Big Problems Little Projects

Fabian Oefner's exploding paint balloons

Fabian Oefner’s exploding paint balloons (as seen on Wired)

Even tiny projects are rarely simple. The type I run into most often are so small that no architect has been involved. Unfortunately, the encounter is after it has unraveled. Then, my ability to proactively solve problems is limited, and the fix ends up being more expensive and time consuming.

In Code Check, I introduced some general areas of concern for a typical small project. I can illustrate three specific situations related to toilet fixtures that often crop up on projects in spaces constructed only five or more years ago.

As mentioned in the previous articles, codes are changing all the time. North Carolina discarded its customized accessibility code in 2009 to adopt the national code, ANSI 117.1. There are dozens of differences between the two.

Toilet clearance plan

Toilet clearance change

One of these is the required clearance beside an accessible toilet. The previous code required only 48″ clear around the toilet fixture. The lavatory was allowed to overlap the 60″ toilet clearance by 12″. But in the current code, the full 60″ must be preserved. This means that any single space bathroom completed just five years ago will very likely require adjustments to achieve compliance.

Unfortunately, this implies that either the toilet or the lavatory must be relocated along with several adjacent walls, toilet accessories, and maybe the door. In one of my recent projects, the lavatory was adjacent an exterior wall where it couldn’t move farther away from the toilet. So the toilet had to be relocated instead.

This is expensive. It requires tearing out the concrete slab, existing wall, door, water supply, vent pipe, grab bars, and toilet accessories. The under-slab sanitary drain must be re-worked, and the concrete slab patched back. Then wall studs, drywall, toilet accessories, ceiling, paint, and a door are installed to get back to a finished condition. Sometimes even the lighting and HVAC venting must be re-worked as well. Expect something like this to cost $10,000 or more. All because of a 12″ code change!

Toilet grab bar dimensions

Toilet grab bar dimensions

Another recent code change is the additional requirement for a vertical grab bar on the side of a toilet. This is an inexpensive change since only the bar and its installation are required. On rare occasions, a toilet accessory like a toilet paper dispenser may interfere with the required location and also need to be adjusted.

Toilet fixture count requirements

Toilet fixture count requirements

The building code has a number of major occupancy classifications with further minor use type stipulations. Together, they specify the maximum quantity of occupants in any given space. The plumbing code then has a table which requires the minimum number of required plumbing fixtures based on this calculated occupancy. In the table excerpt above, the water closet quantities required are shown for the number of occupants in Business (B) and Mercantile (M) occupancies.

As you can see, the quantities differ significantly. A typical calculation would require only one fixture for a ground floor retail space of 15,000 SF. That same space, used for exercise, would require seven water closets.

Any change in occupancy requires recalculation of the required number of toilets. Even a seemlingly minor change can increase the number of required toilets, lavatories, or drinking fountains.

I would like to be able to help more building owners and tenants navigate code issues. It is simple to run just a short analysis and determine the feasibility of any required changes before signing a lease or starting a renovation!


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