Multi-Housing Groups Defeat Code Proposals That Would Have Negatively Impacted Apartments

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorWashington, D.C.—The International Code Council (ICC) has completed its 2009 edition of the international building codes. The codes will be published early next year.The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) had lobbied against some of the proposed changes, and were successful in defeating most of them. NAHB said its Construction, Codes and Standards department worked to identify from a list of about 2,220 suggested changes the ones to which the group would object. Staff members presented their proposals at hearings and refuted proposed changes that it said would make housing unnecessarily more expensive. For codes related to low-rise apartments—the property type that reportedly receives the most number of proposed code changes each year—NMHC said every change proposed, covering 11 broad issues, was defeated. The proposals included, among other things, removing sprinkler design options, increasing fire ratings, lowering allowable building height limits and the number of permitted stories, and reducing allowable building areas. While some changes will be made to high-rise buildings, including the addition of stairwells, NMHC said the ICC members were convinced to exempt apartments from some of the requirements, because of the difference in occupancy load between residential and office buildings.Ron Nickson, vice president of building codes, NMHC,  says that he keeps track of the monetary impact changes would potentially have on the industry. Had the proposals been passed, he estimates that the impact would have been approximately $1.2 billion per year in construction cost for apartments.Despite the groups’ many successes, Larry Brown, director of codes and standards, NAHB, explains one proposal they were unable to defeat. The new code will try to “expand fair housing units in all existing buildings when converted to residential, which poses a problem because you can’t always comply.” In many cases, Brown explains, this is not feasible due to the existing construction. Additionally, it could potentially hinder or even dissuade downtown revitalization efforts. Brown adds that NAHB will be making recommendations for the code to be amended after it is adopted.NMHC noted that the biggest effect that the codes will have on the multifamily industry will come in the form of energy-related issues. The new code will require 50 percent of permanently installed interior light fixtures—in both common areas and residential units—to be fitted with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). However, Nickson explains that many members have gone through their properties’ common areas to change out the lighting and found it to be very cost-effective.In addition, windows’ U-values will be adjusted in zones 1-4. Again, Nickson is not concerned because he says, “I’m not convinced it will be a big cost for apartment developers because the U-values and solar heat gain coefficients limit what can be produced in the market, and competition will drive the cost down.”