Author Archive

2B or not IIB

October 15th, 2012

roman_numerals_2smWhat’s up with Roman Numerals in the International Building Code? Types of Construction (one through five) have been in Roman Numerals since the inception of the International Codes in 2000.  I have to ask…..Why? Is this their attempt to make the Code truly international?  Well if you have ever been to Rome, their building methods differ greatly from ours.  And although they use the metric system of weights and measure, they use regular numbers for those weights and measures.

Try composing a letter on your computer and talk about IB or IIIB construction. See what I mean, there is no top or bottom horizontal line on the I’s.  Is that 3 small “L” construction?

I know the Uniform Building Code used Roman numerals.  Did the International Conference of Building Officials negotiate away 4 hr exterior bearing walls just so they could keep the Roman Numerals?

Typical of the computer age, I Googled Roman Numerals to see what I could find on the subject. On the Math Forum site I found The Dr. Math Archives which stated three reasons why we use Roman Numerals:

roman soldier

  • to make writing look fancy (on clocks and official documents),
  • to make writing look old, and
  • to avoid confusion with ordinary numbers (in outlines and the introductions of books.)

Maybe they want you to think Types of Construction dates back to Hammurabi.  It could be they want it to look fancy. (I know I always get excited when talking about Types of Construction.)

My personal opinion is they should have followed through and made the code sections in Roman.  1008.1.8.6 Delayed Egress locks would be MVIII.I.VII.VI (I think).  This could be a new stimulus plan for the printing industry.

We do see Roman Numerals in some common things in America.  The Super Bowl for instance uses Roman Numerals.  I must say though I’m not a sports follower.  I can’t seem to make sense of paying a bunch of guys 100 times what a schoolteacher makes to run around a field with a ball.  Movies always use Roman Numerals at the beginning to show what year the movie was made, but I’m sure most of us need to check a movie guide to actually figure out what year they were made.

Finally, like the disclaimer I use for my code seminars, I use Arabic numbers when describing types of construction.  And I’m not even an Arab.

Editors Note:  When this article was transfered from Microsoft Word to the Web Page, the horizontal tops and bottoms were added to the I’s automatically.


Continuing Competency-Fact or Fiction

January 4th, 2011

As a licensed builder in the state of Michigan, I also am receiving a number of promotions for Continuing Competency courses.  Today I received a letter from one of these companies which included a page of Frequently Asked Question.  One of these questions asked how it could be determined if the class you are taking is “approved”.  The answer leads you to a State website that listed only approved prelicensure classes.   This statement is incorrect. The following is an excerpt from a State of Michigan website that shows the multiple “approved” methods to earn your continuing competency:

Current ways to earn continuing competency:

• Any approved prelicensure course may be taken to fulfill the continuing competency requirement. To find a complete list of approved prelicensure courses go to Under “Course Type” select “Residential Builders Prelicensure” and select “Search”.

• Any construction code update course approved by the Bureau of Construction Codes may be taken to fulfill the continuing competency requirement. To find a list of approved courses go to and select “Examinations and Licensing/Continuing Education” (click here for a direct link).

• Any fire safety or workplace safety course approved or sponsored by an agency within the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG), such as Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) may be taken to fulfill the continuing competency requirement. To find examples of approved courses go to and select “Consultation, Education & Training” (click here for a direct link).’s Continuing Competency classes are approved through the Bureau of Construction Codes (the 2nd method listed).  Builder’s who take our classes and are registered Inspectors for the State of Michigan also receive credit for their PA54 continuing education requirements.

For Schedule of Continuing Competency Classes for State of Michigan Licensed Builders and Maintenance and Alteration Contractors-CLICK HERE!

Continuing Competency, Continuing Education, News

Continuing Competency for Residential Builders in the State of Michigan

April 19th, 2010

On March 16, 2010, The Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth for the State of Michigan released an updated version of Continuing Competency Requirements for residential builders and maintenance and alteration contractors.   According to this document, “This information supersedes any documentation previously reported by the Bureau of Commercial Services regarding the continuing competency requirements.”

As previously reported on, PA157 (SB452) requires builders and maintenance and alteration contractors to fulfill continuing competency requirements for renewal of their 2011 License.  (They will also be required to own a copy of the Michigan Residential Code).  Those who have had their original license before January 1, 2009 are only required to have 3 hrs of continuing competency class for renewal.  Those who received their license on or after January 1, 2009 will be required to complete 21 hours  of CC for renewal(after the initial 6 years, only 3 hours are required).   For either group, the requirements must include 1 hr of codes, 1hr of safety and 1hr of changes in construction and business management laws.

There are a number of ways to earn CC credits.  Among those are “any construction code update course approved by the Bureau of Construction Codes” These are classes that receives approval for inspectors (PA54 classes).  Although BCC approves distance learning and commercial code classes, a representative from the Bureau of Commercial Services stated these are not acceptable for Builder Continuing Competency. has presently submitted a 3 hr class that will meet the Builder’s CC requirements and is awaiting approval.

To read the full text for CC go to Continuing Competency for Builders

To buy code books at International Code Council member pricing go to Michigan Code Book Discount

Updates to these rules and scheduling of Continuing Competency Classes by will be forthcoming.  Be sure to sign in to to be informed of any changes.

For Schedule of Continuing Competency Classes for State of Michigan Licensed Builders and Maintenance and Alteration Contractors-CLICK HERE!

Continuing Competency, Continuing Education, News

Guard Requirements in 2009 IRC

January 31st, 2010

2 important changes have been made for requirements for guards in the 2009 edition of The International Residential Code.

Previously, a guard was required when the walking surface was 30” or more from the floor or grade below.  I remember building decks on new houses and ripping the lattice skirting at 28”.  The landscapers could place topsoil to the bottom of the lattice and slope it away from the deck.  Since the grade immediately below the deck was 28”, we were exempt from guard

Deck with Fixed Seating

requirements.  This was particularly useful when installing bench seating around the perimeter of the deck and not wanting a guard to extend above the back of the seating.

2009 IRC requires a guard when the walking surface is more than 30”  “at any point within 36” horizontally from the edge of the open side”.  Using the 2006 IRC, a guard would not be required if the grade directly below the deck was 30”.  Take that same deck where the grade slopes 1” in every foot. At a point three feet from the deck; the grade would be 33”.  Using the 2009 IRC a guard would be required.

The second important change requires the height of a guard to be 36” above any adjacent fixed seating.  If the deck requires a guard it would have to extend a minimum of 36” above the seating surface.  The concern here is with children climbing on the seat and falling over the guard.  The code language does not require a guard in instances where the deck (walking surface) is less than 30” above grade (at 36” form the face of the deck) and the seating is more than 30” above grade (as in the picture above).  Anyone who has observed small children might say that the backless seats, like those on the deck above, ARE walking surfaces for unattended children.  Just a thought for 2012.

New Guard Requirements

Also, a change in location for guard height requirements clarifies that height and openings requirements for guards do not apply for guards that are installed in non-required locations.  The 34” wrought iron rails with the 6” openings you find at the big box stores can be used if a guard is not required.

New in 2009

Access-Controlled Egress Doors

December 22nd, 2009

Nowadays security is a top priority for commercial properties due to terrorism, corporate espionage and threats to personal safety.  In the design phase of new buildings or renovations to tenant spaces, designers must take care that security measures meet the requirements of the building code.  I will talk specifically about Access-controlled egress doors (section 1008.1.3.4 of IBC 2006).

This section talks not only about entrance doors to a building, but any doors which are part of a means of egress.   In other words, if one has to go through a door to get out of the building, the following requirements must be met:

1)    A sensor must be installed on the egress side which detects an occupant approaching.  The door(s) must open either by a signal from or loss of power to the sensor.

2)    Loss of power to the access control system unlocks the door.

3)    Manual unlocking device must be placed on the egress side of the door.

4)    Activation of the building fire alarm (if provided) system shall unlock doors.

5)    Activation of building sprinkler or fire detection system (if provided) shall unlock doors.

6)    Entrance doors (not to be confused with entrance doors in a means of egress) in Groups A, B, E or M shall not be secured from the egress side when the building is opened to the general public.

We will look at three scenarios where security requires controlled access to a space.  First, we will look at the CEO’s office (figure 1). Her office is on the 32nd floor of a high rise building.  Security concerns require entry to the reception area leading to her office is gained only by keycard access. Placing the sensor and manual unlocking device on the reception side of the doors will not allow access to the office by an unwanted occupant(unless they know how to set off the fire alarm/ detection system, sprinkler system or cut power to that part of the building).  This scenario can easily comply with code requirements.

Figure 1

Figure 1

In the next two scenarios, meeting code requirements will defeat the purpose of providing the access control.  First we will look at locked doors in an elevator lobby (figure 2). In a multi-tenant high-rise, it is normal for tenants to restrict entry to their floor.  Locking stair doors from the stair side is allowed under certain conditions.  The only other access to the floor would be from the elevators.  If access control is installed at the elevator lobby, 2 of the code requirements would defeat the purpose of the locking devise.  Since the stairs (means of egress) are on the other side of the door (the tenant space), the sensor and the manual unlocking device have to be located in the elevator lobby.  The person you are trying to keep out just has to walk up to the sensor or manual unlocking device to get in.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Finally, we’ll look at a floor of a high rise building which has two different tenants (figure 3).  In this design, each tenant space has one stairway.  Two means of egress are required for each space so installing locking devices on doors leading to the other stair would require the sensor and manual unlocking device on the egress side,  again defeating the purpose of the locks altogether.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The solution?  Forethought.  By the time this issue is brought to the forefront, rerouting egress paths is impossible. A lot of the time, the controlled entry devices are installed by the owners without the knowledge of the general contractor and sometimes after final inspections.  I was once involved in a project that received a variance from the local authority.  They were not required to install the sensor or manual unlocking device (both of which would have defeated the security measure).  They did have a non-required sprinkler system in the building.  They didn’t, however, use the exception for pull station requirements (because of the sprinkler system) and placed pull stations throughout the building accessible to the public.

NOTE: Section 1008.1.4.4 of the 2009 IBC, access-controlled egress doors remains the same as 2006 except Group I-2 is added to groups A, B, E, M, R-1 and R-2 where access control is allowed.


Single Family Garage Separation

November 16th, 2009

garage separation 003A separation between the dwelling and a garage is a subject full of misconceptions.  “It’s a firewall….it has to have two layers of 5/8 gyp board on the garage side…., the door has to be a fire door with a closer are popular fallacies.   I can only speak for the last 20 years of CABO and BOCA requirements for separations,  but none of these have ever been required.  Here is what is required by the IRC 2006:

  1. You can’t have an opening into a garage from a bedroom.
  2. If you have duct work penetrating into the garage, it has to be made of a minimum of 26 ga sheet metal and cannot open into the garage.
  3. Other penetrations of the separation wall must be fireblocked.
  4. The garage shall be separated from the dwelling (including its attic) by ½ inch gyp board on the garage side (you could theoretically have open studs on the dwelling side).
  5. If there is a habitable room above the garage, the separation must be 5/8 gyp board (type X).
  6. The supporting structure of item 5 shall be protected by ½ gyp board.
  7. If there is a door in the separation wall, it must be either 1 3/8 inch solid wood, solid or honeycomb steel minimum 1 3/8 inch thick, or a 20-minute fire-rated door. (Wouldn’t a fire-rated door require a closer and positive latching?)

Myths & Legends, Residential Code


October 2nd, 2009

I recently made a visit to a new, 3 story retail development. The purpose was to inspect two 2-hr fire-resistance rated duct shafts.  The shafts were continuous from the rooftop HVAC unit to the first floor, with openings onto all floors. Two previous inspections had failed for improper support of the shaft wall and improper framing for the fire/smoke dampers.

The building was reviewed as 2B construction and therefore the floors and columns required no rating. As the shaft walls (typical core board/metal stud construction) were built on the concrete floor, it didn’t meet the requirements for support.

Shaft walls must meet the requirements of a fire barrier and Section 706.5 of The 2006 International Building Code states “The supporting construction for fire barrier walls shall be protected to afford the required fire-resistance rating of the fire barrier supported…”  This means the horizontal and vertical steel which supports the concrete floor adjacent to the shaft must maintain the 2-hr rating. In this case, the columns and beams responsible for supporting the shaft wall were protected with spray on fireproofing.


Framing requirements for the fire/smoke dampers are specified by the damper manufacturer.  These may include doubling vertical framing members for larger dampers, specific methods for corner returns on the horizontal members and minimum and maximum clearances between the framing and the damper.

The installation of these shafts exceeded the minimum code requirements in two ways.  First, the shafts connected less than four stories.  IBC 2006 section 707.4 only requires a 1-hr rating.  Second, the shafts were not required at all.  Section 716.6.3 Nonfire-resistance-rated floor assemblies (remember Type 2B construction=no floor rating) only requires a fire damper installed at the floor line when connecting not more than three stories.

Now the design professional, building owner or building insurer might have required this higher level of protection (remember the Code is only a minimum requirement). The cost of shaft wall construction, additional protection of structural steel and fire/smoke dampers (including the electronics for the activation of the smoke dampers) should have been considered.



It Pays To Know $$$

Separation between dwelling units and non-residential occupancies

September 10th, 2009

As you may remember, in the 2006 edition of The IBC section 419 was a new addition which provided scoping requirements for horizontal and vertical separations between dwelling or sleeping units in I-1, R-1, R-2 and R-3 Occupancy classifications.  The one-hour separation requirement had always been in Chapter 7 of the IBC but now there was a directive to send you to Chapter 7 when checking on special requirements for the occupancies in question.

Now in 2009, the IBC has added that the same “between-unit” requirements be met between these occupancies and others.  Why is this important?  In some instances, the previous versions of the code would allow you to have no fire-resistance-rated separation between say a manager’s office and the apartment next to it.  Let me give you an example:

7000 sq ft, Type 3B Construction

7000 sq ft, Type 3B Construction PLAN VIEW

Let’s take a 7000 sf building, with 5000 sf of 1st floor area and 2000 sf on the second floor.  The second floor contains 2 apartments.  In 2006, section 419 sends you to 719(fire partitions) and 711(horizontal assemblies).  Both of these sections talk about ratings for walls or floors separating dwelling units (or sleeping units).  It did not require any separation between dwelling units and other occupancies other than the requirements for separated occupancies in Table 508.3. Now, we’ll say we are going to put in a BBQ restaurant in our building with solid fuel grilles.  The Code allows us to have non-separated occupancies if the building does not exceed the most restrictive building area and height limitations (from Table 503) for the occupancies in question.  We have an R-2 which is allowed to be 16,000 sf and 4 stories and an A2, which is allowed to be 9500 sf and 2 stories.  Since the A2 is the most restrictive and our building has not exceeded this, no separation is required under 2006 IBC.

2006 IBC only required 1-hr separation between dwg units


We could have an open ceiling with open floor joist between the restaurant and the apartments. (The requirements for the Sound Transmission Class requirements, oddly enough, have always required a “sound” separation (STC 50) between dwelling units and “public or other service areas”.)

All this changes in 2009.  Language has been added to require the 1-hr rating between dwelling or sleeping units and “other occupancies contiguous to them in the same building”. Now a minimum 1-hr rated floor ceiling assembly would be required between the restaurant and the apartments.

2009 IBC now requires at least a 1-hr horizontal separation between the lower level bar and the second floor apartments

2009 IBC now requires at least a 1-hr horizontal separation between the lower level bar and the second floor apartments

As before, in Types 2B, 3B and 5B, these separations can be reduced to ½ hr in buildings equipped with an NFPA 13 sprinkler system. (Has anybody figured out a ½ hour wall yet?)

Frank Bayer

New in 2009 , ,

Exit Doors Must Open Out

August 27th, 2009

All exits doors must open out (in the direction of egress).

We all know that.   We’ve either seen a television show or read a magazine article about the deadly fire at The Iroquois Theatre in Chicago back in 1903.  We’ve been told that one of the causes of the high death count (602 people, 575 which perished within the first 20 minutes) was the exit doors opened inward and in the panic, people were trampled at the doors, blocking the exits.  It was said that bodies were piled 7 ft high in front of the doors.

Well exit doors do not have to always open out.  The International Building Code allows an exit door to open inward if the occupant load is less than 50 persons.  As always, the occupant load is determined by calculation using table 1004.1.1.  (Since 2006, the IBC does allow the Building Official to approve a lesser load than those determined by calculation.)

This rule is especially useful in cases where a small commercial space is directly on the sidewalk.  The IBC does not allow doors or windows to “open or project into the public right-of-way”.

Door opens onto large sidewalk.  Is this OK?

Door opens onto large sidewalk. Is this OK?

Note: While researching this article I wanted to define “public right-of way”.  Is it municipal property used for a sidewalk, street or alley?  Is it a sidewalk in front of a strip mall (private property)?  Is there a minimum width of a sidewalk?  I could not find a definition in the IBC even though it contains a chapter on encroachments into the public right-of-way.  Webster’s Dictionary also does not contain a definition.  I found a definition of “right-of-way” in the current City of Detroit Zoning Ordinance which stated “a strip of land occupied or intended to be occupied by a street, crosswalk, railroad, sanitary or storm sewer, electric transmission line…….”

Door on narrow sidewalk. Definitely not allowed.

Door on narrow sidewalk. Definitely not allowed.

Door opening onto walking area of private property.

Door opening onto walking area of private property.

My assumed definition has always been the municipally owned sidewalk, street or alley. I have always exempted strip malls from the door opening clause.

Myths & Legends ,