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Building Codes Continue To Rack Up Issues Nationwide

The provisions of the building code shall apply to the construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, maintenance, removal and demolition of every building or structure or any appurtenances connected or attached to such buildings or structures.” — International Building Code

When the Rack Manufacturers Institute had its rack specifications adopted by American National Standards Institute, the stage was set for racks and other material handling products to be monitored by building officials, by requiring permits for the installation of these products and structures.

Material handling products got national notoriety when home stores and super stores, open to the public, started populating cities across the country. Tall racks, tall shelving, mezzanines and movable shelving became subject to review by the municipality that has jurisdiction for the location.

With the introduction of the IBC 2000 (International Building Code) as the nationally recognized code to replace the previous regional codes, “earthquake” or “seismic” concerns were no longer focused only on the western United States. Awareness is now nationwide.

Building Permit
The building codes hold the owner of the building responsible for obtaining the required permits. However, for storage racks and other material handling products, the owner of these products is ultimately responsible. In our industry, the material handling supplier typically ends up with the permitting chore on behalf of their customer. Unfortunately, filing an application form and paying the necessary fees are not the only requirements for a building permit.

A building permit is an official document issued by a building department authorizing the performance of a specified activity. Generally that applies to storage racks and tall shelving, as will be discussed here. Permitted products also include mezzanines, conveyor supports, carousels, tanks and fences. Any item that is not specifically excluded from the building code may require a permit, if the building official deems it necessary.

Obtaining a Permit
The owner of the equipment to be permitted is responsible for supplying the following:

  • A commodities letter (UFC-Article 81) indicating what product is being stored, how it is being stored, if it is encapsulated or not and what its classification is.
  • All fees required by the city, such as plan check and permit fees, fire department fees, city business licenses, etc.
  • A detailed site plan/plot plan, including a fully dimensioned drawing showing the building on the lot and the streets around it. This is only required by some cities.
  • Total valuation of the project. How much is the completed project worth? Be sure to include the cost of material, labor and any additional costs.
  • Contractor/installer information, including name, license number, Workers’ Compensation insurance, city business license and a letter from the owner authorizing the application.
  • Layout drawings of the building, showing all exit doors, the equipment being permitted and aisles around them, and the distance to all exits.

Upon installation of the racks or other material handling equipment, the city inspector is invited to conduct the final inspection, where he verifies anchoring and other items shown in order to verify compliance with the approved plans.

Problems That May Arise
Below are some issues that could delay final approval of an installation, depending on the city and the inspector that is responsible for the final sign-off.

  • Racks are too close to a slab construction joint. — The concern is that the rack down force may cause the slab joints to separate.
  • The racks are too close to the building wall. — All structures tend to move due to wind and earthquakes. When the building moves, it could impact the racks.
  • The racks are too close to the building column. — Damage can occur to either structure from the other’s movement.
  • The flue space is not large enough for the product overhang. — Product overhang can diminish the flue space, which affects the performance of the sprinklers.
  • Some racks are blocking exit doors. — Egress distance in buildings usually assumes the building empty. Any obstructions that could hinder exiting from the building will have to be removed.
  • There are dead-end aisles greater than 20 feet. — If fire occurs in one aisle, there must be an alternate way to exit from that aisle. The limit of 20 feet allows people to escape prior to the fire consuming the aisle.
  • Some anchors are installed at a slant. — Because of the location of the holes in the base plate, sometimes the bracing of the frame may force the anchors to be installed at a slant. Fifteen degrees is the maximum accepted by most manufacturers.
  • Some anchors are not seated all the way. — If the installer does not replace his drilling bit often enough, some holes may be too tight and the anchors may not get seated. Care should be used in drilling the holes.
  • Racks require column protectors. — The code asks for protection against moving equipment. Some municipalities are not aware of that, but it is a safety precaution.

Be aware of these issues along with those addressed below. Discuss them with someone experienced with the city where the installation will occur and advise the end-user of these possible issues. The worst thing for a promised turnkey solution is that the city does not sign off on your project because of items beyond your control.

New for 2008

Building Codes: As of January 2008, all 50 states are going to adopt and follow the International Building Code (IBC). There will be no more seismic zones or maps showing proximity to major faults. Based on the ZIP code of any facility, design factors are obtained and entered in the design formulas in order to determine the seismic shear that will be used to design all structures. Since these factors have to do with soil composition and ground acceleration, maps cannot be derived for ease of determining what we used to know as “seismic zones.”

Anchor Bolts: The code community did not settle for the complications of the codes; they also adopted a new policy dealing with anchor bolts. All anchor bolt reports that were being used for sizing anchors to resist the seismic forces have expired and have not been renewed.

In Europe, concern arises from fastening items on the underside of concrete structures. Since the nature of concrete is to crack as it dries, any anchors installed in this cracked concrete needed to be re-evaluated and tested. Unfortunately, when the International Code Council decided to adopt the same concept, they did not exclude slabs on grade—those that are in warehouses and carry all of our material handling equipment.

Anchor bolt manufacturers are now scrambling to retest their anchors in cracked concrete in order to develop new values. As of press time, only two rack manufacturers have had their tables developed, while the others are working hard on the testing procedure. Beware! When you have a new rack installation, wait until a permit is issued before you install the anchors. Some building officials are still allowing the use of the expired report, as they understand that the approved anchors are still scarce. Also be aware that with the new anchor reports, a requirement of having the anchors installed in the presence of a deputy inspector is now mandatory.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Sal Fateen Meet the Author
Sal Fateen is president of Seizmic Engineering located in Pomona, California, and on the Web at www.seizmic.net.

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