Building Code Illustrated
Building codes have other readability problems. Sentences are often long and convoluted. Some items in the first part of a sentence affect some items in the second and third parts of the sentence but all items are not necessarily affected by all other items.
Sorting out the relationships between words is complicated by the fact that some phrases affect previous or subsequent sentences and some do not. Too much substantive content is joined by too few words of clarification.
Another problem in reading a code is letting expectations affect interpretation. The logic on which the code is based is not always accessible to the user and does not always reflect the experience of the professional.
Statistics, tests, tradition, and other data and trends in life safety on which codes are based may not be available to the average user. In most cases, taking the literal meaning of code statements is more effective than applying common sense.
Since this approach is not 100 percent reliable, however, doubt makes the mental discipline required for understanding even more challenging.
Handbook Language and Format
The language of this handbook accommodates the needs of design and production professionals and students. It is one of illustrations, tables, outlines, and lists. Common phrasing is substituted for legalistic wording. Lengthy and convoluted code sentences are broken down into line items. Quick and easy readability is the goal.
Drawings and diagrams illustrate numerous requirements. Actual building projects as well as generic examples are included. Tables are provided, many of which are based on mathematical equations that would otherwise require computation by the user.
Large code tables are broken down into smaller tables and reformatted to reduce the number of variables that must be reconciled. Footnotes are integrated into the body of each table or the body of the text which eliminates the fine print that is difficult to read and easily overlooked.
Exceptions are integrated into the body of the basic requirements. This eliminates reversals of requirements where exceptions supercede the main text.
Several common-sense shortcuts were taken in the handbook to facilitate readability. First, the handbook refers to the International Building Code simply as the code.
The code consistently modifies references to residential occupancies as follows: "R-3 as applicable in Section 101.2." This indicates that the International Residential Code governs 1- and 2-family dwellings and townhouses ( 3 stories.
By use of this phrase, the code is indicating to which residential occupancies it applies. It is sufficient to understand that the code does not address residences governed by the International Residential Code. Consequently, the reference to 101.2 is omitted throughout the handbook.
Where sprinklers are addressed, the code typically refers to section 903.3.1.1 or 903.3.1.2. These sections essentially required that sprinklers comply with NFPA 13 and 13R respectively. Instead of listing these sections as references in italics, the handbook simply refers to sprinklers with the phrase "as per NFPA 13" or "13R" in the body of the requirement.
The code refers to sprinklers as being automatic. Since it is understood that all sprinklers are to be automatic, the handbook omits this term.
The code often refers to "buildings and structures" so as not to exclude constructions such as stadiums, which may not be considered buildings. The handbook usually refers only to "buildings," which must be understood to include all the structures that the code governs.
The handbook utilizes mathematical and other symbols instead of words to the greatest extent possible so as to provide visual relief to the text. For example, the symbols ( and ( are substituted, where readability is enhanced, for the terms "minimum' and maximum."
The code reports frequently that certain cases must comply with the code. Such comments are omitted, as it must be understood that every entry of the code requires compliance.
The shortcuts and plain language used by the handbook lack the legal precision of the code. The code attempts to provide regulations that cannot be circumvented. The handbook makes selected regulations more accessible to designers, detailers, and estimators. Consequently, common sense must be applied to the guidance provided.
The need to refer to other pages in order to grasp the concept of a code requirement is minimized. Numerical references to other code sections are eliminated from the main text. Descriptions of such referenced data, the data itself, or the subject of the referenced data is substituted.
This provides a more easily read text without the disruption of numbers that add no apparent meaning to the paragraph. The cited section number along with its name are listed below the body of the requirement text in italics.
Comments on the citation are added where necessary for clarification. The reader may turn to the cited section if desired. The following example illustrates the contrast in formats:
407.2 Corridors. "Corridors in occupancies in Group I-2 shall be continuous to the exits and separated from other areas in accordance with Section 407.3 except spaces conforming to Sections 407.2.1 through 407.2.4."
The enclosure of occupancy I-2 corridors is governed as follows:
• Each corridor must be continuous to an exit.
• Corridors may be open to the spaces indicated below where design and construction meet minimum requirements for fire safety:
Mental health treatment areas.
• Otherwise, corridors must be separated from other spaces for purposes of smoke protection.
Note:The following are cited as sources of requirements for the spaces opening to a corridor:
407.2.1 "Spaces of unlimited area," which addresses waiting rooms.
407.2.2 "Nurses' stations."
407.2.3 "Mental health treatment areas."
407.2.4 "Gift shops."
407.3 "Corridor walls," for walls required to separate corridors from other spaces.
Focus for Design
The handbook focuses on code sections affecting design decisions at the schematic and design development phases such as in chapters 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 30, and 32. Designers are provided with a clarification of requirements affecting floor plan configuration and building massing.
Required heights, widths, lengths, clearances, and distances are among the data clarified. These sections are of particular interest to students as much studio work is schematic in nature.
Focus for Detailing
The handbook focuses on code sections affecting detailing decisions in the working drawing phase such as in chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 31. Detailers are provided with a clarification of requirements affecting material choices and detail configuration.
Clarification of these sections also helps the designer make spatially related decisions based on probable relative cost of the options as driven by fire protection requirements. These sections are of particular interest to students since they narrow the choices for material selection and detail composition.
Focus for Cost Estimating
The handbook focus on code sections affecting detailing also helps estimators prepare construction bids.
Where architectural working drawings require that the builder "meet current code requirements," this handbook can provide options for code compliance where certain detailing is vague or missing in the project drawings.
Terry Patterson, NCARB is an architect and a professor in the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma.
This article is excerpted from Illustrated 2000 Building Code Handbook, copyright © 2001 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, reprinted with permission of the McGraw-Hill Companies. The book is available from McGraw-Hill and Amazon.com.
Note: The 2000 International Building Code is owned by the International Code Council, Inc., of Falls Church, Virginia. This handbook is neither sponsored nor approved by this agency which has no relationship to this project.