DRILLING DOWN

NAVIGATING THE RED TAPE: COMMERCIAL BUILDING CODES AND INSPECTIONS

When breaking ground on a new facility, a great deal of thought is given to the design and construction. Architects, engineers, and contractors collaborate to ensure every facet of the project will comply with building code and safety regulations to reduce risk, liability, expense, and the headaches of noncompliance.

However, the same typically cannot be said for older buildings. The code-defined threshold for safe buildings has evolved. And while previous designs may be grandfathered in, many simply are not up to snuff by today’s standards. It is in these circumstances that the legal liability related to code and safety regulations becomes far more complex.

Understanding what an inspector looks for will help you maintain a safe facility and address problems before they become a liability. Proactive repairs and preventative maintenance will allow you to avoid potential safety hazards, interruption of business operations, and costly fines. So, there is no time better than the present to brush up on the basics of building code compliance and inspection.

 

The ABCs of MEP

In commercial building code, one acronym covers the integral systems that make buildings suitable for occupancy: MEP. The three engineering disciplines that comprise MEP are Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing. Mechanical engineering includes heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems for buildings. These systems regulate temperature, humidity, and indoor air quality. Electrical engineering pertains to the systems that power a building, including the routing of conduits and wiring. And plumbing engineering establishes the water-based systems with end-uses like sinks, showers, and toilets. These three systems are vital to every restaurant, retail space, office building, warehouse, and multi-family dwelling.

In every category, the inspector will determine whether each system is operating properly and efficiently. To comply with national, state, and local building codes and zoning laws, building inspectors assess specific items within each category and typically give them ratings of good (little to no work needed), fair (major repairs needed), and poor (complete replacement needed). The inspector will indicate on the report estimated costs to repair or replace anything that does not pass with a good rating.

 

Top to Bottom Inspections

Building inspectors also assess every commercial building’s interior and exterior for potential hazards. Interior points of inspection include walls, floors, and ceilings, while outdoor points include parking facilities, roofing, and landscaping throughout the property.

 

Necessary Documentation

To properly evaluate whether a building is up to code, the inspector will need access to a variety of documents, including:

  • Appraisals
  • Building plans
  • Certificates of occupancy
  • Construction permits
  • Evacuation plans
  • Floor plans
  • Surveys

Having each of these at the ready will help expedite the inspection process.

 

Retrofitting Solutions

We advise against relying on the fact a building’s construction predates a regulation to exempt it from liability. Landlords and property managers often find that their only viable option is to remedy code violations by retrofitting a building. For example, electrical and fire prevention systems can quickly become outdated and require regular inspections and updates. Proactively partnering with an experienced contractor or a construction firm to bring it up to code will pay dividends in the future when facing inspections.

 

COVID Modifications

As operators consider modifying existing building structures (such as altering traffic flow or incorporating temporary barriers) to reduce COVID transmission, existing building codes should be reviewed to ensure compliance. Check local, state, and federal resources for potential new requirements related directly to COVID safety, whether remodeling existing structures or building from scratch. Potential new components may include high-efficiency air filters, UV lights in HVAC ductwork, humidity control systems, and negative pressure rooms.

 

Wrapping It All Up

Regardless of whether you are beginning construction on a brand-new building or making modifications to an existing structure, the first step should always be to research building codes where the construction will take place. These can typically be found on the websites of local, state, and federal government entities, but should also be something with which your construction company has intimate knowledge. With MOORING, you can trust that code compliance is maintained every step of the way.