Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Code Review for Restaurant and Apartments

Code Review for Restaurant and Apartments

At the start of every new architecture project, many architects rely on their memory of the building codes to generate a conceptual floor plan. As soon as the project moves into the schematic design phase, it’s important to conduct a code review concurrent with designing the project. Although many of us have read through our respective building codes multiple times, we’ll almost always discover something new with each project.

This was the case for my friend’s restaurant and apartment project, 5x30, which is now moving into the construction document phase. As soon as the conceptual design was complete and my friend and I were in agreement, I began the schematic design phase and went through all of the 2015 International Building Code. After a few hours of reviewing the 2015 IBC, the building code review was complete and I discovered a new special detailed requirement that will add extra cost to my friend’s project.

Residential occupancies require automatic sprinkler systems

Rather than boring you with all of the codes that apply to the restaurant and apartment renovation, I’ll skip ahead to the new special detailed requirement for residential project. Keep in mind that the building is mix-use with a restaurant on the ground floor and two 1 bedroom apartments on the upper floor. It’s a relatively small building with a total of 3,000 gross square feet of space. This means that the residential code is no longer applicable to this project.

Apartment Sprinkler Requirements

While reviewing the 2015 IBC for my friend’s building, I was working under the assumption that the two 1 bedroom apartments upstairs would be a simple renovation project with a fire extinguisher to satisfy the building code. However, as I conducted a thorough building code review of the project, I discovered a new special provision; section 420.5 Automatic Sprinkler System, which states “Group R occupancies shall be equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with section 903.2.8.

Once I read this section, I thought that I was either misreading the building code or that there must be an exception that would allow the two 1 bedroom apartments to be free of sprinklers. However, as I went through each of the referenced sections, it was clear that this new code would apply to all residential occupancies that are classified under the 2015 IBC. However, if the building was all apartments and the residential code was applicable to the project, sprinklers wouldn’t be necessary.

Adding a second bathroom for the restaurant

Another assumption that I had was that the restaurant would only need one gender neutral bathroom because the occupancy load will be 75, which is the exact amount for a bathroom for a male or female. This assumption came from my food travels around Buffalo, NY, which is where this project is located, and the design of these restaurants. Many of them are either the same size or smaller than my friend’s project and they only have one gender neutral bathroom.

However, as I reviewed the code, it clearly stated that separate water closets have to be provided for male and female. In the conceptual design, I provided one gender neutral bathroom and located the bar where my friend envisioned it to be. To meet this code, I mirrored the bathroom, rotated the bar, and centered it within the space; using the bathrooms’ wall as the back of the bar. This also allowed all of the plumbing to be within the same area of the building.

Deciding to replace the existing stair to meet building code requirements

The last change to the floor plan from the code review is that the existing stairs have to be replaced and brought up to code. Currently, the stairs have a 7” riser, but only a 10” tread, which doesn’t seem like such a big issue. We also assumed that the stairs would be able to remain in place and we would just refinish the stairwell. However, this project is a level 3 alteration, which requires all components in the building to be brought up to code.

Aside from the code stating that the minimum stair riser shall be 7” and the riser shall be 11”, I personally recommended that my friend replace the existing stairs with one that meets the code. In my opinion the stairs lead up to the two apartments, which means that tenants will be moving heavy furniture into and out of their apartments. Every week, these tenants will also be carrying groceries and if they have large feet like my friend and I, there’s a chance that they’ll either slip on the nosing of the stair or hit their toe on the nosing of the next step as they’re walking up.

Anyhow, there are ways that we could get around this issue and maintain the existing stairwell, but we should always do our best to ensure the safety of all of the occupants.

Biggest lesson I learned from this code review is to never trust my assumptions. Always double check everything that you’re doing.

Finalizing the apartment designs

The original design concept of the apartments was that they would be two studio apartments with lots of millwork in the living room where a Murphy bed would be hidden. The millwork would add storage space to the unit and the Murphy bed would turn the living room into a bedroom. This design emerged from the narrow space of the apartments where it was difficult to fit a bedroom adjacent to the bathroom.

Upon a reevaluation of the studio apartment design, the area that was allotted to the living room was rather large for a studio. So I decided to move the bedroom to the north of the building where the existing fireplaces are located and shift the living room so that it would be adjacent to the kitchen. A television could be mounted on the wall adjacent to the entry door and the new skylight above the infilled exterior brick wall will bring natural light into the kitchen and living room.

The only small design problem with this layout is that the bathrooms are on the opposite side of the apartment. However, this new layout turns the apartments into comfortable 1 bedroom apartments, so a longer walk to the bathroom from the bedroom is worth the trade.

Finding out that a majority of the building has either asbestos or lead

In recent news, my friend hired a consultant to conduct full asbestos and lead reviews of his building concurrent to the development of the construction documents. As we waited for the samples to be tested, I had a feeling that a majority of the building would come back hot. After a week of waiting, the results came in and we found that the entire roof is hot for asbestos, the old ceramic tile that is literally crumbling and falling down onto the first floor is hot for asbestos, and all of the paint in the building is lead based.

As with almost every old vacant building renovation project, we anticipated all of these issues. Although it means that the cost of the renovation will rise, my redesign of the bar and apartments actually brought the project’s costs down. So in a sense, we’ve saved some money only to spend it on asbestos abatement and lead removal.

Oh the joys of architecture…


So Many Deadlines So Little Time

So Many Deadlines So Little Time

We might already have what we really want in life

We might already have what we really want in life