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A Code of Their Own: NYC DOB Plans to Release Existing Building Code

Learn more about the DOB’s pioneering effort to better address existing building repairs and alterations.

Every three years, New York City revises its building code to better reflect the most current version of the International Building Code (or I-Code).

But this revision cycle, the NYC Department of Buildings is developing a brand-new code centered around existing buildings.

The DOB is drafting a first edition of the NYC Existing Building Code with the help of the International Code Council, along with a team of former DOB commissioners and New York City architects and engineers. It will be modeled on the 2018 International Existing Building Code (IEBC 2018) and the 2020 New York State Existing Building Code.

As with all recent New York City building codes, there are sure to be adjustments for city-specific needs. While we cannot say what these specific adjustments will be, we can discuss some general benefits and updates likely to be introduced.

New Compliance Methods

Construction on existing buildings can be tricky to navigate, from identifying which version of the code applies, to getting the right permits, and more. The benefit of creating a separate code for existing buildings is to bring more flexibility to the reuse and revitalization of existing buildings.

For example, under the current building code, the only method for alteration is closest to what the ICC would call the Work Area Compliance Method. Here, upgraded code requirements are triggered and scaled by certain types and amounts of work (i.e., work that changes occupancy type or increases existing floor surface area by more than 110%).

This has required design professionals and owners to make exhaustive calculations to see whether their alteration project qualifies for updated requirements or not.

The new Existing Building Code, in step with the IBC and NYS codes, will introduce two additional methods that grant more ease and freedom to professionals:

  • Prescriptive Compliance Method: A straightforward method with specific minimum requirements for construction related to existing buildings, requiring less analysis and review, but also making design more constrained. This is most similar to Chapter 34 of previous versions of the IBC. Chapter 34 deals with provisions of the IBC that govern alterations to existing buildings and changes of occupancy, including Compliance Alternatives.
  • Performance Compliance Method: Evaluates existing buildings and planned alterations for an expected minimum performance level of fire safety, means of egress and general safety, without necessarily having to adhere to every aspect of the most recent code. This requires more analysis, but also offers more design freedom.

Additional Benefits

According to the National Council of Governments on Building Codes and Standards (NCGBCS), existing building codes also promote safer reuse of buildings with standards that are as strict as or stricter than those of the building’s original code, but less strict than the standards applied to new construction.

This is done, in part, through certain guidelines in the IEBC that apply to all three methods. These include seismic forces evaluations, guidelines for seismic and wind retrofitting, and standards for new, replacement, and archaic materials.

In this way, they say, adopting the IEBC can help drive economic development and promote affordable housing, along with reusing and revitalizing older buildings and neighborhoods.

While New York City already does quite a bit to preserve and update its existing buildings, particularly historic buildings, a citywide existing building code will help bring the code in line with the rest of the state while opening up opportunities for designers and owners to better and more easily reuse buildings in the future.

For more, read up on the existing IEBC and NYS EBC standards and keep an eye out for DOB updates.

For more building code updates, subscribe to Decoder for email updates. For assistance with upcoming alterations projects and all other code concerns, contact Outsource Consultants.