What does “bring it up to code” really mean?
The conversation usually starts like this “When you renovate you’ll have to ‘bring it up to Code’”. A vague statement like this can conjure up all sorts of doomsday scenarios, most of them involving large amounts of money. Each building is unique, and the older the building, the less it fits within current building codes. Unfortunately there are no definite rules about what exactly “bringing it up to code” will encompass.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the primary goal of the Building Code is to ensure buildings are safe for people. While building owners are not required to completely upgrade their existing building to current codes, some additional upgrades may be required. Building officials do try to balance life safety with cost.
Common code issues in renovations
Here are some common issues we run into when designing a church renovation.
- Exits. Where large groups are gathered exit doors need to be easily operated, usually with “panic hardware”, the horizontal bar device seen on many doors. Older churches may not have this hardware, or some doors may swing in the wrong direction, against the flow of traffic.
- Fire separations. In an older church you might have a basement or a balcony that is open to the other floors. Today’s codes require each storey to be separated from the other stories by doors or enclosed stairways to contain fire and smoke, allowing people to find their way out safely.
- Barrier free washrooms. This is the most common issue we run into in older buildings. If you’re renovating washrooms, you’ll be required to make them barrier free if at all possible by including at least one larger toilet stall, grab bars, lower sinks, lever type faucets, easily reachable soap and towel dispensers, and clear space on each side of the doors. Adding a separate Universal Washroom is sometimes an acceptable alternative.
- Ventilation. This comes up most often when you’re converting a retail space or offices into a church. When lots of people gather, you need more ventilation. Commercial space is simply not designed for all those extra people so you’ll need to upgrade. It’s usually not negotiable and can be quite expensive.
- Fire alarm and sprinklers. Most buildings today require both fire alarm and sprinklers. If your existing building doesn’t have either, you probably won’t be required to install them, but if it does the system may need upgrading depending on it’s age and expandability as well as the extent of renovations.
Making building more accessible
There can be other issues as well, but “Bringing it up to Code” is really about finding ways to make older buildings safer and more accessible for all people. Read our other blog post for more information about churches and building codes.
For help in applying New Codes to Old Buildings contact David Parker or Kelly Seminoff at Parker Seminoff Architects, or leave a comment below.
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