Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cracking the Code: Rehabbing Older Buildings in the Face of Modern Code

Upper floor of historic building that will soon be rehabbed.
This week, the National Trust Main Street Center published a short article of mine on its website - "Upper Floor Housing: Bringing it Up to Code." It was originally written as a sidebar to my downtown housing article that is the feature of the current Main Street Now issue. (If you want a copy, please get in touch.) But, the article was epically long and graduated to a "primer," and they ran out of room for the code information to be included in the journal.

I am posting a few teaser paragraphs below and am linking to the full code article. I wanted to make sure my readers saw this because I am particularly interested in the International Code Council’s International Existing Building Code. It can make preservation projects more feasible by not challenging code enforcement officials to measure an older or historic building's safety by code written for modern buildings. The Existing Building Code doesn't seem to have widespread usage just yet. (Among others, New Hampshire and Washington state  adopted it. The small town of Burlington, Iowa, and Washington, DC, too, have adopted some of the code.) But, it appears to have a lot of potential to become another tool to add to your preservation toolbox and is worth checking out. 

"I have yet to speak to a developer or property owner who doesn’t groan when asked about bringing upper-floors up to code. No matter how business- or developer-friendly a city tries to be, the long road to getting a certificate of occupancy is a complicated one that has caused a lot of grey hair. There often are creative ways to meet code and cooperative code officials who want to support economic development, but the bottom line is that safety standards must be met.

Depending on what a property owner wants to do, upper-floor improvements and permitting might trigger updates in code that the owner isn’t prepared for financially.

“'When dealing with an older upper floor that has been vacant for a long time, you will need to make substantial upgrades, and when you invest in something and make upgrades, that triggers code,” says Mike Jackson, FAIA, chief architect of the Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. “The question then becomes what level of safety does it have to be and which code tricks and code knowledge can save you money so that you can afford to do the project.'”

Read the full Story of the Week over at mainstreet.org.

No comments: