Designing a winning sports venue: Codes and standards

Sports and entertainment arenas are more than just seats and a playing field; they are highly complex structures bringing in thousands of fans—and millions of dollars—every year. Engineers must keep up with relevant building codes and standards.


Jerry Atienza, EIT Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPETodd Mack, PEJeff Sawarynski, PE, LEED AP

  • Jerry Atienza, EIT, Senior plumbing designer, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.
  • Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire protection engineer, Clark County Dept. of, Development Services, Building Division, Las Vegas
  • Todd Mack, PE, Principal, DLR Group, Omaha, Neb.
  • Jeff Sawarynski, PE, LEED AP, Principal, M-E Engineers Inc., Denver, Colo.

CSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use as a guide as you work on these facilities?

Atienza: Those codes include NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems; NFPA 14: Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems; NFPA 20: Stationary Fire Pumps Handbook; NFPA 24: Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and Their Appurtenances; NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code; and NFPA 102: Standard for Grandstands, Folding and Telescopic Seating, Tents, and Membrane Structures.

Evans: The jurisdictions in southern Nevada adopt many of the International Codes (building and fire) along with the Uniform Plumbing and Mechanical Codes, as well as the National Electrical Code. These codes adopt by reference numerous standards. We also use other codes and standards as needed for guidance when the adopted codes and standards do not cover the area(s) affecting the specific application.

CSE: Have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, etc. affected your work on sports/entertainment arenas? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Sawarynski: Related to energy consumption, they certainly have affected our work. These codes have not necessarily changed the way we, as MEP engineers, design our systems as we’ve always been concerned with designing efficient systems for owners. However, they have shed light on the challenges we always deal with. Entire project teams are beginning to understand how building architecture, proper budgeting for quality lighting design/installation, and efficient HVAC systems really should be part of the discussion, not just lowest first-cost.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities?

Sawarynski: Years ago I would have said ASHRAE Standard 90.1 and U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program because neither was easy to adapt to sporting/event venues. However, we’ve seen that change, and having designed most of the LEED certified venues in the country, I think we’re past that now. Nowadays I would say the most challenging are the life safety codes. Usually, when you are designing a new, major facility in a given city, it’s the first of its kind for that city’s building officials. Each building department has its own approach to enforcing life safety codes and local amendments. Rarely, if ever, are these cods and amendments written to apply to this building type.

CSE: Do you find codes affecting sports/entertainment structures to be more or less taxing than those impacting work on other building types?

Evans: These venues are definitely more challenging than many other structures. This is primarily due to the substantial occupant loads, but is also affected by the large volume and high-bay spaces that are designed to accommodate multiple uses. These types of uses and structures are quite common in southern Nevada.

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Water use efficiency: Diminishing water quality, escalating costs; Lowering building energy use; Power for fire pumps
Building envelope and integration; Manufacturing industrial Q&A; NFPA 99; Testing fire systems
Labs and research facilities: Q&A with the experts; Water heating systems; Smart building integration; 40 Under 40 winners
Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Protecting standby generators for mission critical facilities; Selecting energy-efficient transformers; Integrating power monitoring systems; Mitigating harmonics in electrical systems
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.