Engineering workable, successful office space: Codes and standards

Whether new or retrofit, office buildings can be a challenge for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineer. A team of experienced professionals offers advice on building codes and standards.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 23, 2014


  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP, Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Tony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE, Founder, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Nathan Snydacker, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, ESD Global, Chicago

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

McGuire: In our firm, one may often hear, “The worst building we can design, by law, is one that only meets the code!” We always meet or exceed code requirements in the jurisdiction. 
Snydacker: Our design work is typically based on International Building Code, International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and ordinances specific to certain jurisdictions such as the Chicago Building Code or California Title 24.
CSE: Have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, etc., affected your work on office building projects? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?
Snydacker: These organizations have done a tremendous job not only in driving design standards and legislation to improve energy efficiency, but also in cultivating general public knowledge and interest. With each new iteration of energy code, come new design challenges and client education—but this is what is exciting and keeps our industry moving forward.
McGuire: Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council and other organizations have been providing a great amount of stimuli for improved energy use, reuse of material, less waste, and so on. We, the engineers of today, can work with these groups and their documents. However, my personal belief is that too much material is being prematurely put into standards and codes without adequate verification. My feeling is that the use of the word “standard” implies that regular, proven, and acceptable items are being required as a minimum. As a member of the original coordinating committee that oversaw the writing of ASHRAE Standard 19-75, I am appalled at what are being called standards today. To me, many should be called concepts or guidelines and not standards. 
CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in office buildings?
McGuire: We do not find any extreme challenges in meeting codes or standards. However, we do find some so-called standards to be annoying or inappropriate.
Snydacker: From a tenant fit-out or renovation project, lighting controls and power density as required by energy code is consistently a challenge. Deliberate and specialized lighting design becomes much more important to ensure adequate light levels are achieved while using less power. Automated controls, including daylight harvesting, are a tremendous step in code required systems but often come at a cost to our clients. Diligent communication is needed up front to ensure clients understand the associated costs, benefits, and functionality of the systems being designed and implemented.