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Changes to the 2012 International Building Code
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Issue 50: Changes to the 2012 International Building Code

By Beth Tubbs, P.E., FSFPE

The 2012 edition of the International Building Code1 (IBC) has recently been published by the International Code Council along with the complete family of coordinated codes. This article focuses on the more substantial revisions that are relevant to the fire protection community.

Open Malls – Section 402

The increasingly popular concept to create large-scale projects resembling covered mall buildings without roofs over pedestrian circulation areas was addressed in the 2012 IBC through the introduction of "open mall building" provisions. Open malls have the benefit of openness, which reduces the hazards from smoke during a fire. Therefore, the exceptions provided by Section 402 were extended to open malls. Essentially, the provisions for covered mall buildings were extended to open mall buildings throughout Section 402. Changes were made to sections related to placement of standpipes, for example. More specifically, instead of standpipes located at each exterior entrance for covered mall buildings, the code requires standpipes at each entrance to the mall at the perimeter line for open mall buildings (Section 905.4 item 4).

Children's Play structures – Section 424

Children's play structures are now regulated by a new standalone section 424 instead of being limited to covered mall buildings in Section 402. It was felt that a broader application of the section was necessary. The provisions have not been revised extensively, but NFPA 2892 is now offered as an alternative testing standard to UL 19753 for foam plastics. An additional separation requirement from building walls, partitions and from elements of the means of egress of 5 feet (1.5 m) was added.

General Building Heights and Areas – Chapter 5

The method of calculating the appropriate allowable area increase for buildings which front public ways and other open space has been clarified in Section 506.2. The focus of these revisions was on the determination of the weighted average of the frontage width and which width is to be used. When calculating the frontage increase for a building that fronts a public way, the entire width of the public way is to be used.

In the 2012 IBC, incidental accessory occupancies are now designated 'incidental uses' and are regulated separately under a new Section 509. The mixed occupancy requirements are no longer applicable.

Vertical Openings – Sections 712 and 713

The shaft enclosure provisions within Chapter 7 have been relocated to Section 712 and 713 and reorganized to place the emphasis on the presence of vertical openings rather than on shaft enclosures. This change was made recognizing that the use of shaft enclosures is just one of many acceptable protective measures that can be utilized to address the hazards related to vertical openings.

Interior finishes – Chapter 8

Chapter 8 now specifically addresses polypropylene plastic and requires that this material be tested using the room corner test (NFPA 2864) versus the typical Steiner tunnel test5, to result in a more accurate evaluation of the flame spread hazards for this type of plastic.

Fire Protection Systems and Equipment – Chapter 9

Automatic Sprinkler systems – Section 903

Sprinklers were required throughout buildings containing mercantile occupancies of any size that sell upholstered furniture in the 2009 code. In the 2012 IBC, the scope has been expanded to include mattresses, but is limited only to buildings where a Group M occupancy of greater than 5000 square feet (700 m2) sells or displays upholstered furniture and mattresses. Sprinklers are also now required for Group S-1 and F-1 occupancies over 2500 square feet (350 m2) that store or manufacture upholstered furniture or mattresses.

Fire extinguishers – Section 906

A key exception for fire extinguishers was removed from the code for new and existing Group A, B and E occupancies equipped throughout with quick-response sprinklers. A new exception was added, but that exception is specific to Group R-2 occupancies that instead provide a portable fire extinguisher having a minimum rating of 1-A:10-B:C in each dwelling unit.

Fire Alarms – Section 907

The fire alarm requirements found in Section 907 had a couple key revisions. The first is the requirement for an emergency voice communication system for Group E occupancies. This system replaces the traditional occupant notification system required by the 2009 IBC. It should be noted in both the 2009 and 2012 editions that the activation is manual versus automatic. Also, another key change is that the trigger for manual fire alarm systems in Group E occupancies went from greater than 50 occupants to greater than 30 occupants.

Additionally, emergency voice communication system messages in stadiums, arenas and grandstands are required to be captioned. This is required only when Section 1108.2.7.3 requires the captioning of audible public announcements.

Group R-2 college and university buildings are now required to have an automatic smoke detection system with an occupant notification system. The focus is on dormitory type buildings.

Carbon Monoxide – 908

Requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in all residential (Group R) and institutional (Group I) occupancies have been added to the IBC. These provisions apply to new construction, but a similar requirement was added into the International Fire Code6 (Section 1103.9) to deal with existing buildings. These provisions are consistent with the requirements added to the International Residential Code7 in the 2009 edition for carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in all new construction of one- and two-family dwellings.

Means of Egress – Chapter 10

The reduced egress width factors for sprinklered buildings that had been in the 2000 through 2006 IBC, but were removed in the 2009 edition, have been reintroduced. The exceptions allow for use of reduced width factors for sprinklered buildings, but only where an emergency voice/communications alarm system (EVCAS) is provided for the building.

Exterior walls - Chapter 14

Chapter 14 now regulates polypropylene siding for flame-spread, testing requirements and fire-separation distance. Fiber-reinforced polymers installed on exterior walls must now achieve a Class A flame-spread index of 25 or less when tested in accordance with ASTM E-845 and are limited to 10 percent of the exterior wall area for any individual element or group of nonseparated elements.

Foam plastic – Chapter 26

The foam plastic "specific approval" requirements of Chapter 26 have been revised to require that the smoke development of all assemblies that contain foam plastic be evaluated, regardless of the test standard used. These requirements have also been clarified to specify that the "special approval" testing cannot be used to eliminate any component of an assembly that was included in the test required by Section 2603.5.5 for the qualification of exterior wall.

Chapter 30 - Elevators

To encourage more consistent application of the fire service access elevator and occupant evacuation elevators, the provisions have now been coordinated editorially. Also, a minimum of 2 fire service access elevators are now required by Section 403.6.1 for high-rise buildings, and the requirements have been revised to allow the fire department to recall a single elevator at a time. The purpose is to allow occupant evacuation elevators to stay in service longer. Finally, direct access to the floor from the interior exit stairway serving the lobby is required. This reduces the number of doors propped open during a fire and thus protects the lobby from the effects of fire for a longer period of time (section 3007.10.1).

Future Editions

The revisions presented are the result of the 2009/2010 code change cycle to the I-Codes. The development of the 2015 IBC is going to be underway in the near future with the code change deadline of January 3, 2012 for the Group A changes and January 3, 2013 for the Group B changes. More information on the 2009/2010 code change cycle and the upcoming cycles (including a description of the two code change groups) can be found at the following link:

Beth Tubbs, P.E., FSFPE, is with the International Code Council


  1. International Building Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2012.
  2. NFPA 289, Standard Method of Fire Test for Individual Fuel Packages, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2009.
  3. UL 1975, Standard for Fire Tests for Foamed Plastics Used for Decorative Purposes, Underwriters Laboratories, Northbrook, IL, 2006.
  4. NFPA 286, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Fianish to Room Fire Growth, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2011.
  5. ASTM E-84, Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2011.
  6. International Fire Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2012.
  7. International Residential Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2009.

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