Changes to your local building code and what it means

Are these building code changes going to impact your next project?

(Round 1- why the code changed)

Who has the time to read through the building code to look for changes, heck even if you did have the time, who wants to read building code. It’s right up there with wanting to give the dog a bath or clean your car. Lucky for you, I’m kinda into that code stuff, so I will take the boring blah di blah, blah of the codes and standards and put it into a few related segments that will help you understand how and IF this code change will impact your next project. In this series, we will also discuss how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that projects have encountered. If your project is being built under the 2012 or 2015 IBC, then this is for you. If your project is being built under the 2009 code or any earlier code; sit back and relax, because none of this matters for you. But flag this post just the same because it won’t be long before you will need to know this information.

This series of blogs will talk about why this code change came about, which types of buildings this will impact, what this means to your project, the pitfalls that you want to avoid, where to find the requirements related to this. We will blend the requirements of the codes and the standards, so you don’t have to hop back and forth between them.

The code change we are talking about here is in chapter 17, which is the chapter on Special Inspections. Third-party special inspection is required on anything that requires an extra critical eye because of the complexities of the installation and potential impact to the building and the safety of the occupants if installations don’t conform to the requirements. For example, elements of construction that are integral to the structural integrity of the building, such as concrete, steel welding or bolting, spray applied fireproofing and seismic elements; all require special inspection. Firestop is integral to the life safety of a project because, if it is not done correctly, then the compartmentation will fail and the expected level of life safety will not be met. Compartmentation is the concept of keeping a fire boxed in and not letting it spread beyond the compartments boundaries for a specific time period. It the compartmentation fails, this poses a risk to the lives of the building occupants, first responders who are rescuing people and fighting the fire and also increases the opportunity for property damage.

Bare in mind, this special inspection requirement does not apply to all buildings, but we will outline which projects are impacted by this change in another blog post. For now, let’s get started with why these changes came about.

I’m going to give you the short version, but know there is a very long and involved back-story and if you want to know more I suggest you contact the International Firestop Council and you will get some great answers.

I will avoid going into a history lesson on this, but let’s say firestop started being required on projects rather earnestly in the 1980’s. Not many people knew much about it and back then inspectors looked for “red stuff” around penetrations and that was good. Shady installers started mixing Kool-aide with drywall mud because then the inspectors would get what they were looking for “red stuff”. Inspectors caught on and installers learned more and things improved. However, one thing remains the same. If a drywaller or plumber decides to install their own firestop, who does the work? Typically it is scope given to the apprentices with little or nor direction. How is anyone supposed to get it done right that way? How is anyone supposed to think that firestop is important, if it is relegated to the apprentice level?

Then came the specialty contractor. The idea is, that if they specialize in this scope of work, then they must know if better. This is the case often enough, but all together too often the same mentality prevails and the level of training of the field installers is lacking. This is not entirely their fault though. If an inspector walks a project and points out three different things that are wrong with the firestop, then the installer will assume that the rest of the things are done right. This is not going to be entirely accurate.

So, then it’s the inspectors fault?

NO.. Unequivocally NO.

I can’t tell you how many inspectors I’ve talked to who tell me that they have some training, but still are not going to have the knowledge base or the time to review firestop to the level of this standard. When they learn what is required by the new special inspection, they often shake their heads.


Because there is no way they have the time to inspect firestop to that level of scrutiny, not to mention the time to generate the reports that are required for the project.  Many inspectors are grateful that the requirement will make buildings in their jurisdictions safer and remove the burden from them.   It will relieve the burden of inspection from them, but they are still going to need to now what to look for to ensure the special inspectors allowed to work in their jurisdiction are doing what they are supposed to. These are inspectors who understand the importance of firestop as a critical element to the life safety of a building. Not the ONLY one, but certainly one element and certainly critical.

This is why the codes have changed. It has become apparent that the level of scrutiny needs to be increased and the burden cannot be placed on building officials on all projects. They will still have to inspect firestop, but not on projects where this special inspection requirement is mandated. We will get into more about what the changes mean to your project and how you can prepare for your next project.

If you are a building inspector wanting more information these code changes and how they will impact projects in your jurisdiction? Please contact us and we will send you some help.