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Code update

On the Job, Safety & Codes | July 22, 2015 | By:

A proposal to the International Building Code would require a full structural review of tents when certain factors are involved, such as multiple stories. This structure was on display at IFAI  Tent Expo 2015.
A proposal to the International Building Code would require a full structural review of tents when certain factors are involved, such as multiple stories. This structure was on display at IFAI Tent Expo 2015.

Factors that would trigger structural reviews of tent installations considered.

A proposal to the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Building Code (IBC) involving multistory tents installed for fewer than 180 days shows the continued need for the tent industry to work with code officials at the ICC.

The current IBC code for tents and membrane structures for structural review applies only to those erected for 180 days or longer in addition to requirements in the International Fire Code (IFC), which cover both more than 180 days and temporary tents for fewer than 180 days.

Last year, a requirement was added to the 2015 IFC code for multistory tents to have structural documentation as per Chapter 16 of the IBC. In response to that code change, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) proposed additions to the IBC that would require structural documentation for a tent erected less than 180 days and then included these additional conditions: occupant load exceeds 300; height exceeds 30 feet; the structure exceeds one story; the tent exceeds 5,000 square feet. These conditions would result in many tents requiring site-specific wet stamp drawings that have never needed them before.

This proposal was disapproved at the ICC’s IBC Committee Action Hearing in April, but was put to a floor vote, which passed, and it is now on the agenda for the Public Comment Hearing in October.

Tom Markel of Bravo Events, Buffalo, N.Y., has represented the Tent Rental Division (TRD) of IFAI in code hearings and discussions. Markel says that the IAFC will be submitting a proposal with revisions, such as raising the occupancy to 500 people and dropping the height condition. But there has also been discussion about 75 feet of travel distance to an exit, whereas the fire code requires 100 feet of travel distance.

“The original proposal went too far, but by working with the IAFC, they made some changes, but they weren’t enough,” Markel says.

On behalf of TRD, Markel attended a recent ICC meeting in Chicago where IBC, IFC and Life Safety committees were meeting. “The IAFC has further scaled back their revisions to the IBC thanks to further involvement by the TRD,” he says. However, Markel will submit on behalf of the TRD a public comment that would support structural review only in cases of a multistory tents or tents that are more than 800 square feet and installed 12 feet above grade. TRD is also exploring the possibility of code language that would allow structural review of tents to be controlled by the fire code and not the building code.

While the structural review requirement for multistory tents or those installed above grade would increase costs, “the original proposal from the IAFC would have impacted a large portion of the industry.” Markel says. “The TRD public comment would only affect a small portion of installations.”

TRD is vetting proposals for the Group B code cycle for the IFC, with hearings scheduled in 2016. Proposals for Group B code changes may be submitted starting in November; the deadline is Jan. 11, 2016.

In the long run, the tent industry will have to meet codes that will affect how tents are manufactured and installed and address evacuation plans based on the number of occupants, Markel says.

“Structural requirements such as wet stamps for 300 or 500 occupancy does not address the need to evacuate the tent; it just makes things more expensive,” he says. “We need to keep being involved in order to focus regulations where they would do the most good. Also training both our industry and code officials to recognize and do what’s rights, giving people the time needed to evacuate when necessary.”

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