As we work our way through each of the steps involved in the church building process, we go from looking at zoning codes and focus the spotlight on another important group of regulations – building codes. These are the municipal or state requirements that govern construction. When your church leaders begin to think about the specifics of any new or renovated church design, those building codes need to be part of the conversation.
Building Versus Zoning Codes
How are zoning codes and building codes different? Zoning codes govern what can be built and where. Building codes address how each church building is designed and actually constructed. The purpose of building codes is what the industry calls “life safety.” They make sure everyone is safe while they are in your church building and can get out quickly and safely in case of an emergency.
Unlike zoning codes, which vary by city, most states in the US have adopted the International Code Council (ICC) model codes and standards. This is good news, because it generally means that there’s just one set of requirements that you will need to address. However, there are different types of building construction and each has its own set of ICC regulations.
What Type of Church Building Will You Construct?
Construction type determines which regulations apply to your project. Will your church be built of wood, concrete, or steel? The code requirements for each are based on the potential combustibility of the material.
Also, there are “use group” types to consider, and churches can have many different ones. What the code calls “assembly” is your worship area. What it calls “education” covers your church school classrooms and any daycare facilities, while “business use” covers your various offices.
When you combine these types, the building code has a formula that will dictate what size church building (in square feet) you can construct. It will also determine what type of fire suppression system you may or may not need to have in place. Sometimes you can increase the square footage of your church design if you’re willing to install a sprinkler system in the building. Other times that sprinkler system will be required as part of the building code approval process.
Creating an Accessible Church Design
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA is also a building code. This federal law sets requirements regarding elevators (depending on the size and shape of your church building), doorknobs, handicap access, restroom stalls and sinks, stairwells, ramps, etc.
Another critical building code concern is egress from the building—which means getting everyone out safely in case of emergency. The requirements for sufficient egress options can sometimes come into conflict with church leaders’ desire for security, particularly for children in the church building. This is another reason why involving experienced professionals in the development of your new church design early is a good idea. The McKnight Group is familiar with the range of building codes; what they require for your type of building and how to solve problems and conflicts without violating the rules.
In the next step in our church building “from start to finish” series, we’ll discuss the need for a utility review.
We are also now putting the finishing touches on our 2019 free i3 webinar series (which, earlier this year, is where we first introduced this “from start to finish” concept). If there’s a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2019, please let us know at 800-625-6448.