November 26, 2019

The Importance of Code Due Diligence: Article 1 – Restrooms

When developing a layout for your client, it is important to perform the proper code due diligence early in the design process to ensure that the most efficient use of space has been provided.  “Location, Location, Location,” as the real estate mantra goes, comes at a premium.  While true that prime commercial sites will potentially deliver increased foot traffic, this additional exposure comes with the reality that the client’s leased square foot cost will likely be higher.  Because of this fact, it is imperative that every attempt be made to ensure that as much square footage as possible go toward revenue producing uses that will maximize the client’s profits.

Take for example a designer who is preparing a layout for a small restaurant or carryout establishment with limited customer seating.  The ICC Building Code allows for such small assembly spaces to be classified as a business use if the occupant load is determined to be less than 50 people.  This may not seem overtly impactful until you consider the minimum plumbing fixture count and separate facilities requirement in Chapter 29 of the 2018 IBC.  Only one single user accessible restroom is required for a total occupant load of 25 or less, including both customers and employees, when recalculated as business use.  Had an assembly use been assigned and occupancy calculated based on a literal use group assessment, the code could have dictated that two separate restrooms, one for each sex, be provided.  While this is of course a code minimum and the practical needs of the client should always take priority, this one small provision in the code results not only in potentially thousands saved in buildout costs, but it also adds approximately 100 square foot to the leased area.  This additional area can now be allocated to either revenue generating customer space and/or kitchen and serving support functions.

Additionally, the designer needs to make certain that they are familiar with all latest code updates.  Each edition release, it seems, is assuredly going to include subtle changes that can be easily overlooked and have a significant impact on the layout.  There is a reliance on the designer to be familiar with these changes and be able to apply them to the project in a way that is most beneficial for their client’s intended use.  Continuing with the restroom example, let’s consider a business that had been opened prior to 2018.  The 2018 release of the IBC not only saw the maximum floor area allowed for a business use increase from 100 occupants per square foot to 150 occupants, but also the addition of a new exception to the separate facilities section 2902.2.  Separate facilities for each sex are now not required in business uses when the occupant load is less than 25 people.  This is an increase from the maximum 15 person limit in previous editions – a pretty significant update when you realize that the client who would have been limited to a 1,500 square foot space can now more than double their business to 3,750 square foot before that second restroom is required.  

We can all recall a conversation with repeat clients where “That’s not how we did it last time,” is the common phrase.  How many times have we reviewed drawings with the design based on a boilerplate work letter statement that the Landlord provided for two separate single-user restrooms?  These work letters are generally not tailored to a specific site, and the example described above shows how a layout can be impacted drastically by either not applying applicable code sections to the project use and/or not staying current with all of the latest code updates.  With a little extra due diligence time spent at the outset of the pre-design phase, the architect can deliver a functional design that is conscious of the client’s interests.

Jon Zaferopolos

David Ports Architect, Inc.