Warehouse, manufacturing facilities go high-tech: Codes and standards

Warehouse, manufacturing and logistics buildings are more than simple boxy structures used to make products and store them before they move onto their next destination. Engineers find these codes and standards can be as complex and advanced as any other building

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 22, 2020


Leonard Belliveau Jr., PE, SET, vice president, strategic accounts, Jensen Hughes, Framingham, Mass.: Belliveau has more than 22 years of experience managing fire protection engineering design and code consulting on government and commercial projects. Clients include a large shipping company, U.S. Department of Transportation and Leidos Corp.

Jason R. Gerke, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, practice area leader – Mechanical/Plumbing | Principal, GRAEF, Milwaukee.: As a practice area leader, Gerke has worked on a broad range of projects, including convention centers, schools, airports and others. He has more than 12 years of mechanical design, commissioning and project management experience.

George D. Halkias, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, senior principal, Stantec, Pittsburgh: Serving as senior principal, Halkias brings more than 20 years of experience — as well as knowledge on a wide range of project types — to the company. He has designed, consulted on or managed more than 2 million square feet of U.S. Green Building Council LEED certified buildings.

Josh Meinig, PE, senior mechanical engineer, CDM Smith, Maitland, Fla.: Meinig is the lead mechanical engineer in the southeast region at CDM Smith. He has more than 14 years of experience in mechanical design and construction services for environmental, industrial, military and commercial facilities.

Doug Sandridge, PE, principal, RTM Engineering Consultants, Wheat Ridge, Colo.: Sandridge, principal, comes to RTM from Concord West, an engineering firm specializing in design, construction and management services that the firm acquired in June. His portfolio includes a number of liquor distilleries and international projects.

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?

Gerke: Manufacturing facilities are typically energy hogs. These buildings consume large amounts of energy, whether natural gas, electricity or steam. It is sometimes difficult to rationalize the need to design energy efficient lighting, HVAC or building envelope systems when the process energy consumed amounts to 80% or more of the total building energy consumption. It sometimes seems there is no need to make lighting, HVAC or the building envelope better than the code minimum requirements.

However, design professionals must always design the most energy-efficient systems possible (time/fee/construction cost) to protect the environment around us. If no one ever pushes the envelope, the envelope will not open and allow for bigger and better solutions on the next project. The most basic codes are typically required including the International Mechanical Code, unless the team is pursuing U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, in which case ASHRAE Standard 62.1: Standards for Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality and ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings are the leading standards.

Meinig: As a mechanical engineer, ASHRAE Standards 62.1 and 90.1 are the most important codes to refer to. For occupied areas, ASHRAE Standard 55: Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy is another important code for thermal comfort of occupants.

Sandridge: Depending on the facility: Food and Drug Administration Current Good Manufacturing Practices, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and industry best practices. For advanced manufacturing, ISO standards for clean rooms and Intelligence Community Directive standards for secure information facilities.

Belliveau: In almost all cases, building code that has been adopted by the jurisdiction is the governing code. Many jurisdictions have used the International Building Code so as to set a consistent standard across all buildings in the jurisdiction. Some states have amendments to the building code that is adopted, some states have completely taken the document and revised so many sections of the said code that it becomes that state’s building code and then there are some states that do not have an adopted code.

Engineers need to be aware of base code requirements along with the nuances of amendments to these requirements. Then there are codes that specifically deal with the life safety of occupants, such as NFPA 101: Life Safety Code; those that depend on a type of fire protection system being installed such as NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers and NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems; and those that specifically deal with the overall safety of everything operating within the facility such as NFPA 70: National Electrical Code.

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

Sandridge: As codes and standards can change, it is important to verify current codes and agree establish what standards will be applied to the project. This is particularly important as standards can change, even during the course of construction. Understand that there are many utilities that are regulated by different codes. Some raw and final products are flammable or hazardous and it is important to know the International Fire Code and NFPA ramifications.

Meinig: I find it important to do a code and standard analysis before the start of the project. Review applicable sections of each code and standard to implement during design.

Belliveau: The most important concept that all people need to understand is that codes and standards, regardless of whether they are the state-adopted building code or some specific system code or standard being followed from the NFPA, is that these code requirements are code “minimums.” Architects and engineers that design buildings and contractors that build buildings to meet the code are not doing anything legally wrong and these buildings will be built and commissioned/accepted by the AHJ and you will have a building that “meets code.”

But does that building or system or process, meet the objectives of the stakeholders involved? The best piece of advice I can give anyone moving forward in this industry is to sit down with the owner and all the other stakeholders and discuss their objectives. It is important to understand what function this building has, what industry the product that is manufactured or process that goes on in this building is part of and what impact on society would it have if there was some sort of catastrophic event that occurred and this product or process was down for some period of time.

Examples include 911 call centers, airport traffic control towers and IT data storage facilities. These buildings could be “built to code” and the protection systems installed within could be “installed per code,” but what if the protection of these facilities warrants more than just code minimum? That is when the engineers need to discuss these alternatives and above and beyond code minimum practices with the stake holders and get buy-in so that these facilities continue to function during and after a catastrophic event.

Gerke: Energy modeling is the best place to start when it comes to evaluating a proposed building’s performance in relation to code requirements. At our company, we use energy modeling as an early design phase tool to provide guidance to the design team on options to pursue and how specific decisions may affect initial and long-term outcomes. We have recently transitioned to a new energy modeling software system after using the previous program since the early 2000s. The new system provides additional code minimum “canned” solutions to make comparisons between base systems and proposed systems easier. This solution has allowed our firm to focus on the proposed solution instead of spending time on building base systems when comparing to code minimums.

CSE: How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of warehouse, manufacturing and logistics facilities?

Sandridge: It depends on the owner and how much they want to save on energy. We will work with our clients to develop energy goals. And working with a budget, we will evaluate various energy saving options or alternative energy sources, to achieve those goals.

Meinig: The design of these types of facilities are being pushed to meet increasing stringent energy requirements.

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

Belliveau: One of the trends that I see coming in the (relatively near) future is the use of in-building emergency voice alarm communication systems in more types of buildings and occupancies. These types of systems not only provide more information to building occupants during fire emergencies, but these systems can be used and are used to provide occupants with information such as weather emergencies, active shooter alerts, chemical spills, active carbon monoxide alarms and so on.

In the world we currently live in, it is imperative for a responding emergency response person or an in-building manager or any other designated person to be able to provide necessary information on whether to evacuate, whether to not evacuate, whether to move to other portions of the building or to provide any other direction to occupants in the building.

Sandridge: Learn about IIAR2 for facilities with ammonia refrigeration. For example, the International Mechanical Code now recognizes IIAR2 as the standard for ventilation requirements in an ammonia machinery room.

CSE: What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing buildings?

Belliveau: There is always the challenge of working in existing buildings and trying to provide the most up-to-date code compliance requirements and still deal with the existing portions of the building that met the code of record at the time of they were built or underwent a major renovation. Can specific fire protection and life safety systems be added on to and extended into the new work areas? Are the products and peripherals that are currently sold backward-compatible with such systems that are installed in the building or do those systems need to be upgraded? What new code compliance issues now pop up due to upgrade to the system to be able to provide protection in the new work area? Sometimes this causes a spiraling effect that can include parts of the existing building that were not intended to be change based on the new project.

Sandridge: The biggest challenge we face is authorities having jurisdiction not knowing the extent and relevance of the fire codes or NFPA, and especially where there are conflicting requirements with flammables, hazardous or regulated materials. In many cases, we have had to lead the inspectors and plan reviewers through the maze of these codes.