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Code Changes - Building Smarter

As building code requirements evolve, the construction industry works to stay ahead and establish new, innovative solutions

The quote “There is nothing permanent except change” is true for many things and the construction industry is no exception. The goal is to anticipate where possible and adjust when necessary. With recent mechanical and energy code changes over the past few years, buildings are becoming smarter, which is a step in the right direction. However, change often comes with a learning curve, so it’s important to be flexible and innovative when it comes to building in new code territory.

The Importance of Code Changes

As we continue to become more educated around the impact that buildings have, as well as the energy buildings consume, it’s important that those learnings translate into actionable items so that we can improve. The need for modern, up-to-date energy conservation code that addresses the design of energy-efficient building envelopes and installation of energy-efficient mechanical, lighting, and power systems is becoming more and more important. The International Energy Conservation Code is designed to meet these needs through model code regulations that will result in the optimal utilization of fossil fuel and nondepletable resources in all communities, large and small.

This comprehensive energy conservation code establishes minimum regulations for energy-efficient buildings using prescriptive and performance-related provisions. It is founded on broad-based principles that make possible the use of new materials and new energy-efficient designs.

Beyond ever-changing energy code requirements, the industry also regularly updates both the International Plumbing Code and the International Mechanical Code. These codes work within the International Code Council’s family of building codes and are intended to provide minimum regulations around plumbing and mechanical systems to both protect and improve the health and safety of building occupants and the public.

The International Plumbing Code sets minimum regulations for plumbing systems using both prescriptive and performance-related provisions covering topics such as:

Backflow prevention
Fixtures and fittings
Water supply and distribution piping
Water heaters
Sanitary drainage and venting
Traps, grease interceptors, and separators
Storm drainage
Nonpotable water systems (rainwater, gray water, reclaimed water)


Thinking Outside the Box

It’s easy to see the benefits of a continued focus of improvements to building codes – better use of energy by buildings, more economical energy consumption, healthier plumbing systems, and smarter use of mechanicals, to name a few. With changes in codes happening every three years, there can also be challenges. Adjusting to new requirements requires shifting how things are done both from an operational standpoint, as well as estimating. Many code requirements have driven up the price of projects from even a few years ago. While the many benefits of the changes will offset some of the upfront expenses, it can be a hard to stomach a bid that’s 20% higher than expected.

While better energy use and consumption, healthier plumbing systems, and smarter use of mechanicals will offset some of the upfront expenses, it can be hard to stomach a bid that’s 20% higher than expected.

However, when presented with challenges like this, there is often a silver lining. Code changes are intended to improve the functionality of buildings and the result is a better finished product for the end user.

“We often focus on the merits of new technology and the added value that comes from the adjustments we’ve made to meet code minimums, rather than the requirements themselves,” said Rick Maniktala, Principal at BranchPattern. “It’s easier to get a client on board with a design once they understand the value that making these changes offer.”

Working Together

The best approach to ensuring building designs meet code requirements is through early discussions among project stakeholders. MMC Contractors believes in the design-assist approach because having early collaboration with engineers and the opportunity to influence the design, specifically to meet the codes, results in greater value in what’s delivered to the client.

“It’s our job to ensure we’re taking the best approach to the mechanical and plumbing aspects of our design to not only meet code requirements, but also to find the smartest and most cost-effective approach,” said Paul Peters, estimating manager at the MMC Contractors Kansas City office. “Being able to work side-by-side with our engineering partner early in the design gives us more of an opportunity to work with them to come up with the best plan.”

Not only does early involvement add value to clients, but partners pick up new ideas from each other.

“Working on a design-build project encourages more collaboration and a better experience for the integrated team,” said Maniktala. “We’re all able to learn from each other and our clients are better off when we take a team approach.”