AIA Ohio Advocates for Ohio’s Updated Building Codes
Bruce Sekanick, FAIA

The AIA Ohio Advocacy Committee, a standing committee of the Board of Directors, actively participated in this year’s process to update the Ohio Building Codes (OBC).  The current 2017 OBC, which is based on the 2015 International Building Code (IBC), will soon be updated to the 2021 IBC.  If adopted, the new codes will be known as the 2024 Ohio Building Code.  The codes are currently in review by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) and once approved it is anticipated that the adoption of the new code by the Ohio Board of Building Standards (OBBS) will take place at their next meeting on August 11. 

The process of updating the current codes has been ongoing for the last several years.  During the pandemic, AIA Ohio developed a task group to assist in the review of the proposed changes to the accessibility guidelines.  Last year, the Ohio legislature approved SB9, a bill that required agencies to reduce the number of restrictive terms used in agency rules by 30%.  This legislation included the rules established by the Ohio Board of Building Standards (OBBS), the agency responsible for the development of the Ohio Building Code and the certification of building departments and building department personnel.  Early this year, AIA Ohio reached out and met with the executive secretary of the OBBS to get a better understanding of the process and to determine how the organization, as a stakeholder, could participate in the process.  AIA Ohio’s Government Advocacy Committee reviewed the requirements of SB9 and the manner in which the OBBS could meet the intent of SB9.  AIA Ohio and the OBBS came to the same conclusion and concurred the adoption of the model code as a reference standard as opposed to the full language being included as part of the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) would be the best pathway for compliance.  While minor changes have been made to coordinate the codes with Ohio law or administrative requirements, the new codes generally include the same text as the IBC. 

Until now, Ohio has maintained the language of the 2015 IBC from Chapter 34. Beginning with the 2018 IBC, chapter 34 has been reserved for adoption of the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) which no longer uses the language that most design professionals in Ohio are familiar with.   The changes proposed for adoption next month include the adoption of the International Existing Building Code (IEBC), making it part of the 2024 Ohio Building Code.  While this will require some adjustments to how existing buildings are analyzed, the new code will include two pathways for design professionals to use with one process being very similar to the process in the existing code.

One of the highlights of the proposed code update will be implementation of improved energy code requirements in Ohio.  The 2024 OBC, as proposed, will include the 2021 version of the International Energy Conservation Code.  As is the case with past codes, the 2024 OBC will also allow the use of ASHRAE 90.1 – 19.

During the development of the new codes, AIA Ohio actively participated in the review of the proposed changes and successfully impacted changes to the code.  In the original text of the code, night clubs and bars would have had to have adult changing tables for as few as 240 occupants.  Through our work with the OBBS, the proposed language was changed to nearly double that total to 450 occupants. 

AIA Ohio has also expressed a concern on the timing of the implementation of the new codes.  The OBBS is still reviewing this concern, but through AIA Ohio’s advocacy efforts, they do better understand the needs of the design community and hopefully, the adoption will include language that will have the implementation date set closer to the end of the first quarter of 2024 as opposed to the beginning of the new year.  The new code language is expected to be ready for design professionals to view and purchase by November 1, 2023.  Any delays in the publishing of the code will be reviewed by OBBS to make sure that Architects and Engineers across the state have adequate time to include the proposed changes into construction documents submitted for approval after the established effective date of the new code. Design professionals are encouraged to review their projects under development and to work with their building departments on the coordination of submissions to help ensure that projects currently being developed can be submitted under the appropriate code.  The OBBS plans to put together training for building officials on the changes to the code and they plan to make this training available to design professionals as well. 

The pending adoption of the updates to the OBC will bring Ohio in line with the changes that would have occurred if the standard revision process had not interrupted by COVID-19.  These changes provide more flexibility for designers, including the option to design multi-user restroom facilities for all genders, mass timber construction, and updated designs for accessibility.  The AIA Ohio Government Advocacy Committee continues to review legislation and make recommendations and propose changes that will help advance the work of Ohio’s architects.

In addition to the committee’s work with the OBBS, the advocacy committee has been actively engaged in the review of Ohio’s biennial operating budget.  As part of the legislative process, changes to agency rules or requirements are often included within the budgeting process.  These items are often buried in thousands of pages of documents and can be as short as a paragraph or two.  This year, language was included that eliminated fire suppression in certain open-air structures.  While this provision was tied to other issues, the proposed change was inconsistent with the consensus process lead by OBBS for revisions to the code.  AIA Ohio’s advocacy committee voiced opposition to the changes including a letter to the Governor.  Due in part to AIA Ohio’s efforts, Governor DeWine, on July 3rd, vetoed the language that would have allowed this change. AIA Ohio does not anticipate that there will be any legislative action to override the veto.

The Advocacy Committee of AIA Ohio works year-round focusing on many statewide issues that impact the profession of architecture including the building code.  We look forward to continuing our work as the Ohio House and Senate spend time in their home district over the next few months and prepare to return to the Statehouse later this fall.