Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

October 18, 2012

Codes key consideration in construction

TAHLEQUAH — When considering fire codes that regulate the remodeling or building of a home or business, the specific guidelines and rules stem from the intent and purpose of the room or building to be constructed.

October is Fire Prevention Month, and being aware of when the installation of a fire door or a sprinkler system is required can help avoid tragedy and disaster.

Tahlequah residents who may be considering adding a bedroom or an office space to their home need to contact Tahlequah Building Inspector Mark Secratt, said Tahlequah Fire Department Chief Ray Hammons.

“It will take building permits. That way, proper mechanical inspections of plumbing, wiring, HVAC can be made,” he said.

Hammons said fire codes regulate everything from window size to shingle materials.

“[Roof shingles have] to meet a certain standard, whether it’s flame retardant or not,” said Hammons.

A private residence is required to have one exit allowing people safe passage outside, and in multi-level homes, the stairs must connect to portion of the structure where the exit is located, said Secratt.

“Stairs in a private home do not have to lead directly to an exit. Each floor must have stairs that lead to a floor with an exit. For example, the stairs can lead to the bottom floor, and the exit can be on the opposite end of the house on the bottom floor. When a homeowner is adding an office space, the regulations wouldn’t change. The city would still consider that a residential structure,” he said. “For commercial [businesses], they have to be able to get people somewhere safe, as well.”

Secratt said commercial building fire codes are must stricter.

“Not only do you have to have illuminated exits, you have to have emergency lighting, especially in schools and bigger areas where people gather. It all depends on the business. It depends on the size, and the classification of the building. Each one is going to have different requirements. You may even have to [add a sprinkler system to] the building.”

A vital detail that needs to be confirmed when adding a room on to a private home is the intent and purpose of the room, said Hammons.

“Are you building for an extra bedroom or are you building it for an office? And now do we become a resident slash business, and what type of business is it?” he said. “If there are flammable, dangerous substances [involved], those are the types of things that we really need to know about.”

The city ordinance will allow only 20 percent of a private residence to be used for commercial purposes, said Secratt.

“Any bigger than that, and you have to change your house to a commercial structure,” he said. “If someone wanted to turn their private home into a commercial business, they would have to get their property rezoned to commercial, and then we would treat that structure as a commercial business. And depending on the business and the requirements of the 2009 International Fire Code, that might change the structure’s number of exits needed.”

Hammons said businesses the size of a convenience store or a small retail store may not require a sprinkler system or use of fire doors, or panic hardware or single-motion doors, depending on the nature of the business and the square-footage and floor-plan design.

“If we have a small business, such as a Dollar Store, and I’m just using that as an example, you don’t have a fire escape, you have exits marked,” he said. “If you have a building that’s not wide open that has doors, hallways, corridors, then what we’ll do we’ll have them post signs at each turn ‘this is where you are.’”

Hammons said a fire door - or panic hardware door, must be able to be opened with a single hand.

“In certain instances, such as Walmart or some daycare centers, you have to have a single-motion or panic hardware door. Some people even call it a handicap door, but you should be able to push a button [or push bar], with a single hand or motion or a single turn of the knob to open the door,” he said.

“You can lock everybody out of the building, but you can’t lock anybody in a building.”

In businesses the size of Walmart, there will be fire extinguishers posted 150 feet apart, said Hammons.

“You shouldn’t have to travel more than 75 feet to get to an extinguisher. That means that you can put them 150 apart,” he said. “That’s kind of a rule of thumb as far as the NFPA Life Safety code is concerned.”

The need for a sprinkler system is determined  by the building’s purpose and the square-footage involved, said Secratt.


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