Enhancing the learning experience in K-12 schools: Codes and standards

K-12 schools are among the most important projects engineers can tackle. Codes and standards dictate the design of each educational facility.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 29, 2016


Tony Cocea, PE, Principal, DLR Group, Los Angeles

Michael Do, CEM, CxA, AX TCP, Director of Engineering Sciences and Commissioning, Setty, Fairfax, Va.

James Dolan, PE, CEM, CPMP, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of Energy Engineering Services, OLA Consulting Engineers, Hawthorne, N.Y.

Mark Fisher, PE, LEED AP, Principal, AlfaTech Consulting Engineers, San Jose, Calif.

Douglas R. Hundley Jr., PE, CGD, LEED AP, CxA, Mechanical Engineer, CMTA Consulting Engineers, Louisville, Ky.

Peter McClive, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President, CannonDesign, Grand Island, N.Y.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use as a guide. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design?

McClive: Of course, all codes required by federal, state, and local jurisdictions for K-12 school buildings must be followed. That said, engineers should be cognizant of the latest NFPA and ASHRAE standards impacting life safety and energy requirements, respectively.

Cocea: For electrical design, the most common codes we use on projects in California are NFPA 70: National Electric Code for power, NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm Code for fire alarms, NFPA 110 for emergency generator systems, Illumination Engineers Society (IES) Standards for lighting levels, and California Title 24 for building energy efficiency standards.

Hundley: We have, fortunately, worked in many states and regions and encountered a lot of different codes and requirements. The different energy-code requirements have had the biggest impact on design, and it is paramount that you stay current on the different nuisances of one energy code versus the other.

Fisher: California Title 24, Part 6 (energy code). Because we are in California, we have to adhere to stricter requirements than ASHRAE Standard 90.1. Our designs typically exceed Title 24 requirements due to 100% air economizers for efficiency.

CSE: How have International Building Code, NFPA, ASHRAE, and other codes affected your work on K-12 school projects? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Hundley: Any time a new code is implemented, you will have different interpretations of the code meaning or requirement. We have seen where the intent of certain energy code requirements is meant to reduce energy usage, but could have the opposite effect.

Cocea: California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards implemented in July 2014 has been the most impactful to lighting and lighting control design. LED fixtures have been ideal to use because they are dimmable, have higher lumens per Watt, and have longer operating life than fluorescent. However, most school districts’ design standards only approve fluorescent and metal halide lamps for their projects. If we are to design with an LED fixture, it will have to go through an approval process that can take a significant amount of time. It makes sense that all standards should be progressing, implementing recent technology advancement, and using highly efficient lighting fixtures. ASHRAE is not a code but a guideline, and we use it all the time for intricate design details.

McClive: NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) 2014 has increased requirements for arc flash and labeling of electrical system equipment. Multiwire circuits are not allowed, now requiring separate neutral conductors with each branch circuit. New York State has mandated carbon monoxide (CO) detectors be installed in all commercial buildings (defined generally as other than dwelling units) by amendment to the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. Installation compliance is required by June 27, 2016. The positive is that it increases building occupants’ safety. Negative aspect: the ever-increasing costs of building construction and operation.

Fisher: Most of our work is done in California. Most buildings are not sprinklered (NFPA).