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The Details of the 2008 California Building Code Changes
By J A Parker

The 2007 California Building Codes took effect January 1st, 2008. Some of the more prominent areas of change in this installment of building codes center on fire safety, equal access for disabled persons and environmentally friendly construction. The new set of codes is based on the latest national and international model building codes.

Rosario Marin, Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and chair of the Building Standards Commission has said, "This will put California back in the forefront as a leader in the use of the latest technology for building safety, fire prevention, safe construction, and code enforcement."


With California's 2006 global warming law mandating a cut in carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, the pressure is on to change the way we build. Some California cities, such as Los Angeles, are taking the changes to heart. Los Angeles is doing its part by adopting new building plans that require large new developments to be 15% more energy efficient than in previous years.


California State Fire Marshall, Rueben Grijalva pushed for many of the changes to the 2007 Building Codes in response to the devastation resulting from recent wildfires in the state. The new 2007 California Building Code changes include additional wild land-urban interface fire protection standards for vulnerable structures located in areas prone to wildfires.


However, the new changes are being met with some resistance related to the drastic cost increase required to meet the new codes. One of the proposed changes requires two-hour fire resistant floor ratings for buildings larger than three stories and two-hour fire resistant construction that extend to supporting structural elements to grade. This change affects the cost of a new construction building by adding $6 per square foot, and $250 per square foot for an existing structure.


Compliance with this code requires additional:

•Fire proofing materials

•Shaft construction

•Lengthier penetration protection

•Design Fees

•Permit and inspection Fees

•Additional sprinkler heads

Additional code changes include the approval of Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC) plastic pipe for use in residential water supply systems. Also introduced, is the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) certification requirements for barrier-free entryways for persons with disabilities.

Additional Changes For Residential Buildings:

•wood siding and wood-shake roofs are banned in fire-prone areas

•shortened staircases with wider steps

•landscaping near the home must be free of trees, shrubbery, and other fire-fuel sources

•lowered heating requirements to 68° F at three feet above the floor

•only one exit on third story required, regardless of square footage

•minimum kitchen floor area is now 50 square feet with a minimum clearance of 3' between counters and walls and appliances

•higher guardrails for stairs

•Minimum attic access opening reduced to 20" x 30"

•wall between garage and living space may now use ½" type-x drywall instead of 5/8"

•reduced size of emergency egress window for grade floor openings

•Minimum clear width for doors clarified as 32" with a height of 80"

•spiral stairs may be used as a second exit regardless of the size of the home

•reduced light requirements to 8% of the floor space

•mechanical ventilation now permitted in place of natural ventilation

•five foot required minimum distance for un-rated walls and unprotected openings from property line

Notable Changes for Commercial Buildings:

•allowable provisions of them all the story would frame building are less restrictive

•wood frame buildings can now be constructed up to 70 feet and height and up to four stories

•sprinklers can now be used for both height an area increases and can be used in lieu of rated corridors is the building is equipped with a sprinkler system throughout.


Structures in compliance with the 2007 California Building Codes will receive reduced insurance rates and higher resale values, but those promises do little to allay the pressure of additional up-front construction costs.

Josh Parker is a staff writer for Strucalc - Stuctural Analysis Software Company. StruCalc is one of the most intuitive structural analysis and design programs available. With structural analysis software, you can Quickly size beams, columns, and footings with StruCalc 7.0 Software. Strucalc offers quality, professional software, built with strict engineering methods and specifications to every business in need of an easy to use, affordable software package.

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