Code Changes: What Needs to Happen for COVID-19

June 15, 2020
Kurt Beres Director - Technical Services

Buildings are an amazing expression of our humanity.

They are layered with personal imagination and creativity, appealing to our appreciation of detail and thoughtfulness, while remaining practical and stable, capable of providing shelter in the most difficult of times.

That is, until COVID-19. Suddenly, for the first time in our lives, being contained within a building with others stopped feeling safe because of a pandemic. The model building code says that the intent of the code (101.3) is to provide a reasonable level of safety, public health and general welfare. The pandemic has reset the bar for the responsibility of architects and designers to improve public health and return a sense of safety.

I think we can all agree that in the back of our mind, going forward, we will have concerns regarding the air we breathe, our proximity to others, and the things we touch. We need our buildings to help protect us from the germs we know are there but can’t see. For that reason, I am recommending we adopt elevated expectations by building on the current code that will help protect those that will inhabit a space. We have done a great job in building safer buildings, and this wouldn’t be the first time we changed our building codes to protect people from things in the environment we can’t see. (Remember asbestos or high VOC paint?) The following are changes to the building code I would recommend to do with a focus on what we touch and what we breathe. The proposed changes are based on the 2018 model codes.

IBC 1011.2 Stairway Width and Capacity – The required capacity of stairways shall be determined as specified in section 1005.1 but the minimum width shall be no less than 44 inches. See Section 1009.3 for accessible means of egress stairs.

1: Exit Access Stairs and stairs that are part of the primary entry to a building 4 stories or less shall have a minimum width of 60”

2: Stairways serving an occupant load of less than 35, shall have a width of not less than 40″.

Table 1020.2 Minimum Corridor Width

Any Facility not listed in this table – Shall have a Minimum Width of 60”

With an Occupant load less than 35– Shall have a Minimum Width of 40″

IBC 1209.4 Touchless Features – Public bathrooms provided in buildings or spaces with an occupant load of 25 or greater shall be provided with paper towel dispensers and soap dispensers that do not require grasping or touching to activate.


  1. Restrooms located in R and I occupancies not intended for public use.

IBC 1209.5 Forced Air Appliances used for Hand Drying – Forced Air appliances used for hand drying are not permitted unless the appliance can be shown to contain or eliminate germs and other foreign particles aerosolized as part the drying process.


  1. Single User Restroom Facilities.

IBC 1209.3.3 and 1209.6 Indicator Latches – Partition doors and doors into single user, unisex, family or assisted use toilets shall be provided with latches which provide a visible indicator when the facility is occupied.

IPC 410.6 Touchless Features – Drinking Fountains provided in buildings or spaces with an occupant load of 25 or greater shall be provided without requiring touching or grasping to activate.

IPC 419.6 Touchless Features – Lavatories provided for public handwashing with an occupant load of 25 or greater shall be provided without requiring touching or grasping to activate.

IPC 415.5 Touchless Features – Flushometers on Water Closets and Urinals provided to serve an occupant load of 25 or greater shall be provided without requiring touching or grasping to activate.

1010.1.3.2 Automatic Door Operators – Automatic Door Operators shall be required on doors used as the primary entrance for buildings and tenant spaces with an occupancy load greater than 35. The automatic door operator shall be capable of automatically opening the door without grasping or touching and comply with 1010.1.4.2 for powered operation.


  1. Doors within mercantile, assembly and educational occupancies required to remain open while the space is occupied.
  2. Individual rooms within assembly, mercantile, and educational occupancies serving an occupant load of less than 100 people.

IMC 403.1.1 Improved Indoor Air Quality – Mechanical Ventilation Systems shall be designed to automatically eliminate Indoor air pollution, VOC and other particles .3 microns or greater when the building is normally occupied by an occupant load greater than 50. In rooms or spaces used for assembly designed to have an occupant load greater than 300 CO2 sensors shall be installed to automatically increase outside air.


  1. Mechanical systems that utilize 100% Outside Air.

IBC 2902.2 Exceptions:

  1. Single User Toilet Rooms clustered around a lounge providing access to the combined number of lavatories required by this section can be provided in lieu of separate facilities for each sex in A2, and M Occupancies with an occupant load greater than 100. The number of toilet rooms must include a minimum of (2) complete assisted use restrooms with both lavatory and water closet.

Changes to the building code often come about from crisis and with each crisis we find ways to make our buildings safer and healthier. Based on my experience as a registered architect for over a decade, a master plans examiner and a certified building official, I realize we are at a crossroads. We are at the moment where we can change our codes not only to restore public trust but confront this crisis head on and make our buildings tools that will be there to help prevent future pandemics. The above common sense solutions adopt technology to reduce touchpoints, provide additional space to improve social distancing in our most confining spaces and create breathable buildings. We can and will continue to design amazing buildings, but they serve no good if fear keeps us from crossing their thresholds. If you have any questions regarding the thought behind any of the proposed recommendations please feel free to contact me.