How to design government buildings: codes and standards

In this Q&A with multiple experts, learn how to use codes and standards design government, state, municipal, federal, correctional and military buildings

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 19, 2021


  • Steve C. Davis, PE, electrical discipline lead, LEO A DALY, Atlanta
  • Raymond Krick III, PE, CxA, LEED AP, project manager, RMF Engineering Inc., Baltimore
  • Allen Poppe, PE, principal mechanical engineer, Stanley Consultants, Muscatine, Iowa
  • Andrew Stanton, PE, mechanical engineer | senior associate, DLR Group, Cleveland.

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?

Raymond Krick III: Most of RMF’s clients have adopted the codes from the International Code Council. Some clients have proprietary design guidelines which will supersede the local codes. Examples of client design guidelines that are widely used are the Unified Facilities Criteria from the Department of Defense and the Design Requirements Manual from the National Institutes of Health.

Allen Poppe: For our Department of Defense clients, we design to the Unified Facilities Criteria.

Andrew Stanton: The two most important standards we use for federal courthouses are the General Services Administration Facilities Standard P100 and the U.S. Courts Design Guide. Both give guidance necessary to design to the standards required for a U.S. federal courthouse with the challenges they present. From security to sizing and efficiency requirements, these standards will help guide your design from beginning to end.

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

Andrew Stanton: Existing buildings often present a challenge with the envelope not meeting current building standards for insulation. Fully insulating an entire building can be very expensive and compromise some of the historic nature to the interiors. Upgrading the windows can be a good compromise to allow for greater envelope performance to meet code while impacting the budget and historic features of the building.

How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such projects?

Andrew Stanton: The General Services Administration requirement is that all new designs achieve a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold rating or higher. LEED Gold pushes all disciplines to ensure a high level of energy efficiency. Depending on the type of building (new or existing), some areas must help compensate for others that are not able to achieve a typical amount of credits for an assortment of reasons. As an example, if the envelope is not able to be fully brought to a level that reduces the energy consumption of the building LEED Gold needs, the mechanical system efficiency may need to be increased to compensate.

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

Allen Poppe: The sustainability requirements are always evolving. For our Department of Defense clients, some of the older requirements were the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Epact) and Energy Independence Security Act of 2007. When Executive Order (EO) 13834 was implemented, the requirements became significantly more stringent. Our Department of Defense clients started using the LEED rating systems to measure sustainability. This has transitioned into using “Guiding Principles.” New Federal Building Performance Standards were recently announced. I expect this to affect sustainability requirements going forward for various federal agencies.

Andrew Stanton: Several cities and jurisdictions have adopted building energy performance standards to address energy efficiency of existing buildings. These standards may require retro-commissioning or energy auditing, followed by targeted reductions in energy performance within a pre-defined performance period.

What codes or guidelines have you used to enhance the security on such a project?

Raymond Krick III: One of the most used guidelines for enhancing the security on projects is ICD/ICS 705. This directive relates to the design and construction of sensitive compartmented information facilities. These facilities are of the utmost importance in safeguarding classified and other sensitive information.