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California updates building code for adaptive reuse of office, retail structures for housing

Adaptive Reuse

California updates building code for adaptive reuse of office, retail structures for housing

Changes provide flexibility for converting commercial buildings to residential use


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | July 10, 2023
Image by Victoria_Regen from Pixabay
Image by Victoria_Regen from Pixabay

The California Building Standards Commission recently voted to make it easier to convert commercial properties to residential use

The commission adopted provisions of the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) that allow developers more flexibility for adaptive reuse of retail and office structures. Such projects can reduce the carbon footprint of construction, while also helping revitalize communities, according to an AIA California news release. 

The potential for commercial-to-residential conversions to create new housing is enormous, the release says. AIA cited a recent RAND Corporation report that found some 2300 underutilized commercial properties in Los Angeles County alone could produce 72,000 to 113,000 housing units. 

The International Existing Building Code provides three options for conversions, known as compliance paths: Prescriptive; Work Area; and Performance. All three paths lead to safe, code-compliant buildings, but their differences allow design professionals significant latitude to find a code path best suited for a particular building. Prior to the changes, the California code included only the Prescriptive path, limiting potential for adaptive reuse.

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Multifamily Housing

AEC inspections are the key to financially viable office to residential adaptive reuse projects

About a year ago our industry was abuzz with an idea that seemed like a one-shot miracle cure for both the shockingly high rate of office vacancies and the worsening housing shortage. The seemingly simple idea of converting empty office buildings to multifamily residential seemed like an easy and elegant solution. However, in the intervening months we’ve seen only a handful of these conversions, despite near universal enthusiasm for the concept. 




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