Basics of codes and standards for industrial, manufacturing facility design

Industrial and manufacturing facilities have specialty codes and standards engineers must include in new or retrofit projects

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 29, 2020


  • Jaimie Ross Handscomb, PEng, Principal, Industrial Buildings, Stantec, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Steve J. Sovak, PE, Principal, Salas O’Brien, Chicago
  • Jeffrey R. Thomas, PE, CEM, CEA, GBE, CHC, Vice President, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), Houston

How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of industrial and manufacturing facilities?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: The energy efficiency requirements are making modeling of new facilities more important than ever before. Understanding the lighting, heating, cooling and insulation properties of the building, not to mention the costs due to infiltration, hazardous and process exhaust systems and water usage not only effect the design and construction, but the future impact of the facilities viability due to ongoing operational and maintenance costs.

Steve J. Sovak: Energy efficiency has not always been a major focus in industrial facilities. If something was needed to maintain production, then it was part of the project and never questioned. But energy consumption and costs are by far some of the biggest components in what it costs to make a product. Industrial manufacturers realized this and have always been working toward energy efficiency as it is something that will keep them competitive in the marketplace. Codes that mandate levels of energy efficiency are a good thing as they are the motivator to get full compliance. But care needs to be taken that a code written with commercial or residential projects in mind gets applied across the board to industrial thereby placing an undue burden on that sector.

How will COVID-19 change codes and standards in these types of buildings? What do you expect for the next code cycle?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: COVID-19 as well as some of the changes where are seeing with weather and resiliency will have a significant impact on future codes, especially the National Building Codes, Ontario Building Codes, ASHRAE and American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists. I would expect both ASHRAE and ACGIH will focus on increased outdoor air and filtration requirements for industrial and other facilities, most likely through ASHRAE Standard 62.1: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality and ACGIH Industrial Ventilation: A Manual of Recommended Practice for Design.

Steve J. Sovak: The industry has already started to react to the current pandemic. Associations such as ASHRAE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guideline for the reopening of buildings. While much of this has to do with commercial buildings in general the concepts apply across the board. Increased filtration levels, running systems 24/7, running systems with 100% outside air where possible, implementing an OA purge cycle in sequences, running dedicated exhausts 24/7, increasing humidity levels and the installation of air purification technology (ultraviolet or ionization). Most certainly many of these measures will find their way into actual code requirements. They will however be in conflict with the energy-efficiency goals of the current codes. Also, some of these guidelines are not practical in a manufacturing environment. Many industries cannot tolerate maintained humidity levels in the 40% to 60% range.

Please explain some of the codes, standards and guidelines you commonly use during the project’s design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: Even though each jurisdiction has its own requirement for enforcement of codes and standards, the we commonly start with the building, fire and electrical codes. As a project kicks off, our first task is determining has jurisdiction authority and then determine which codes and standards are followed. One common mistake we see outside our practice is engineers and architects unsure of which version of a code or standard is enforced — costing time and money. We also believe that external code consultants are best used when they provide reports and analysis that can be compared to our own analysis. The goal is finding agreement, however if there is a discrepancy, we are alerted early in the process so adjustments can be made. Every engineer should have a very good understanding of the basic building, fire and electrical codes and also understand the regional and local requirements for boilers and pressure vessels, environmental regulations or something as simple as backflow prevention.

Steve J. Sovak: In the design of an Industrial building, the designer is of course bound to comply with the normal series of local and state codes whether they be a national code with local amendments or one specific to that jurisdiction. However, in industrial work, there are more codes and standards that need to be observed, including items like ANSI standards for various systems, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for employee safety or UL requirements. Plus, recommendations from the owner’s insurance underwriter bear important consideration.

What are some best practices to ensure that such buildings meet and exceed codes and standards?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: Training, education and updating. All engineers should understand the current and applicable codes required for their work, which will necessitate them obtaining and reading them, as well as obtaining the updates when they come out. In addition, have code compliance experts on staff allows for peer review of the code analysis, just like we would do during design. A second set of eyes looking at the requirements can save a firm time and money and reduce errors and omissions.

Steve J. Sovak: It is always a good idea right at the start of the design process to have a meeting with the local code officials having jurisdiction over the project. First of all, it creates a sense of goodwill and foster a collaborative environment between the city and the owner which will be of benefit to the owner long after the project is completed. We were designing a food ingredients facility for Bush Boake Allen in Chicago. One area was for vanilla extract production, which is made up of 30% alcohol. The fire prevention chief wanted the entire area treated as the most stringently rated hazardous occupancy. We convinced him to come tour their existing facility, where he saw that the entire process is within closed percolators, everything is piped or in closed containers. It was then that he agreed to the lesser hazard rating. Every time I go to see him, I see the vanilla bean on his desk that he was given by the plant manager. Sometimes educating the code officials as to the details of the project is a part of the task at hand.

What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing buildings?

Jeffrey R. Thomas: LAN has been involved in expanding several manufacturing facilities in recent years. Our biggest challenge is the difference in the ages or codes and standards in force in the old and new structures. Fire codes and insurance carrier requirements present significant challenges when adding capacity to existing buildings. In one instance, the cost of the addition was going to trigger a code upgrade for the original facility that would have been prohibitively expensive. Our solution was to build the new building, with appropriately rated firewalls, adjacent to the old building and connect them with sets of large roll-up fire doors. This allowed the owner to have efficient throughput between the spaces while meeting the required codes and standards.

Steve J. Sovak: Occasionally you may run into conflicts between various sections of the codes. On one project in a major U.S. city, we were renovating a flammable liquids storage room for a resin manufacturing plant. One section of the code said that all such rooms handling flammable liquids must have a safety shower installed within the room. Another section of the code defined a safety shower as a plumbing fixture and, as such, it needed a dedicated drain connection. But, the flammable liquids section of the code said that there shall be no floor drains within a flammable liquids room. The plan examiners had us chasing our tail for a while on that one.

What new or updated code, standard, guideline organization or association do you feel will change the way such projects are designed, bid out or built?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: As code documents and agencies evolve, we are seeing a lot more consistency between different organizations (such as NFPA, National Building and Fire Code, International Building and Fire Codes, etc.), which helps reduce confusion of the daily design. As a lot of jurisdictions leverage code documents across borders, we continue to see value from various organizations working together.

Steve J. Sovak: The trends toward higher energy efficiency, net zero, reduced carbon emissions, reduced carbon footprint, resiliency, etc., whether code mandated or just pressured via organizations and associations will have an impact on projects. It will clearly add cost to a project. It might have an impact as to whether a project moves forward or not. In the long run, this will balance itself out. As many of these alternative systems become more popular, the cost of them will come down and become more attainable for the general users, not just the large corporations. Government grants can help to tide over the interim situation and make the cost of an alternative system more in line with the conventional systems.