That’s Not What We Meant

By Austin Regan

The DOB examiners are still learning the 2014 Code. As we start the third month of its enactment, examiners are just beginning to review applications which are subject to the rules of the new Code. Understandably, these examiners are far from comfortable with all the changes that are contained in the latest version. While this Code is not nearly as drastic a rewrite as the 2008 Code was, there are still differences. Many of the changes involved corrections or “fine-tunings” of sections that had proved unworkable or were not having the results as intended.

Having served on the Egress Sub-committee, I was involved in a number of spirited discussions regarding sections that members of the committee and/or the DOB felt needed reworking. One such section is BC 1027 – Exit Discharge (Section BC 1023 in the 2008 Code). The committee decided to change one of the exceptions to BC 1027.1. As I discuss this section with a number of examiners I find that they are interpreting the exception incorrectly. BC 1027.1. states that “Exits shall discharge directly to the exterior of the building.” That wording has not changed in the 2014 Code. Like many areas of the Code there are exceptions to that definitive statement.

The 1968 Code had a section 27-370(h) – Street floor lobbies – which was probably unique to New York City when written. Stated simply, this section allowed an exit stair to terminate in protected lobbies that led directly to the street. The IBC had no equivalent section so the street floor lobby lives on in Exception 1 through 4 of BC 1027.1. The exception that changed from 2008 to 2014 was Exception 1.1. The 2008 version read: “Such protected area shall provide a free and unobstructed way to the exterior of the building, which way is readily visible and identifiable from the point of termination of the exit enclosure.”

So, this section was interpreted as meaning that as soon as one opened the stair door that led into the lobby, the exit doors that led to the exterior had to be within a direct line of sight. These doors could be 100 feet away but you needed to be able to see them immediately. Given the narrow street frontages may buildings have, and the complexity of providing remote exits, this proviso seemed overly restrictive. The committee decided to change the wording of the exception to read: : “Such protected area shall provide a free and unobstructed way to an exterior exit door and such exit is readily visible and identifiable within 40 feet from the point of termination of the exit enclosure.” With this change now the stair door did not necessarily need to be a prominent feature of the lobby and gave the designer more freedom related to the stair landing point at the ground floor.

Examiners I have spoken to say that their training is telling them to interpret this section to mean that the travel distance from the exit discharge (stair door) to the exterior cannot exceed 40 feet. This is not even close to what the committee intended or what the section says. Instead of offering more flexibility to lobby designs, the examiners’ interpretation actually restricts design options more than the 2008 Code did.

Make a statement to a roomful of people, then quiz them later on what was said. You inevitably will get different interpretations. Hopefully the examiners are being taught correctly but some are just hearing incorrectly. Unfortunately, I am sure that this is not the only Code revision that is being misconstrued. We will be looking out for other examples like this and will certainly bring it to the Department’s attention if we find that these errors are system-wide. We would be curious to hear from our readers if they have come across similar issues. A clear, consistent interpretation of the Code is something that the Department has worked hard to achieve and is in the construction industry’s best interest.