COVID, sustainability drive codes and standards in college building design
Colleges and universities have been sustainability trendsetters over the past several years. COVID-19 has required designers to think differently
- Kim Cowman, PE, LEED AP, National Director of Engineering, LEO A DALY, Omaha, Nebraska
- Daniel S. Noto, PE, LEED AP, Owner, Noto Consulting Group LLC, Roswell, Georgia
- Coral Pais, PE, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Mechanical Engineer, DLR Group, Cleveland, Ohio
- John M. Rattenbury, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, Cannon Design, Boston
- Luke Richards, PE, Project Engineer, RMF Engineering Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina
- Simon Ubhi, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Henderson Engineers, Los Angeles
- Toby White, PE, LEED AP, Associate – Boston Fire and life Safety Practice Leader, Arup, Boston
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?
Daniel S. Noto: ASHRAE 90.1 and ASHRAE 62.1 are the standards that are used to guide HVAC design for energy-efficient design as well as optimal IAQ. Most larger universities and colleges also have “design standards“ that should be reviewed by the engineer before beginning design.
Simon Ubhi: International Building Code and related codes (mechanical, fire, etc.) along with applicable NFPA standards are the most commonly used. In addition, ANSI/AIHA Z9.5 is the primary laboratory ventilation standard.
Toby White: Each state adopts its own version of the building code, most often based on the ICC suite of codes and occasionally NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, depending on the state. It’s imperative to understand all of the adopted codes, standards and local and state amendments to set the project in the right direction from the start.
Nearly every building project adopts the common NFPA 13, 14, 20, 70 and 72 standards related to the design and installation of fire protection and electrical systems. When a science or engineering building includes laboratories, it’s common that we are dealing with the storage and use of hazardous materials and perhaps the labs will include processes that use compressed gases and cryogenics. It’s important to be aware of the requirements of NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquid Storage, NFPA 55: Compressed Gasses and Cryogenic Fluids and NFPA 45: Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals and develop a clear and comprehensive fire and life safety strategy for the project encompassing all the relevant requirements.
What are some best practices to ensure that such buildings meet and exceed codes and standards?
Simon Ubhi: Early discussion, during concept design and early schematic design phase, of code compliance options and areas where the owner desires features that exceed minimum code requirements.
Toby White: Meeting codes are compulsory, but the codes only provide the minimum allowable level of safety. Exceeding the prescriptive requirements of the code is sometimes necessary to address certain hazards or risks that are unique to a project. Because there are so many codes and standards in play, as well as many design disciplines involved in any design project, best practice is having a comprehensive fire and life safety strategy developed for each project. This sets a basis of design as it pertains to code compliance and detailed guidance addressing the more complex components of a project and can improve clarity of approach across the different design disciplines. This helps reduce errors. It also provides a useful means of conveying the compliance approach to the authorities having jurisdiction to help facilitate their review and approval.
How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such projects?
Coral Pais: In some cases, university guidelines are more stringent than energy efficiency codes, but energy codes still are the most influential driving factor in designing energy efficient buildings. Codes and enforced guidelines create an accountability framework for the designers, a minimum target that the building has to meet.
Kim Cowman: The International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings are the most common energy codes adopted across the country which impact building designs. However, the edition adopted by each state or municipality can vary and in some instances a state has its own energy code such as California’s Title 24. Verification of the governing code for each building location is necessary by the design professional before beginning design efforts. Each new edition of the energy code improves the baseline energy performance required for commercial and educational buildings.
Striving to exceed the code-required minimum performance is something any owner or engineer can target. Conversations with the owner and design team early in the design process are critical to meeting compliance with more stringent energy requirements or exceeding the code base line requirements. We have found that using energy modeling early in the design phase and continuing throughout the evolution of the design is one of the best methods to ensure the building meets or exceeds minimum code requirements. Early phase energy modeling also assists in identifying low to no-cost design options that improve the overall energy performance, such as massing orientation, window-to-wall ratio. These can result in energy improvements over the code requirements.
Toby White: The bar continues to rise with regard to energy standards and with the ambitious decarbonization goals that have been set for 2050, we’re in the midst of a major transformation in prioritizing building optimization, energy reduction and recovery and in some cases going climate positive/carbon negative in an attempt to offset energy use by existing buildings. The advancement of digital tools is used to analyze everything from envelop performance, daylighting, solar gain and HVAC performance to converge on optimal designs balancing energy use and user experience. Creative methods for heat recovery for use elsewhere in the building are being developed and implemented. Post-occupancy building performance measurement and verification is providing a wealth of data that allows the designer and operator to further “fine-tune” their building and continue to improve our design strategies.
Luke Richards: The shift to more sustainable designs has not only been driven by client requirements, but also through the codes and standards that engineers must design to. Advancements in the ASHRAE 90.1 standard have led to state energy codes requiring more energy efficient designs whether through the prescriptive design method or through the performance method simulating an ASHRAE 90.1 baseline building against the proposed design. With projects also requiring certification to a sustainability standard, the energy efficiency portion typically requires the same building simulation as the code performance method. The increase in minimum energy efficient performance has led to use of new technologies and practices to achieve the project goals.
What new or updated code or standard do you feel will change the way such projects are designed, bid out or built?
Simon Ubhi: The use of NFPA 3000: Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, is becoming more prevalent for consideration in the design.
What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing buildings?
Luke Richards: Existing building renovations come with many challenges from a code perspective. University campuses can have systems originally designed over 50 years ago and large renovations may require bringing systems up to current codes. One of the easiest examples of this is the economizer requirement for air handling units over 65,000 Btu/hour. We see lots of existing systems nearing the end of their useful life within only the code minimum ventilation air provided. Direct unit replacements are not possible with existing ductwork sizes for full economizer mode operation and should these units be installed within basement mechanical rooms; upsizing ductwork can be challenging without additional changes to the building.
Simon Ubhi: Evaluating the options available under the International Existing Building Code and where existing conditions can remain versus those areas where the most current building code provisions are considered applicable. There are both prescriptive and performance-based options to address existing conditions and having someone knowledgeable in the application of that code as well as in negotiating with the local building and fire code officials is critical.
Toby White: Major overhauls exceeding 50% of the building area push a building into Alteration Level 3 of the International Existing Building Code, requiring the greatest level of upgrade to current code requirements. This proves to be an issue when the existing construction type won’t support the desired uses of the renovated building.
When dealing with lab or science buildings on older campuses, the level of renovation is an important decision to make. Renovations of International Existing Building Code Alteration Level 2 or less might require significant modification of the space program, since hazardous material use or storage may need to be relocated to comply with the building code if that is where the work is being done. These older buildings are occasionally not protected by automatic sprinklers, further complicating how the labs and science buildings can be used if full implementation of a sprinkler system is not part of the project.
When designing school laboratories, what code or standard must engineers understand most?
Toby White: When a science or engineering building includes laboratories, it’s common that we are dealing with the storage and use of hazardous materials and perhaps the labs will include processes that use compressed gases and cryogenics. It’s important to be aware of the requirements of NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquid Storage, NFPA 55: Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids and NFPA 45: Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals and develop a clear and comprehensive fire and life safety strategy for the project encompassing all the relevant requirements.
John M. Rattenbury: There are several governing codes and standards. Many lab designs also reference ASHRAE, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NFPA. In most jurisdictions there are environmental regulations controlling the treatment, monitoring and discharge of laboratory wastewater. Many times, such as in Massachusetts, such wastewater regulations require daily operation and maintenance by license operators, which will affect the maintenance staffing requirements for schools.
Simon Ubhi: The International Building and Mechanical Codes, NFPA 30, NFPA 45 and ANSI Z9.5.