New York City to revise building codes

For the first time in a century, New York City’s building codes are being drastically rewritten.

The current codes will likely be replaced by the International Building Code, which is used nationwide, with additional rules tacked on.

Some of the revisions being discussed include new precautions against earthquake damage, which would require developers who want to build on soft soil to build stronger structures. The new codes are also likely to affect fire safety. One new proposed code would require stairwells in high-rise buildings to be pressurized to keep them from being filled with smoke during a fire. Another proposal would require all current high-rise office buildings — about 200 to 400 of them- to install sprinkler systems.

While some of the building codes involving safety features could increase the overall cost of construction, the new revisions could cut the costs of high-rise buildings by millions. One code proposal, if approved, would reduce the cost of plumbing by allowing the use of plastic pipes in bathrooms and kitchen sinks. Another code change would allow developers of new buildings to use less fireproofing than current codes. While this would inevitably cut construction costs, many safety advocates and family members of 9/11 victims demand having sprinklers in addition to current fireproofing codes. Some real estate developers, however, rationalize that if sprinklers are installed, there is not a need for the current fireproof codes.

The code revisions, which are being undertaken by 13 committees of engineers, developers and safety experts, are expected to be completed by winter 2005. The city already passed a new electrical code last year, and the committees are expected to form new building and plumbing codes this month. A new fire code will be proposed in the next 18 months. Before the committees’ code proposals can be made official, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council must approve them.