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Changes to the 2015 International Building Code
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Issue 84: Changes to the 2015 International Building Code

By Beth Tubbs, P.E., FSFPE

The 2015 edition of the International Building Code1 (IBC) will be published in the near future along with the complete family of coordinated I-Codes. This article focuses on the more substantial revisions that are relevant to the fire protection community. The revisions are grouped by major topics.


Chapter 5 of the IBC has been heavily revised into a new, more user friendly format. The revisions were meant primarily as a format change and were not intended to be technical in nature. The increases for both height and area when sprinklers are installed are now integrated into the tables with separate tables used for height and for area.



There was a comprehensive re-working of requirements in the codes for Group I-1 and R-4 (assisted living and group homes) and Group I-2 (hospitals and nursing homes) through the work of the ICC Code Technology Committee (CTC) and the Adhoc Committee on Healthcare.


Both Group I-1 and Group I-2 will now have condition 1 and condition 2, based on the type of care, level of care and the occupant’s capability for self-evacuation. In the case of Group I-1, condition 1 denotes facilities where the occupants are capable of evacuation without assistance. Condition 2 occupants require some assistance during evacuation.


Generally, the requirements for condition 2 are more restrictive than condition 1. In the case of Group I-2 occupancies, the two conditions are used to separate those types of facilities with ongoing nonsurgical care such as nursing homes (condition 1) and those that perform surgeries or procedures such as hospitals (condition 2). The condition 1 and condition 2 terminology will be used where the requirements differ. If the requirement is generally applicable, the requirement will have a general reference to Group I-1 or I-2.


There were also several significant revisions with regard to Group I-2 hospitals (condition 2). The smoke compartment size for Group I-2 hospitals was increased from 22,500 square feet (2,090 m2) to 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2). In addition, smoke dampers in smoke barriers were eliminated where a fully ducted system is provided.


A new IBC (and International Fire Code2 ) Section 915 replaces and greatly expands upon former Section 908.7 on carbon monoxide (CO) detection and alarm requirements. The relocation of the requirements provides an independent section within Chapter 9 to address the CO alarm requirements. This relocation also clarifies the requirements with regard to detector and alarm placement.


This reworking involved many stakeholders and was coordinated through the ICC Fire Code Action Committee. As part of these revisions, the requirements have also been increased in scope to address Group E educational occupancies, which is consistent with a nationwide trend.



Automatic water mist systems are now formally recognized as an automatic fire extinguishing system within Chapter 9 of the IBC (and International Fire Code). Such systems are allowed where consistent with their testing and listing requirements. The requirements provide provisions for installation (NFPA 7503), testing, monitoring, control valves and related requirements.


It should be noted that such systems cannot be considered as alternatives to automatic sprinkler systems from the perspective of allowing reductions or exceptions to other code requirements, such as increases for area and height.



Section 910 was revised to address the issue of overall smoke removal versus the current focus on smoke and heat vents. The mechanical smoke removal requirements have been revised and clarified. This was a result of work of the CTC smoke and heat vent study group and had the input of many stakeholders in this industry.



Limited area sprinklers requirements were revised to be more comprehensive and limited in their use. Such systems are now limited to six sprinklers, where in past editions the limit was 19. In addition to the limitation of 6 sprinklers, the areas of protection are limited to light hazard and Ordinary Hazrd Group I.



Requirements for exits from a space (section 1015) and exits from a story (section 1021) have been combined and moved under the general provisions as a new section 1006 (number of exit and exit access doorways) and section 1007 (exit and exit access doorway configuration). A reorganization of section 1021 has also been incorporated.


The protection for the openings containing exit access stairways now references vertical opening requirements in section 713, instead of repeating the requirements in section 1009.3.


In addition, enclosure requirements for exit access stairways and ramps have been given their own section, section 1018, similar to enclosure of exit stairways in current section 1022.


The occupant load for mercantile occupancies has been revised to 60 square feet (5.6 m2) per occupant for all floors. Previously, the basement and grade-level floors had a higher occupant load of 30 square feet (2.8 m2) per person.


A set of revisions clarified requirements for assembly seating, including means of egress, aisle stairs (now called stepped aisles) and ramped aisles, handrails, and guards. Those also were coordinated with revisions to ICC 300.4



The 2015 IBC has undergone many changes with regard to elevators. One of the more significant revisions relates to the fact that the lobby requirements were moved from Chapter 7 to Chapter 30. This puts most elevator related code requirements into the same chapter.


The lobby requirements moved to Chapter 30 relate to elevators not used as fire service access elevators (FSAE) or occupant evacuation elevators (OEE). In addition to moving the lobby requirements to Chapter 30, the requirements were reformatted to clarify that the concern related to protection of the hoistway opening versus requiring an elevator lobby enclosure.


Hoistway venting was deleted, as it seemed counterintuitive to the need for enclosed elevator lobbies in the code. The provisions were historic in nature and were provided for the fire service, but they were no longer seen as necessary. In addition, the hoistway venting requirements often conflicted with the hoistway pressurization option for elevator lobby enclosures.


The requirements for certain high rise buildings to provide FSAEs have been revised so that both such elevators are sized to be able to handle 3,500 pound (1,600 kg) loads and accommodate an ambulance stretcher that measures 24 by 84-inches (600 x 2100 mm), as required in Section 3002.4.

Another significant change is the allowance of an alternative to "direct access” to be provided from the FSAE or OEE lobby to an interior exit stairway. The alternative allows equivalent construction that leads to an interior exit stairway. This need was determined through study of the issue with the CTC elevator lobby study group.  The CTC elevator study group found that, in many cases without this revision, many buildings would be forced to provide an additional stair, which was seen as excessive.


Finally, various revisions were made to the FSAE and OEE requirements to reflect the revisions now included with ASME A17.1.5 Previously, similar provisions were located in the I-Codes pending the inclusion in ASME A17.1.



Existing buildings are often addressed by those in the world of fire protection. A significant change in the IBC is the deletion of Chapter 34 dealing with existing buildings. The ICC Board of Directors and membership decided that existing buildings should be addressed by the International Existing Building Code6 (IEBC). Despite this deletion, Chapters 4 and 14 of the IEBC contain the provisions from IBC Chapter 34.


More information on the 2012 and 2013 code change cycle and the upcoming cycles (including a description of the two code change groups and CDPAccess) can be found at the following links.


Code Development


CDP Access


Beth Tubbs is with the International Code Council

  1. International Building Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2015.
  2. International Fire Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2015.
  3. NFPA 750, Standard on Water Mist Fire Protection Systems, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2010.
  4. ICC 300, Safety Standard for Bleachers, Folding and Telescopic Seating and Grandstands, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2012.
  5. ASME A17.1, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, ASME, New York, 2010.
  6. International Existing Buildings Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2015.

Related Articles:


2nd Quarter 2013 – Smoke Control in Very Tall Buildings – Past, Present, and Future – Erik Anderson, P.E., Koffel Associates, Inc.
An overview of engineered smoke control systems in very tall buildings, which use mechanical means to produce pressure differentials across barriers to inhibit smoke spread. The author discusses code trends of the past and some of the relevant design considerations for smoke control in very tall buildings of the future. READ MORE


2nd Quarter 2012 – Date Line 2012: Issues and Future Directions for Water Mist Fire Protection Systems – Jack R. Mawhinney, P.Eng., FSFPE, Hughes Associates, Inc.
Jack Mawhinney explains the origins of NFPA 750, the committee charged with writing an installation standard for water mist systems, and provides a preview of some of the issues that will be addressed in the next edition of NFPA 750, which is due in 2013. Mawhinney addresses some common misconceptions about water-mist systems, discusses the role of manufacturers, and stresses the importance of including ongoing maintenance costs while calculating life-cycle costs. READ MORE


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