “Casino Gaming Area” to its category, and “Commercial Food Service” has been clarified such that, depending on size, it may be considered as either B (Business) or F-1. Religious-use classrooms no longer need to be an E (Educational) occupancy, provided they are designed for less than 100 occupants. Even more significantly, Institutional care facilities must now be assigned to Condition 1 or Condition 2, which refers to the occupants’ abilities to egress with or without assistance. Condition 1 will impose less strict requirements since the occupants do not need assistance. The declared Condition will have an impact on some accessibility requirements, such as the required mix of Type A and Type B dwelling units.

The structural independence of a fire wall is something that we have provided in the past by doubling-up a rated wall, such that structure on one side of the wall is tied to (or bearing on) one complete rated wall, while the structure on the other side is tied to another separate rated wall. This approach was based on an inference from the way previous codes were written; the 2017 OBC sanctions this approach specifically. The new code also includes other concessions that should make required fire ratings easier to achieve in actual practice.

The code now favors the provision of Emergency Voice Alarm Communication Systems (EVACs) in several ways, such as requiring it in a Group E occupancy with more than 100 occupants, as well as making it a factor in the determination of minimum egress component sizing. Two-way communication system is required at each bank of elevators. Remoteness of exits is now defined, allowing travel distance measurement to be made to any point on a given doorway; the conventional interpretation of measuring to centerline was not actually found in the previous code.

There are two items of special significance that should be mentioned. First, the new code mandates that, in an existing building containing dwelling units where the renovations are governed by Chapter 34, if more than 50% of the building area is renovated, then all of the dwelling units will have to be brought up to the standards for a Type B dwelling unit. In the previous building code, there was a blanket exception for existing buildings, in that Type B units simply did not have to be provided. This may cause renovations to take on a greater scope than might have been anticipated.

Second, the new code includes an allowance for “Temporary Door Locking Devices”, which are generally a form of barricade that can be used to secure a door in lieu of locking hardware. The State Legislature approved these in response to the terror of school shootings. However, at present there are no broadly-accepted standards for manufacture or operation of these devices, and their deployment may compromise egress safety. Conventional classroom lockset hardware is sufficient and preferable.

There are many other small ways in which the building code has changed, which your designer should be aware of. It should be noted that the 2017 OBC did not adopt certain other standards which may still be in development. As an example, ICC / ANSI A117.1-17 is not adopted, but it contains different dimensional requirements for accessibility, such as a 67” diameter for a clear turn circle, in lieu of 60”. This means there may be more changes yet to come, and design professionals will need to stay alert.

-Michael Rountree