Overview of where we are on the existing buildings inspection issues
West Palm Beach panel discussion
The International Code Council, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and the National Institute of Building Sciences convened a panel sponsored by the Building Officials Association of Florida of subject matter experts from around the nation in West Palm Beach on Aug. 17, 2021. The purpose was to share knowledge and recommendations on how communities monitor the safety of existing buildings, what guidance already exists and how future catastrophic events may be avoided.
Three panels were assigned specific topics that included:
- “The Codes and Existing Buildings”
- “Building Inspections”
- “Property Management and the Real Estate Industry”
The meeting participants generally agreed that the International Building Code’s (IBC) technical requirements, which have been incorporated in the Florida Building Code, currently provide the correct level of engineering guidance and safety for the construction of new buildings and alterations.
For context, the Code Council reviewed the property maintenance codes and regulations in 381 Florida jurisdictions and found the following:
- Seventy-six jurisdictions (20 percent) have not adopted minimum building/property maintenance codes for existing buildings.
- Eighty-three jurisdictions (22 percent) reference model housing or existing building abatement codes/standards that were developed in the late 1970s.
- One hundred and thirty-seven jurisdictions (36 percent) have implemented locally developed property/building maintenance regulations or standards in lieu of a national model code or standard.
- Eighty-three jurisdictions (22 percent) have adopted the more modern International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC).
- Less than three percent of jurisdictions have implemented a periodic recertification or inspection safety program for existing buildings.
Findings from the panel discussions include:
- Communities need better guidance for the inspection of existing buildings, depending on local risk criteria.
- Design, inspection and quality control improvements are necessary.
- Building maintenance logs should be required and available for inspection.
- More accountability is necessary; dangerous conditions must be reported to building officials immediately.
- Timing and frequency of recertification inspections must be considered.
- A uniform statewide approach is needed, as administered by local governments and with consideration given to the location and other geographic considerations.
- Continuous education and training for maintenance personnel are needed.
- An analysis of existed and new technologies available to improve inspections (e.g., of reinforcing steel, pre-stressed tendons) would be beneficial.
- Although building safety inspection programs are common, recertification programs are rare.
- Building maintenance and education must play a role in an existing building safety strategy.
Following the West Palm Beach panel discussion, the Code Council conducted a national survey on existing building maintenance inspections. We received 397 responses from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and one from a tribal community. Forty-six percent of the responses were from cities.
Twenty percent of authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) that responded stated that they have a periodic inspection safety program for existing buildings. This represents one-third of responding AHJs who adopt a property maintenance code.
The most common criteria for periodic inspections address fire and life safety (through annual inspections) and occupancy status (primarily rentals, apartments), type (assembly and large occupancy buildings), and size. Some seek AHJs to prioritize buildings based on height or based on a timeline order from a previous inspection or code violation. Several AHJs have separate processes for parking garages. Other considerations include building age/historic status, snow load, high-hazard structures (factories and storage facilities), structural risk, or buildings in certain hazard areas (derecho/flood zones).
Frequency of periodic inspections based on survey results:
- Forty-two percent conduct annual inspections.
- Twenty-six percent conduct inspections every two to four years.
- Five percent conduct inspections every five to nine years.
- Thirty-two percent (“other”) conduct inspections as needed, as requested, after each occupancy change, after each ownership change, etc.
The percentages below represent the proportion of AHJs that require specific systems be inspected of those AHJs that also require periodic inspection:
- Ninety-two percent — Fire Protection Systems
- Seventy-six percent — Electrical
- Seventy-five percent — Mechanical
- Fifty-four percent — Plumbing
- Sixty-three percent — Building Envelope
- Twenty percent — Other (i.e., general life safety, means of egress, accessibility, parking logs, solar systems)
We have learned that communities are seeking better guidance for inspections and feel that more accountability is necessary. For most states, a uniform statewide property maintenance standard administered by local governments is important for the public safety and health of the real estate market.
Continuous education and training for building managers, code officials and the building community is important.
An analysis of existing and new technologies available to implement changes would provide great value to all stakeholders.
Although building safety inspection programs are common, recertification programs are rare.
Adoption of a statewide property maintenance standard for existing buildings
Maintaining the structural integrity of a building throughout its service life is of critical importance to the public’s health and safety. The IPMC requires that both the building and the service/fire protection systems be maintained in good repair and be structurally sound. The IPMC with an appendix on inspection of existing buildings would provide a ready-made solution for jurisdictions.
Currently, the IPMC is mandatory statewide in New York (except New York City), Tennessee, Rhode Island and Maryland. It is required in West Virginia, South Dakota and Maryland unless the local community opts out and it is adopted at the statewide level in Virginia, Georgia and West Virginia where local adoption and enforcement is up to local governments. In another 32 states, the code is used at the local level. In total, the IPMC is adopted or in use in 40 states; more than 1,000 local jurisdictions adopt the code.
The purpose of developing the Existing Building Inspection Guide, as an appendix to the IPMC, is to provide a non-mandatory adoptable appendix of reasonable practices to ensure buildings are safe for continued use and occupancy. The Code Council intends to form a consensus group to transform Appendix C of the IPMC into a national standard.
One inspection protocol is not recommended as a solution for most states, particularly coastal states. The geographic location of the building, local climate, risk of flooding, areas of high wind, soil conditions, the presence of salt air and other risk factors must be considered in order to focus on only the necessary existing buildings. Code Council staff are working with the Florida Building Commission and stakeholders on a specific working draft document for that state. The draft is currently being reviewed by the Florida Building Commissioners.
The key criteria of this appendix as drafted includes site-specific inspection requirements based on the location of the building, including:
- The use classification of buildings and the required inspections based on the risk categories in the IBC and as amended by states and jurisdictions in addition to environmental risk exposures.
- Three phases of periodic inspections with specified frequency intervals over the service life of the building, performed by the following:
- Maintenance inspection performed by the code (building) official, owner or owner’s authorized representative.
- Periodic inspection performed by the code (building) official or licensed design professional.
- Milestone special inspection performed by a special inspector who is qualified and a registered engineer in the system discipline being inspected.
- Details of each of the required inspections, including reference documents to be used for the inspections.
- Roles and responsibilities of all parties, including the code (building) official.
- Criteria for assessing/identifying the existing design.
- Inspection of building construction materials and how environmental influences may affect their future performance.
- Inspection records, including sample inspection report forms.
- Resource materials providing additional information and guidance.
Planning a national dialogue
This fall, the Code Council is planning to host a national webinar to include interested participants from jurisdictions across the county to share their experiences and needs related to existing building inspections and maintenance.