Committee action hearings recap
Code Council Senior Vice President of Technical Services Mike Pfeiffer appeared as the guest host for this month’s episode of the ICC Pulse Podcast. Ed Wirtschoreck, ICC director of codes, joined Pfeiffer to discuss details of the April Committee Action Hearings in Columbus, Ohio. Pfeiffer and Wirtschoreck have a collective 50 years of experience with codes and share their insight on the code development process as well as technical issues addressed during the committee action hearings.
Mike Pfeiffer: Before we get started, I would like to shout out my fellow code geeks, a term I use out of endearment. I never take for granted the passion and dedication involved with the folks who participate in the Code Council’s code development process. Folks spend countless hours reviewing and developing code changes, all with the sole purpose of creating a better code. And then, they’ll spend upwards of 10 to 15 hours for 10 days in a hearing room debating the issues. The best part is knowing that after arguing opposite sides of an issue during the hearings, at the end of the day those people can share a beer. It’s a great process!
Now, let’s get started. Speaking of the codes, we just completed the first cycle in the code development of the 2021 International Codes (I-Codes) at the 2018 Committee Action Hearings in Columbus, Ohio. We saw about 1,300 proposals and about 150 hours of testimony during the 10 days in Columbus.
As the first of three steps in the code development process, this was the first chance for the public to discuss and obtain committee actions on proposed changes that could influence the 2021 I-Codes. So, Ed and I will share some of the main takeaways from the hearings.
Tall Wood Buildings
Pfeiffer: The Code Council Board of Directors created the Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings to explore the science of tall wood buildings and take action on developing code changes for such buildings. The committee created several code change proposals with respect to the concept of tall wood buildings of mass timber construction to increase the permitted height and areas for these types of structures.
As part of their proposal package, the committee also added three different initial types of construction, namely, types 4A, 4B and 4C. I had the benefit of serving as the staff liaison for the tall wood building effort, so I’m pretty familiar with the effort. Ed, as somebody who was not that plugged into the effort and mainly observed it at the hearings, what were your observations in Columbus?
Ed Wirtschoreck: Well, there were 14 code changes submitted and recommended for approval by the General Code Committee that introduced three new types of heavy timber construction and corresponding increases for allowable heights and areas. These new types of construction provide allowable heights in areas, in most cases, that go beyond those for timber construction currently recognized in the codes. For some occupancies, the allowable height is as high as 18 stories. Many of the code changes provide additional details to ensure both the structural and fire resistance integrity of taller mass timber buildings. Three types of construction are differentiated mainly by the amount of fire protection applied over the mass timber structure. As the amount of fire protection increases the allowable height and area increases as well.
Pfeiffer: You noted that they are all approved. Was there any opposition or concerns voiced during the Committee Action hearings?
Wirtschoreck: Yes, there was, Mike. Opposition included concerns with the method that resulted in the proposed height and area increase tables as well as an overall concern that we are dealing with combustible buildings at such an increased height.
Pfeiffer: As code geeks, we understand the code often deals with contemporary issues such as tall wood. It is new on the horizon in terms of potential regulation in the I-Codes. Another contemporary topic is that of the combustibility on exterior walls. This is especially topical in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in England last summer. We’ve all seen the pictures of that unfortunate circumstance, which typically raises two major questions: 1) As this was an existing building, how was it built and to which standards did it comply; 2) as it relates to the I-Codes, specifically in new buildings, does the code adequately provide the requisite level of safety?
There were a considerable number of code changes to address the fire safety attributes of exterior walls, including combustible cladding. What are some of those details?
Wirtschoreck: On the topic of the combustibility of exterior walls, many changes were submitted and very few were approved. One such proposal that the committee recommended for approval requires that metal composite materials (MCM) be qualified by fire testing before constructing a building more than 40 feet tall. This is important because it is a more stringent requirement as it removes current code requirements that provide some allowances for MCM to be installed on these taller buildings without fire testing, specifically the NFPA 285 testing.
Pfeiffer: Were there any other code changes considered in Columbus to deal with this subject matter?
Wirtschoreck: Yes. There was a change to require all buildings of combustible construction, or with any combustible construction within the exterior walls, to be tested with an NFPA 285 test. Another change had the same requirements, but went a step further by modifying the test requirements to address the shape and configuration of the exterior wall as well as wind requirements.
The committee recommended most of these other changes for disapproval; however, there was a large amount of public discussion and I imagine that these changes will see some public comments submitted for consideration at the upcoming public comment hearings.
Construction Fire Safety
Pfeiffer: I think you are right, Ed. Remaining on the issue of fire, there is recent history of construction fires. It was also a frequently reported topic this past year. Typically, these fires involved predominantly combustible construction. Ed, can you serve us further discussion as it relates to construction fires?
Wirtschoreck: Code change F263 is one of three that were approved dealing with this matter. Code change F263 was approved and requires that the owner of a project designate a fire prevention program superintendent who is responsible for performing daily fire inspections at the construction site. This is something that I don’t think was necessarily specified, it might have been understood, but it’s now specified for the codes. Code change F264 also was approved. It clarifies the role and the training requirements for fire watch personnel and now requires a fire watch both when the construction exceeds 40 feet above the lowest grade, and for multiple story buildings where any story exceeds 50,000 square feet. Previously, it was based upon height alone. Lastly, code change F268 addresses minimum fire flows for construction sites of Types 3, 4 and 5 constructions.
Pfeiffer: So far we’ve discussed the building and the fire aspects of code development. Now, let’s talk about PMG-related changes. PMG stands for plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas. During the development in the previous cycle, specifically the development of the 2018 I-Codes, some submitted changes addressed new refrigerant classifications: A2L and B2L.
A single code change was approved for A2L refrigerants used in machine rooms. However, changes dealing with comfort cooling, such as your home air conditioner, did not pass. Other proposals that did not pass attempted to address the flammability considerations for A2L and B2L refrigerants.
Ed, quite often when we see proposals in one cycle there is a strong possibility that we will see follow-up within the subsequent cycle. Was there any follow-up on the A2L and B2L in the current cycle?
Wirtschoreck: Yes, there was, Mike. A group of code changes was submitted to address flammability considerations of A2L and B2L refrigerants used for human comfort. These new types of refrigerants include a significant benefit on the environment as they intend to reduce the global warming potential of refrigerants on the atmosphere; however, their flammability needs to be evaluated. The primary reason for the disapproval of these refrigerants is that the applicable ASHRAE standards initially proposed for reference are being updated and the process has not been completed. Again, this topic received a lot of discussion; therefore, if these ASHRAE standards are completed in time for the upcoming public comment hearings in October 2018, these proposals will more than likely receive public comments for consideration at that hearing.
Gender-Neutral Toilet Facilities
Pfeiffer: Now let’s talk about plumbing specifically related to gender-neutral toilet facilities. There was an approved proposal included in the previous cycle of the 2018 International Plumbing Code (IPC). That proposal and code change specifically notes that a single-user and/or assisted-use toilettes are not required to be identified for use by either sex. As I have seen in our years of code development, these issues will typically evolve. Are there any new developments within the current process as it relates to gender neutral restrooms?
Wirtschoreck: Yes, there is, Mike. There were four proposals submitted to address multi-user toilet facilities designated to serve all genders. The IPC has always required multi-user toilet facilities to be identified by sex by having either a male designation or a female designation on a door or on the entryway to the facility.
A greater societal focus on inclusiveness and equality for persons whose gender identity does not match their sex is promoting total allowances for the design of multi-user toilet facilities that are not designated for either sex. Such facilities could be identified by any inclusive gender signage, by no signage, or by signage that simply reads ‘toilettes’ or ‘restrooms’. Two of these four proposals were successful. Code change P14 and P15 both bring into the code specific allowances for the use of multi-user toilet facilities designated to serve all genders.
Pfeiffer: Thanks, Ed. This is just a very short snapshot glimpse into what transpired at the committee action hearings. It’s important to note that ICC is the convener of the process by which the codes are updated and in no way, shape or form is ICC advocating a position at any of these code changes.
Code Development Process
Let’s shift gears again and talk about the ICC code development process. ICC is very proud to announce that with cdpACCESS, we are now able to provide an additional service to all the participants in the process. You now have online access to all 1,300 hearing videos from the Columbus committee action hearings. If you are interested in viewing the hearings, you may watch it all online through cdpACCESS.
Now we will address a few new process-related items within this cycle. Within the ICC code process, participants are allowed to “move a code change.” However, a proponent could disagree with the requested move. While that person can voice their objection, the bottom line is that it has to go to a vote of all the assembled body in the hearing room to determine if the code change will move on the agenda. A two-thirds vote is require for that to occur.
After receiving feedback from last year’s hearings, the ICC board recognized the process could be revised to avoid the proponent of the code having their change moved against their wishes. Within the newly implemented procedure, if there is a suggested change in the order and the proponent in attendance objects, then that move will not take place. In fact, the proponent can stop the move from happening. After all, it is the proponent’s code change.
Another new item this year was tabling, which was discussed in previous years but never fully implemented in terms of changes in the policy. In the 2018 committee action hearings people now have the ability to enable a code change. Therefore, code changes may be brought to the floor and based on the volume of submitted modifications or the opposition; stakeholders can ‘table’ the code change for a later agenda in order to work out the differences.
The idea of tabling is really to facilitate a more efficient hearing process. Ed, we witnessed some tabling in Columbus. What was your view? Were the new procedures well received and successful?
Wirtschoreck: Overall, they seem to be successful and well received. Both new procedures were utilized on occasion. At the hearings, I believe the option of tabling was successful and resulted in clear code change proposals and efficient hearings. With regards to changing the agenda order, there was only a couple of folks that argued their change not be moved and the proceedings stopped at that point and there was no vote; which I think better served the individual proponents of the changes.
Pfeiffer: I agree. I think both of the changes that the board made were spot-on in terms of improving the process. Now let’s discuss how the committee action hearings fit into the overall code development process. I will give a quick tour of the process up to the committee action hearings and then Ed will walk us through the public comment hearings.
The proposals considered at the Columbus hearings were due on Jan. 8, 2018. This year, the deadline was extended to Jan. 11.Code Council staff review all the code changes. In many cases, staff will contact the proponent with some questions and provide thoughts for potential rewording. If there is any potential rewording suggested by staff, it is only a suggestion. The proponent makes the final decision of the content of the proposal.
We post those proposals. In order to give everyone the adequate time to prepare, the proposals must be posted a minimum of 30 days in advance of the hearings. Because of the feedback received where people asked to see the proposals sooner, we posted the 2018 Group A hearing proposals approximately 50 days prior to the hearings. This gave people more time to review the proposals.
Following the 10 days and 150 hours of hearings, the committee held an online assembly motion vote. Anyone who attended the committee action hearing can disagree with the action taken by the committee; which is done in the form of a motion. The moderator indicates that the motion will be held and an online vote will occur after the hearing. There, all 64,000 members of the Code Council have the opportunity to vote on the assembly motion. In this current cycle there were about 17 or 18 motions held for an online vote.
Following the assembly motion vote, we produce the Report of the Committee Action Hearing. The report was posted at the end of May and it includes the action of the committee on each code change, the reasoning for its action, the approved modifications as well as the assembly motion vote counts of the code changes that went to the online assembly vote.
Ed, can you walk us through the public comment hearings?
Wirtschoreck: Sure thing. The public comment hearings are the second step in the process, scheduled for Oct. 24–31, 2018. Submissions of public comments are open on cdpACCESS. cdpACCESS and the submission deadline for the public comments is July 16, 2018. At that point, Code Council staff will access the comments and we create a public comment agenda that is expected to be posted for public review by Aug. 31, 2018. The public comment hearing is the second step in a three-step code development process. Mike, can you shed some light on the determination of the public comment agenda and finally the last step in the process?
Pfeiffer: One of the things that people will look for after the July 16 public comment deadline is information about if their proposal will be considered at the public comment hearing in October. ICC staff and I will review all the public comments submitted to assess the volume. By mid-August, I hope to release the hearing schedule, which identifies the order of codes for the public comment hearing.
The public comment hearings will last for one week. In order to vote, our governmental member voting representatives (GMVRs) must be confirmed in our database 30 days prior to the public comment hearings and the online governmental consensus vote (OGCV).
The OGCV was implemented back in the 2014 cycle. It was instituted by the board in response to folks who wanted to be involved in the process and have a voice in the final outcome of the code change proposals but due to time or resources, were not able to attend the public comment hearings. Through cdpACCESS, the board created the online governmental consensus process. The online governmental consensus vote is one of all the validated voters for this cycle. It occurs about two weeks after the conclusion of the public comment hearings. Voting members can view the proposals, review the public comments, review the approved public comments from the public comment hearing, and review the committee action hearing and the public comment hearing videos. Through this system, voting members have access to all the information required to cast a vote.
Once the vote takes place, we have an audit/validation process where a third-party auditor reviews the process. Since we have the online feature, we want to make sure that there are appropriate levels of security and we ensure a valid vote. Assuming it is a valid vote, the auditor makes a recommendation to the board who then approves the process.
By mid-December, the final actions of the 2018 Group A cycle are posted. On Jan. 7, 2019, we will start the process all over again with code changes to the Group B codes. The Group B codes are the administration, International Building Code structural, existing building, both energy committees, both the commercial and residential, chapter 1 of the International Green Construction Code, and the residential building provisions.
Wirtschoreck: Before we close, I would like to re-emphasize that this is an open process for any interested party and I certainly encourage everyone’s participation. Lastly, just a reminder that the public comment deadline is July 16, 2018, and we look forward to seeing everybody at the hearings in Richmond, Va., in October.
Pfeiffer: I definitely want to say thanks to Whitney for allowing me to take over for this episode of the podcast. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them to Communications@ICCsafe.org.