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Smart Codes - Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code
I recently attended a Smart Codes Training Session given by the
Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The Smart
Codes, or officially designated as the Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code,
took effect June 1, 2001. The code applies to all jurisdictions throughout the
state and covers work on all existing buildings over one year old. The
purpose of the code is to permit and encourage improvements to existing
buildings that maintain or improve "health, safety, and welfare" without
requiring full compliance with the building code. An existing building may
contain elements that do not comply with current codes for new construction, for
example egress travel distance, dead-end corridor length, or ceiling heights.
These elements are allowed to remain as long as the work does not decrease the
level of safety that currently exists in the building. For example, a 30-minute
corridor partition may remain where a one-hour rating would be required for new
buildings, or a stair other than a 7/11 riser/tread ratio may remain where it is
required in new buildings. The Smart Codes separate rehabilitation requirements
from those of new construction, however new elements must be constructed to
current code standards. In addition, the local code official does retain the
authority to cite a condition that does not comply with basic life safety
provisions for all existing buildings in the local code.
All work in a rehabilitation project is classified into one of five
categories. A single project may include multiple categories of work, and each
category determines the amount of code requirements. The categories are as
follows, in order from simpler to more complex:
- Repair - Patching, restoration, or minor replacement of materials,
components, or fixtures for the purposes of maintaining the item in good or
sound condition. In other words, fixing something that's broken.
- Renovation - Extensive repairs or replacement to load bearing elements, such
as an entire wall system or a kitchen "face lift." Renovations are comprised of
replacing most of an element either to fix a problem or make an upgrade.
Renovations do not include reconfiguration of a space.
- Modifications - Reconfiguration of a space by eliminating a door or window,
the reconfiguration or extension of an existing system, or installation of
additional equipment. For example, taking out a boiler and installing a forced
- Reconstruction - The reconfiguration of a space that affects egress or over
50% of the building area or an occupancy classification.
- Addition - An increase in building area, aggregate floor area, or number of
stories of a structure.
Provisions in the Smart Codes are also made for changes of occupancy
involving a change in the application of the local building codes. Only a change
in occupancy to a more hazardous use triggers requirements for compliance with
the new construction code standards in that hazard area. Rehabilitation work on
historic buildings, including those listed or eligible for listing on the
National Register, designated under law as a historic property, or certified as
a contributing resource within a historic district, is eligible for special
treatment and certain exemptions from code requirements.
The rehabilitation standards are limited to the "rehabilitation work area,"
designated as the portion of the building affected by the renovation,
modification, or reconstruction. Another important element in the Smart Codes is
that in rehabilitation projects, full compliance with the materials and methods
standards for new buildings is not required when replacing existing materials,
elements, or components. An example given at the session was the rear porches
found in many urban row houses. These wood framed rear porches can be rebuilt
without the current separation requirements as long as there is no
reconfiguration of the space.
Automatic sprinklers and manual fire alarms are required when rehabilitation
projects are in the reconstruction category (exceeds 50% of the floor area), and
then only when the existing building provisions of the State Fire Prevention
Code require automatic sprinklers.
In order to encourage rehabilitation projects the Smart Codes allow
alternatives when requirements impose an undue hardship for technical reasons.
For example if there is no room in the existing building to meet requirements
for stair landings, riser/tread geometry, or width, alternate stair
configurations are allowed if approved by the local code official. Preliminary
meetings with code officials are encouraged, and sometimes required for complex
projects, in order to determine the specific provisions of the codes to be
An example of the application of Smart Codes is the typical garden apartment
rehabilitation project comprised of upgrades to a group of rental apartment
buildings, including new carpeting, wall finishes, lighting in lobby and
corridors, new cabinets, fixtures, appliances, and window replacement. No
reconfiguration of spaces is planned with no extension of systems or elements,
therefore the project is classified a Renovation. Under this classification,
sprinklers are not required, and no changes to the electrical systems including
installation of GFIC are required. In addition, the work on existing elements
need only to comply with existing materials and methods levels, and even though
the height and configuration of the existing balcony railings are not compliant