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Fire Watch Requirements for Buildings Under Construction

As result of the tragic fire in Bound Brook last night, there has been renewed discussion surrounding the safety of wood frame buildings. When designed and built properly, wood frame buildings can be safe, affordable, resilient and sustainable. From the accounts I’ve read, the buildings in Bound Brook where the fire started were under construction. Buildings in this state are particularly vulnerable because required elements like fire rated gypsum board, fire doors, smoke alarms, and sprinklers have not yet been installed.

For these reasons, the 2018 International Building Code, which was recently adopted in NJ, allows the Fire Official to require a fire watch in combustible buildings that exceed 40 feet in height. A fire watch means that trained workers are on site 24/7 to monitor the building and alert emergency personnel if smoke or fire are spotted.

These new regulations will certainly help protect buildings under construction and hopefully prevent future similar incidents.

Robert M. Longo, AIA

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New Requirement for Buildings in New Jersey with Solar Panels

On December 20, 2017 the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety adopted a new rule requiring identifying emblems for structures with solar panels.

Photovoltaic (solar) panels pose a risk to emergency personnel especially firefighters. Solar panels can carry enough voltage and current to injure or even kill someone who comes in contact with the energized conductors. They can also be a trip hazard and interfere with ventilating a roof during a fire. For these reasons it is important for first responders to be aware when they are entering a building that is powered by solar panels so they can take proper precautions.

The photovoltaic system warning signs require an emblem in the shape of a Maltese cross made up of a three inch diameter circle with a stroke width of one-half inch and Maltese cross wings that are one and one-eighth inches in height or width with a stroke width of one-half inch.  Signs must also have a white reflective background with red lettering. Depending on the installation, one of the following three signs will be required; “PV Roof Mounted”, “PV Adjacent”, or “PV Roof Mounted and Adjacent.” All lettering shall be one and one-quarter inch in height with a stroke width of one-quarter inch.

The owner of the building is responsible for posting these signs.  They shall be permanently mounted to the left of the main entrance door at a height of between four and six feet above the ground and shall be maintained to ensure readability. If a truss identification sign has already been posted, this new sign shall be posted directly above the truss sign.

Detached one and two-family residential structures shall be exempt from the signage provisions, however the owner of any residential or nonresidential structure who installed a roof mounted solar panel system must provide written notification to the local fire official. This written notification should include the name of the property owner, the address of the structure where the PV system has been installed, the year they were installed, and a copy of the permit that was filed.

The full text of the rules adoption can be downloaded here.

If you need signs for your building, we found an online retailer that is making signs that conform to the New Jersey requirements; they can be purchased here.

If you have any question regarding these changes or any other code requirements, just ask the code experts at Cornerstone.

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Carbon Monoxide Detectors Now Required in All Use Groups

New Jersey recently adopted a rule modifying the Uniform Construction Code (UCC) and the Uniform Fire Code (UFC) to require Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors in all use groups. Previously, CO detectors were only required in use groups where occupants would be sleeping unattended, including group I-1 and all group R buildings.

Carbon monoxide is primarily a concern in buildings with fuel burning appliances. If a building has natural gas or oil fired appliances such as a furnace, boiler, water heater, stove, clothes dryer, etc, then CO detection will be required.

This requirement is retroactive under UFC, meaning all buildings with fuel burning appliance must now comply. The law is currently in effect and there is no grace period. This requirement will likely be enforced during the annual fire inspection process required for most commercial buildings.

The requirements for CO detection also apply to new construction. Relevant changes have been made to UCC via errata to IBC 2015 NJ edition, which can be downloaded here. Requirements for additions, alterations and reconstructions can be found in the Rehabilitation Subcode.

The retroactive requirements in UFC for non-residential use groups are outlined below.

  • Carbon monoxide detection is required to be installed in the immediate vicinity of all sources of carbon monoxide.
  • In addition to providing detection at the source, the following additional areas need to be protected:
    • Spaces adjacent to the source of carbon monoxide.
    • In the immediate vicinity of any shaft, including but not limited to, stair towers, elevator shafts and ventilation shafts at the level of the potential source of carbon monoxide.
    • In the room at the first register or grill off the main duct trunk(s) from the HVAC equipment that is a potential source of carbon monoxide.
    • In any story that is within two stories of a source of carbon monoxide.

There are specific cases where the UFC exempts the installation of carbon monoxide detectors. These include repair garages, battery charging areas and most warehouses.

Carbon monoxide alarms may be battery-operated, plug-in, or hard-wired. Combination fire and carbon monoxide detection systems are permitted. The alarm must provide sound at a level that is 15dB above ambient sound. There is no requirement for fire department notification.

Additional information is available in DCA Bulletin 2017-1 which can be downloaded here.

If you have any question regarding these changes or any other code requirements, just ask the code experts at Cornerstone.

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The End of Impact Resistant Glazing?

On 21 September 2015, New Jersey formally adopted the 2015 ICC series of codes including the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). This is the first code update in NJ in nearly six years and it comes with many changes.

One significant change is the removal of most buildings in NJ from Wind Born Debris Regions. These are areas that the code defines as hurricane-prone due to high wind speed and/or proximity to the coastline.

This change stems from updates to the wind speed maps that are referenced in the code. By moving the higher wind speeds farther off the coast, the new maps essentially find that NJ is at a lower risk of wind events than previously thought.

Here is an excerpt from the IBC commentary explaining the reason for the change:

“Over the past decade, new data and research have indicated that the mapped hurricane wind speeds have been overly conservative. Significantly more hurricane data has become available, which in turn allows for improvements in the hurricane simulation model that is used to develop wind speed maps. The new hurricane hazard model yields hurricane wind speeds that are lower than those given in previous editions of the code, even though the overall rate of intense storms has increased.”

This code change results in the removal of the requirement for Impact Resistant Glazing in most New Jersey buildings, including all residential buildings.

As evidence by recent storms including Hurricane Joaquin, the continued threat to NJ is likely to be from flood events rather than wind related events.

It is important however to remember that building codes are a minimum standard and there are reasons why one may want to include impact resistant glazing. Building owners are encourage to consult with their architect regarding the appropriate application of all glazing types.

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For those interested in more detail, below is a summary of the relevant code provisions.

  • IBC 2015 (and 2012) reference ASCE 07-10. This is where the changes are derived from.
  • Buildings will be assigned to Risk Categories that will essentially align wind design with seismic design based on risk to human life, health and welfare that would result from the failure of that type of building.
  • Due to the different wind speed design maps, the windborne debris region will be different depending on the Risk Category of the building being built.
  • Most buildings will fall into Risk Category II & III and use map Figure 1609.3 (1) for the purpose of determining windborne debris regions.
  • Buildings in Risk Category IV (essential facilities) will use map Figure 1609.3 (2)
  • Windborne debris regions are defined as areas within hurricane-prone regions that are either within 1 mile of the coastal mean high water line where the ultimate design wind speed is 130 mph or greater; or any areas where the ultimate design wind speed is 140 mph or greater.
  • By definition, Risk Category III buildings, will use Risk Category II wind speed maps (1609.3(1)) for the purpose of determining if a building is in a wind born debris region.
  • Risk Category II & III buildings will NOT be in wind born debris regions because the 130 mph wind speed line in map figure 1609.3 (1) is over the ocean.
  • Risk Category IV buildings MAY be in wind born debris regions because the 130 mph wind speed line in map figure 1609.3 (2) crosses over land in parts of costal NJ.

In summary, most building in NJ will no longer be in wind born debris regions. Only “Essential Facilities” (Risk Category IV) located within 1 mile of the coast AND in areas with 130 MPH wind will need to meet these requirements.

If you have any question regarding these changes or any other code requirements, just ask the code experts at Cornerstone.

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NJ Formally Adopts 2015 ICC Series of Codes

On 21 September 2015, NJ formally adopted the 2015 ICC Series of Codes including the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). This is the first code update since 2009 and it comes with literally hundreds of changes.

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Click here to access the DCA website for a full list of code adoptions

  Below is a small sample of some of the significant changes to the code.

  • Wind born debris regions that trigger the requirement for impact resistant glazing have been modified. This will affect many buildings along the NJ Shore.
  • Institutional uses, including medical offices & assisted living facilities will be affected by the addition of “Occupancy Conditions.”
  • Requirements for the handling of hazardous materials including flammable and combustible liquids have been revised.
  • Egress requirements from mezzanines have been changed.
  • New sprinkler requirements for buildings with assembly occupancies on roofs.
  • New requirements for low level “Exit” signs in some occupancies.

If you have any question regarding these changes or any other code requirements, just ask the code experts at Cornerstone.