Retail, restaurant and mixed-use facilities: Codes and standards

What are the trickiest aspects of retail, restaurant and mixed-use projects and what trends lie ahead? Read on for solid advice from experienced professionals.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 28, 2019


Jason Gerke, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C

Practice Area Leader – Mechanical/Plumbing | Principal




Wayne Griswold, PE, CFPS

Principal Fire Protection Engineer




Jonathan Robertson, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Associate Principal, Mechanical

Integral Group

Austin, Texas


Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP

Vice President

CCJM Engineers


CSE: 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? Are there new codes/standards in progress and if so, can you share some background?

Griswold: For starters, begin by ascertaining what the authority having jurisdiction base building code is. In some instances, this may be the International Building Code, NFPA 101: Life Safety Code or some variation thereof. Be sure to have a thorough understanding of the edition adopted, plus any local amendments. Where possible, it is a good idea to meet with the jurisdictions in which a project is located as part of a pre-application process, so we may address any concerns the AHJ may have, which weren’t previously considered.

Gerke: The continued rapid adoption by many states and local governments of the latest version of International Code Council codes has kept the design community on its toes. The days of knowing the code for a specific location because that’s how it has been are gone. Using the latest 2015 and sometimes 2018 version of the ICC codes has allowed designers to push the limits of energy efficiency on packaged equipment and controls. The rapid adoption of the latest codes has also reduced energy use in many building types.

Roy: One of the biggest cost impacts with regard to current codes is regarding the International Mechanical Code, Section C508.1: Makeup Air. Due to high exhaust requirements for kitchen hoods, makeup air is required to maintain positive building pressurization. Finding pathways for makeup air from typical rooftop makeup air units to food courts on lower floors is always a challenge.

Robertson: First and foremost, know the codes that apply then check what local amendments apply. This is especially true during a code change year where the AHJ will more than likely require the project to meet whatever code is in affect at the time of permitting.

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

Robertson: Actually read the code. Have a pre-design review with the AHJ. Attend seminars and talks about what’s changes in the code. Be engaged in the work you do.

Roy: Effective, early communication with the architect and owner is the key. The best practice is bringing up issues with finding a suitable pathway early in the design process. Sometimes, it leads to relocating the makeup air unit to an unconventional location that meets the need for proper building pressurization and an efficient airflow pathway. There are no benefits to exceeding this particular requirement.

Griswold: Having open lines of communication with the design team and the AHJ during the design phase through construction and execution of the project is the key to the success of any project. In our experience, it’s never too early to bring on consultants, though many owners/design teams are hesitant to do so. Seemingly mundane design decisions can have substantial fire/life safety implications and it is vital for an owner to incorporate these considerations into their design in the earliest stages. AHJs typically prefer to see this element of the design team earlier on in projects to ensure that mutual topics of concern are addressed adequately.

Gerke: Engineers should always explore options for HVAC and lighting systems on each project. More stringent codes will require the use of other system options and not the “we have always done it this way” mentality. Close review of codes that are new to design teams and understanding additional requirements that are added in each code update are imperative to produce good designs.

CSE: How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of restaurant, retail or mixed-use projects?

Griswold: From a fire/life safety perspective, the trend toward energy efficiency ambitions hasn’t drastically impacted the fire/life safety requirements of retail, restaurant and mixed-use projects; however, this trend is consistently evolving and thus needs to be continuously evaluated. As this trend evolves and the boundaries of energy efficiency continue to be pushed, it is imperative these new boundaries be vetted from a fire/life safety perspective, to ensure patron safety is not impacted negatively.

Robertson: Systems are becoming more and more decoupled. Instead of trying to have the Swiss Army Knife of HVAC systems, variable air volume-reheat for example, decoupled systems, such as DOAS and VRF, are becoming increasingly popular as a means to meet code.

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

Robertson: The recent edition of the International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings will change the way controls, particularly lighting controls, will be implemented and bid. Also, as water becomes a scarcer resource, more and more local jurisdictions are requiring water reduction and water reuse systems. Soon, within the next two code cycles, these systems will become mandatory.

Griswold: Building codes and standards are fluid in that they are continuously being revised and evaluated to keep current with emerging technologies and market trends. For jurisdictions using ICC documents as base building and fire codes, the 2018 edition is now starting to become adopted throughout the country.

Other NFPA standards likely to impact future construction are:

As we trend toward methods of integrating and harnessing green energy, NFPA 855: Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, will usher in new fire protection requirements. Likely impacts include fire separation requirements, additional sprinkler or alternative suppression means and ventilation requirements to ensure off-gassing operations do not present a dangerous environment.

The implementation and enforcement of NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations is becoming more prevalent. Wood construction is unique from the standpoint that the construction is inherently combustible and therefore presents a fuel source at or near the construction site that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The enforcement and adherence to NFPA 241 requirements can impact the construction delivery method if consideration is not given to the requirements before enacting the construction plan.

CSE: What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing restaurant, retail or mixed-use buildings?

Robertson: Codes change over the course of a life of a building, but a building is only built to a certain edition. The trickledown effects of modifications to existing buildings are always the hardest thing to predict from onset of the project.

Griswold: One of the more challenging issues is obtaining original construction and permit documentation and any subsequent design or occupancy changes, when dealing with an existing facility. Oftentimes, due to the age of the building, the original code of record is no longer used or readily available. To put this into perspective, the ICC has only been producing documents since 2000, yet many of our existing multifamily dwellings have been in existence much longer and likely fall under legacy codes such as the BOCA National Building Code, Uniform Building Code or the Standard Building Code. Most AHJs will require projects to do one of two things: meet current code or meet the intent of the original code, depending on the level of alternations being made. If you’re opting for the latter approach, the original code intent is necessary to establish and substantiate proposed changes and methodologies.

CSE: What are some of the challenges that exist between what the building owner wants, how the building needs to accommodate occupants and complying with particular codes and standards?

Griswold: Designers and consultants should provide as much flexibility to the owner as possible, while keeping the project’s budget in mind. This is a challenge initiated in the design phase and it continues long after the construction has been completed. It’s key to take a step back to view the bigger picture and analyze short- and long-term goals of the property, plus what the owners’ expectations are. Building owners and representatives aren’t necessarily familiar with construction requirements or the limitations of their construction type based on the initial permitted building. This can present problems later, as seemingly harmless upgrades or tenant improvements may be overlooked from a code compliance standpoint, particularly if the AHJ is not aware of the changes. This indicates how important it is for the design professional to maintain a relationship with the owner, to the extent it is feasible.

Robertson: Telling the owner or developer “no.” This can be any variety of items such as wanting to heat/cool the outdoors, having restrooms over the cantilever portion of a building (where does the waste go?) or having a clear-glass building. The trick is not saying “no” but rather, through collaboration, finding the most interesting solutions to help them meet his or her goals.