Virginia’s Fire Safety and Prevention Codes

When buildings or structures, except exempt structures such as farm structures, are constructed in Virginia and when work is done on existing buildings and structures, the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) ensures that a minimum level of safety is achieved. After the work is completed, the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code (SFPC) ensures that the level of safety in those buildings and structures is maintained. The USBC regulates construction-related aspects of fire safety and the SFPC regulates certain maintenance and operational related aspects of fire safety in existing buildings and outdoors. Both regulations incorporate provisions of the International Fire Code (IFC), a national model code that contains a comprehensive set of fire safety regulations that was developed to be used as a stand-alone code in jurisdictions that do not have a building code, or to be used in conjunction with the International Building Code (IBC) in localities that utilize the IBC as their model building code. The IFC also contains fire prevention regulations related to operations and the maintenance of buildings, structures, and systems, that can be referenced in jurisdictions that have a fire prevention code.

In Virginia, the IBC is incorporated as part of the USBC for construction. The IBC references the IFC for requirements related to hazardous materials, spray finishing, high-piled combustible storage, tents, and several other items. Each time the IFC is referenced, those provisions of the IFC are incorporated as an enforceable part of the IBC, and since the IBC is incorporated as part of the USBC, those referenced provisions of the IFC are incorporated as part of the USBC. When enforcing the USBC, it is important to remember that any references to the IFC are just that, and are not a reference to the SFPC.

The SFPC in Virginia is applicable to certain operations and to the maintenance of buildings and structures after a certificate of occupancy is issued or the work regulated by the USBC is completed and approved. It also includes some regulations specific to items that are not regulated by the USBC, such as food trucks. The SFPC incorporates those portions of the IFC, not incorporated by the USBC, that are related only to operations and the maintenance of buildings, structures, equipment, activities, and systems. The administrative provisions of the SFPC state that any provisions of the model codes that relate to the scope of enforcement of the code are deleted and replaced by the administrative provisions of the SFPC. Since the scope of the SFPC does not include the design, construction or installation of buildings, structures, systems, equipment or fire protection systems, those provisions are not incorporated as part of the SFPC.

The Virginia SFPC was edited during the 2015 code update cycle to remove references to construction requirements brought in from the IFC, in an effort to eliminate confusion over what is enforceable in the SFPC and what is not.

Local governments in Virginia are required to enforce the USBC. Enforcement of the SFPC is at the option of the local governments. The State Fire Marshal’s Office has the authority to enforce the SFPC in those localities in which there is no local SFPC enforcement.

The USBC and SFPC contain enforcement procedures that must be used by the enforcing agency as well as provisions for administrative appeals to resolve disagreements that may occur between the enforcing agencies and an aggrieved party.

Submitted by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development

May is Building Safety Month

Every year in May, DHCD celebrates Building Safety Month by raising building safety awareness.  Building safety and the codes involved are what will ensure we have safe, sustainable structures for generations to come.

Building Safety Month is an international campaign to raise awareness about building safety, the benefits of modern up-to-date building codes and to help individuals, families, and businesses understand what it takes to create safe and sustainable structures.  Virginia has statewide building and fire codes that are regularly updated to protect our citizens from disasters like fires, weather-related events, and structural collapse.   

The topic for week one of Building Safety Month is ‘Preparing for disasters: Build strong, build smart’.  DCHD is currently in the 2018 code change cycle, in which it helps stakeholders from all over Virginia create and develop modern, up to date codes.  A new Resiliency Sub-workgroup will meet throughout this cycle to review the codes and make recommendations to increase resiliency. Keeping codes updated with new technology and standards will help keep communities safe in the event of natural disasters.  The public is welcome to participate in the code development process.  Resources can be found on https://va.cdpaccess.com.

The topic for week two of Building Safety Month is ‘Ensuring a safer future through training and education’.  DHCD partners with the Virginia Building Code Officials Association (VBCOA) and the Virginia Plumbing and Mechanical Inspectors Association (VPMIA) to award scholarships to students in the code arena.  This year, students must write a 1000 word or less essay illustrating how having building codes in place can increase the level of confidence within a community. DHCD not only focus on education and outreach during the month of May.  DHCD’s Jack Proctor Virginia Building Code Academy provides important training and education to the code enforcement industry throughout the year.  The Building Code Academy successfully provided an estimated 4,392 instruction hours in 2018, offering courses in every facet of the codes.

The topic for week three is ‘Securing clean, abundant water for all communities’.  Currently, DHCD staff is working with the Virginia Department of Health in an effort to develop regulations for harvesting rainwater for potable reuse. Being able to harvest rainwater would reduce the strain on water supplies and open doors for providing water to communities in need all over the commonwealth.

The topic for week four is ‘Construction professionals and homeowners: Partners in safety’.  DHCD works closely with code officials and homeowners on a daily basis, including modular and manufactured home owners, providing technical assistance, helping resolve issues and enforcing the safety regulations related to manufactured and modular housing..

The topic for week five is ‘Innovations in building safety’.  The construction industry is increasingly utilizing more technology and many homes or parts of homes today are constructed in factories and delivered to the installation site.  DHCD is currently working with multiple stakeholder groups on initiatives to utilize alternative building methods and materials.  Some of the topics being explored are 3-D printed houses and homes made out of shipping containers. These new methods of construction are not only innovative, but they might also provide additional temporary and affordable housing options, not only in Virginia but across the globe.

Code officials and design professionals work every day to ensure the buildings we enjoy are safe.  We encourage you to take a moment this month to appreciate Virginia’s building and fire codes and those that enforce them.  It is because of them that we can be confident that the structures where we live, work and play are safe and resilient.  

Thank you to the Va. Department of Housing and Community Development for contributing this article.

DHCD Update

Significant changes to Uniform Statewide Building Code

As you may be well aware, the 2015 USBC went into effect on September 4th of this year. With each code update cycle, we receive a substantial amount of code change proposals and this cycle was no exception. There were several noteworthy changes made to the USBC, both at the national and state level.

Listed below are a few examples of those changes:

Exemptions from Permits (VA)—Work on billboard safety upgrades to add or replace steel catwalks, steel ladders, or steel safety cables was added to the list of permit exemptions in chapter 1.

Exceptions to the Exemptions (VA)—Building officials may now require a permit for work that is normally exempt where located in a flood hazard area.
Food Processing Establishments and Commercial Kitchens (ICC)—Facilities used for food processing/preparation 2500 square feet and under can now be classified as a Group B occupancy.

Existing Building Code Overhaul (VA)—One of the most significant changes this cycle was the complete re-organization and overhaul of the Existing Building Code (previously the Rehab Code). This was a concerted effort to make this code, which is mandatory for existing buildings, less confusing and more user-friendly.

College Labs (VA)—Another notable change was the creation of a new section for higher education laboratories. This carve-out was added to both the Virginia Construction Code and the Virginia Existing Building Code, Parts I and II of the USBC respectively.

DHCD continues to work with our stakeholders ensuring a comprehensive and collaborative code development process for building and fire regulations in Virginia. If you have questions about any changes or the upcoming code change cycle, slated to start early next year, please contact us at (804) 371-7000 or sbco@dhcd.virginia.gov.

ICC Conference and New Codes in Effect

2015 Virginia Codes

The 2015 edition of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) went into effect on September 4, 2018, and the 2015 Statewide Fire Prevention Code (SFPC) will be effective October 16, 2018. As with past editions of the USBC, during the first year immediately following the effective date, a permit applicant can choose to apply under the 2012 USBC or the 2015 USBC. After the one-year period (September 4, 2019), all permits must be issued under the 2015 USBC.

All DHCD code enforcement certificate holders are required to complete DHCD approved Code Change Training within 12 months of the effective date of the new codes and all users of the codes are encouraged to attend 2015 Code Change Training to better understand the changes in the 2015 I-Codes as well as the Virginia amendments to those codes.

For more information visit http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/index.php/va-building-codes/training-and-certification/training/code-change-training-cct.html

2018 International Code Council Conference

The International Code Council’s annual conference will be held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center October 21-29. This will be the first time an ICC Annual Conference has been held in Virginia. The conference will include networking, education, exhibits, the Building Safety and Design Expo and Public Comment Hearings on the 2021 I-Codes.

The conference activities will conclude on October 23rd and the Public Comment Hearings will take place October 24-29. This is a great opportunity to experience the code development process first hand without having to travel very far.
For more information visit http://media.iccsafe.org/2018_ICC_AnCon/index.html

Information provided by:
Skip Harper/MCP
Senior Construction Inspector II
State Building Codes Office
Division of Building and Fire Regulation
Department of Housing and Community Development

State Fills Key Roles at DGS and DHCD

Christopher L. Beschler has been appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to head the Virginia Department of General Services, replacing Rich Sliwoski who recently announced his retirement. Beshler is a long-time administrator for the City of Richmond. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with an M.B.A. from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. “Chris’ experience in both the public and private sector brings a unique, broad-based expertise in developing positive relationships,” said the governor’s office in their announcement. The leadership transition is expected to take place in mid-October.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has promoted Cindy L. Davis to Deputy Director for Building and Fire Regulation. Davis fills the position was left vacant by Emory Rodgers who recently retired. DHCD’s Bill Shelton remarked, “Cindy is very knowledgeable and will continue Virginia’s tradition of quality leadership in the development and administration of building and fire codes and a national leader in the field.”

Free Online Code Seminars

The Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) Parts I, II, and III become effective July 14, 2015.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) offers free online educational seminars through the Virginia Building Code Academy Knowledge Center. These learning units can be self-reported to the AIA, but be sure to save the provided certificate for your records.

If you have any questions, Contact Marshall Dreiling at (804) 237-1769 or mdreiling@aiava.org.

Building Code App Under Consideration

Iphone_2Technological advances provide smart-phone applications for just about everything anyone can imagine, up to and including up-to-date code inspection results on construction projects.  Would it help you in your work?  If so, say so.  And while you are at it, mention other ideas that you have to make implementing or interpreting the building code easier.

The Department of Housing and Community Development begins in June its negotiations for the publishing of the 2012 Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code.  In addition to publishing the code, the International Code Council could provide such modern apps.  For what should DHCD negotiate?

Please send any ideas, input or recommendations to Cindy Davis at cindy.davis@dhcd.virginia.gov.

What tools would help you do your job?  Whether from compliance, design, or construction standpoint, today’s technology and tools are changing, and DHCD would like to be able to provide the products that will most benefit its client groups.

DHCD hopes to negotiate and provide some of these new services or products, or at least encourage their development. If you can imagine it, send it.  This can be as complex as mobile apps for inspections that include a checklist, video, photo or commentary of code requirements when you click on them from your tablet or smart phone. If it will benefit you and your jurisdiction, DHCD wants to know.