Ensuring that a building design is code-compliant can be a complicated task for architects. Whether this involves understanding the codes, tracking code updates or checking designs against the code, dealing with codes can be a time-consuming process.
That is the sentiment of Wade Killefer, design principal for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects (KFP), who considers the plan-checking process one of his biggest professional headaches. To help simplify code compliance, Killefer and Charles Barnes, director of information technology at KFP, created a subscription-based online program that automatically analyzes data about a building for compliance with the 1997 the Uniform Building Code (UBC), Volume 1. It is being marketed jointly with the Whittier, Calif.-based International Conference of Building Officials, owners of the UBC.
The database-driven Web site —www.b-code.com— follows the same steps commonly performed during a manual design check, which include: defining occupancies and occupancy separations, calculating occupant loading, determining allowable area and height and type of construction. B-Code performs many of the necessary lookups and calculations automatically and summarizes them in reports.
"B-Code will dramatically improve the efficiency of the plan-check process," says Killefer. "Using B-Code, architects will more easily integrate the building codes into a design. When drawings are submitted to plan check, they are accompanied by reports that describe the building and the results of a code analysis for it. These reports will significantly improve the communication between the building official and the architect, reducing the workload for both."
According to Killefer, the Web site can reduce the time it takes an architect to check a building's compliance with the building code by as much as 30 percent. Besides saving time, B-Code also "enables immediate discussion between client and designer in different locations about alternate designs," adds Killefer.
Additional features include:
Access to reports summarizing the applicable code constraints relevant to a particular project;
Reduction of the level of experience and training needed to work with the building code;
Quick searching and use of the complete text and tables of the UBC; and
Access to the latest code changes.
B-Code's interface helps guide users through the complexities of the code, which is typically learned over years of use and mastered by only senior architects. It allows architects and designers to work with the building code and monitor code compliance as plans progress, preventing costly mistakes and redesign.
The UBC — housed in a book 4 inches thick — is one of the most widely used model building codes in the United States. It is used in about 40 percent of the western United States and is in the process of being merged with the country's two other major building codes: the Standard Building Code and the National Building Code. The three integrated codes will be known as the International Building Code (IBC), which is expected to be adopted by many states in 2002. A version of B-Code incorporating the new IBC is currently in development.
The Web site's creators urge that using the service does not guarantee that a project will pass plan check. The UBC and other building codes are subject to interpretation by building officials. B-Code's reports and materials are designed to assist with the plan-check process, but cannot guarantee that a building official will find that building plans conform to the code, nor does B-Code make any warranty as to the safety of any building analyzed by the software.
Moreover, although the Web site includes the complete text and tables of the 1997 UBC, it does not incorporate every provision of the code in the software tools. Parts of the building code that are not included are notified to the user with yellow question marks.
Finally, B-Code does not deal with zoning, structural or mechanical codes.