What you need to know about building codes

June 1, 1995
When you plan and carry out the installation of a low-voltage cable plant, you must know more than where the cables run and how to pull and terminate them. Equally important may be the provisions of county, municipal or state building codes.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

When you plan and carry out the installation of a low-voltage cable plant, you must know more than where the cables run and how to pull and terminate them. Equally important may be the provisions of county, municipal or state building codes.

Luckily for contractors, most building codes are similar, because they are generally based on model codes maintained by regional authorities (see "How Building Codes Work"). The cities of New York City and Chicago, however, do not use regional codes and have instead adopted their own versions of building codes.

With any particular code, only a few provisions may deal directly with telecommunications cabling installation, but many others that initially seem peripheral can--directly or indirectly--affect you at the job site. "Most building codes have requirements about outlet height, location and clearances," says Ron Provost, chairman of the governmental relations committee of the Building Industry Consulting Service International (Tampa, FL), "but not too much else that`s telecommunications-related. A major item you must address is firestopping. Any time you penetrate a firewall, the code will require you to use the appropriate material to firestop it back to its original protection rating (see "Firestops--crucial to every installation," August 1994, page 31)."

A second major area is compliance with the National Electrical Code. "It`s important to understand the provisions in all sections of the NEC that pertain to telecommunications," adds Provost.

Handicapped access is another area of importance. "The Americans with Disabilities Act has been adopted and applies to all commercial and public-access buildings," he says. "This will definitely affect access to communications."

The act is specific regarding public telephone access. It requires that a public telephone be placed at a certain height, which would permit access to those who use wheelchairs. To support telecommunications teletypewriters, which are used by deaf persons, you are required to place an electrical outlet and a suitable shelf near a public telephone. "The wall outlet has to be 15 inches off the floor for front-reach wheelchair access," explains Provost.

Other ADA concerns for cable plant designers may be the width of doors and the need for ramps that allow wheelchair access. According to Provost, "If you`re putting in a raised floor in an existing building, for example, you need a 12-foot ramp to accommodate a one-foot rise in floor level, because the ADA specifies a vertical rise of no more than 1 inch per 12 inches of length."

Where to get information

Provost advises checking with the local municipal or county building department or inspector, to find out what building code applies, and if there are any exceptions. Building permits, fees and licensing could be discussed at the same time. "You should probably also check with the state to determine if there are any state permits or licenses that apply to telecommunications," he says. "Check with the state electrical board, because telecommunications is covered by that board in many states." It may also be useful to check with the general contractor if you are subcontracting outside your normal geographical area, and to talk to the potential customer if you are responding to a request for proposals.

Working with the politics of the local situation is just as important as obeying the codes and laws, according to Allen Kasiewicz, president at Trellis Communications (Manchester, NH), a systems integrator. "Cities are strapped for cash," he says, "and they`re driving their building inspectors to look for new revenue opportunities. Now that premises cabling is becoming big business, code issues are starting to rear their heads."

Local building inspectors are typically electricians who have come up through the ranks; they know building construction and the National Electrical Code, but may not be familiar with or knowledgeable about fiber-optic and telecommunications cabling issues. "They don`t understand fiber, and they don`t understand twisted pair," says Kasiewicz. "They`ve never had experience with them. Under the circumstances, it`s very easy to just say `no` to your project."

To get the building inspectors to say `yes` instead of `no,` Kasiewicz suggests you approach them directly, establish a positive relationship and conduct some informal training if it is needed. "What we`ve found to be successful," he says, "is to approach the city immediately. Never just start to work and let the building inspector come on-site and catch you. That`s the kiss of death. Then he thinks you`re trying to beat the system--to avoid paying fees or pulling permits."

When it is working in a new area, Trellis routinely sets up a meeting with the building inspector. Company representatives present the project background, explain what it is about, discuss the technology involved and work out the permit requirements. "You subliminally educate them," Kasiewicz adds, "and make them a friend--not in patronizing terms, but clearly and concisely."

Before you contact the building inspector, however, it is important to work closely with the client on permit issues. "Counsel with the client`s physical-plant people or electricians to get the lay of the land," Kasiewicz suggests. "What are the code issues? Who is the building inspector? How critical is enforcement here? What`s the relationship between the client and the town? Are you stepping into an adversarial relationship that goes back years? Clients are a tremendous resource; scope out the situation with them before going to City Hall."

How Building Codes Work

Most areas of building construction?electrical wiring, heating and plumbing?contain potential hazards to users and occupants. Building codes are official government statements meant to deal with these hazards by safeguarding occupants and reducing risks to an acceptable level. Technically, a building code is a compendium of laws and ordinances that set minimum safety standards and codifiy them for easy reference.

Model building codes grew up in the United States early in this century to address risks and provide the needed safeguards. These model codes were developed by regional authorities that continue to maintain them (see OBuilding-code Administrators,O page 65). The codes are adopted by counties, municipalities and states, and are enforced by building inspectors who work for the building departments of these governmental bodies. The fees paid for building permits support the inspection effort. Such permits typically cost less than 1% of the total cost of the construction.

Building inspectors are trained through the certified building official program, sponsored by the Council of American Building Officials (Falls Church, VA). The regional building-code administrators provide this training locally, including the publications, instructional activities, certification testing and ongoing certificate administration and renewal needed to maintain a trained body of building inspectors.

Building-Code Administrators

American Insurance Services Group Inc. (AISG)

85 John St.

New York, NY 10038

(212) 669-0400

Covers some communities around Chicago

Maintains National Building Code (NBC)

Building Officials and Code Administrators International Inc. (BOCA)

4051 W. Flossmoor Rd.

Country Club Hills, IL 60478-5795

(708) 799-2300

Covers midwestern and

northeastern United States

Maintains BOCA Basic Building Code

Council of American Building Officials

5203 Lessburg Pike

Suite 708

Falls Church, VA 22041

(703) 931-4533

National organization of building officials

Maintains Certified Building Official program

International Conference of

Building Officials (ICBO)

5360 Workman Mill Rd.

Whittier, CA 90601-2298

(310) 699-0541

Covers midwestern and western United States

Maintains the Uniform Building Code (UBC)

Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI)

900 Montclair Rd.

Birmingham, AL 35213-1206

(205) 591-1853

Covers southeastern and

southwestern United States

Maintains the Standard Building Code (SBC)

TIA/EIA Proposes Guidelines for centralized optical fiber cabling

Tony Beam, Siecor Corp.

A new network architecture known as centralized optical fiber cabling is based on direct connections from work areas to a centralized crossconnect, allowing the use of pull-through cables or a splice or interconnect in the telecommunications closet instead of a horizontal crossconnect. The architecture takes advantage of fiber?s longer transmission distance, greater bandwidth and lower attenuation to replace electronics distributed throughout a building with electronics located solely in a centralized equipment room (see OUniversity of Kentucky upgrades its network with optical fiber,O April 1995, page 19).

To guide the implementation of this architecture, the Telecommunications Industry Association fiber-optic task group of TR-41.8.1, the working subcommittee responsible for the Electronics Industry Association/TIA-568A commercial building telecommunications cabling standard, has presented to the TR-41.8.1 membership for consideration a draft telecommunications systems bulletin on centralized optical fiber cabling. The draft TSB is the result of six months of discussions within the task group, which is composed of manufacturers, consultants and contractors.

The proposal guides implementation of the modified cabling topology for in-building optical fiber cabling applications. In addition, the guidelines ensure the centralized cabling solution is implemented in such a way that the network can be easily and inexpensively changed to a traditional crossconnect system?in case the user moves to decentralized electronics or if a single-tenant building becomes multi-tenant. Other parts of the TSB cover sizing intrabuilding backbone cable and planning for future growth in either the backbone or the number of horizontal drops. Information about network administration and testing is also included.

The document is not intended to replace or supersede the requirements of American National Standards Institute/EIA/TIA-568A or of ANSI/TIA/EIA-569, the commercial building standard for telecommunications pathways and spaces.

Click here to enlarge image

Centralized optical fiber cabling uses fiber`s greater transmission distance to support centralized electronics for single-tenant buildings.

Tony Beam is premises marketing manager at Siecor Corp., Hickory, NC. He is a member of the TIA fiber-optic local area network section and chairs the TIA fiber-optic task group. He can be reached at (704) 327-5529.

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