New Chicago Building Codes for 2019

11 June 2019

On April 10th, 2019, Chicago adopted a monumental update to its building code for the first time in 70 years. The update was in efforts to modernize the city’s building code to align with national and international standard building codes.

The last time comprehensive revisions were made to the Chicago Building Code was 1949. These updates will create a more sustainable building and development industry in Chicago while also providing developers with more flexibility in the realms of design, material use, and technology.

Chicago Building Code History

Chicago’s building code has a long history dating back to the 1800s when one of the most monumental moments in Chicago history led to a severe need for regulation within the architectural and development industry – The Great Chicago Fire.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire tore through the city, destroying nearly four miles long and one mile wide of Chicago’s landscape - part of which included the business district. The first building codes were established in 1875 in response to this catastrophe and in attempts to control and reduce disease. Following this initial introduction of building code regulations, the City Council established the Department of Buildings and put in place a new, updated building code.

Corruption and lack of funding complicated the process of updating the building code until the next update was made in 1949. It wasn’t until 70 years later, in 2019, that the next comprehensive modernization was made to the Chicago Building Code to better align with national and international building codes.

Chicago Building Code Clarifications & Updates

This April, Chicago introduced revolutionary updates to its building code ranging from more sustainable standards to aligning the code with International Building Code. Here are a few significant updates that will largely impact future development projects in Chicago:

Sprinkler System Updates

The new updates state that sprinkler systems are required in a variety of different buildings including new hotel developments, apartment buildings with 4+ units, new offices over 70 ft, and assembly places that hold 300+ people. In addition to this, buildings with sprinkler systems are granted higher height and floor area limits.

Building Materials Updates

Updated requirements for a larger selection of building materials create a standard that was otherwise lacking in previous versions of Chicago Building Code. This standardization will create a more regulated building environment.

Reduced Minimum Ceiling Requirements

By reducing minimum ceiling requirements as well as lighting and ventilation requirements developers are given more freedom for renovations. This update encourages conversion opportunities for existing basements and attics.

Cost-efficient Construction Updates

Risk-based structural design requirements have been updated to make it more cost efficient to build single-family homes.

Preservation Updates

With many of Chicago’s historic buildings in danger, it’s more important than ever to rehab existing buildings. Additional flexibility will be provided for rehab work to advance the preservation of existing and historic buildings.

Sustainability Updates

The new updates to Chicago Building Code put emphasis on efforts to promote green buildings and energy efficient construction. Through durable, functional, and energy efficient building, Chicago can become more sustainable.

Public Safety Updates

With this new code comes the adoption of seismic design requirements for certain facilities in order to enhance public safety in the case of a natural disaster. Crucial facilities (hospitals, fire stations, etc.) would need to adopt these principals.

International Building Code Updates

Lastly, the new Chicago Building Code will adopt the terminology and systems used within the International Building Code to aid architects and developers in adapting to Chicago’s Building Code.

A New Era of Chicago Development

"Chicago is taking the national lead in modernizing our building codes so that we can continue to advance sustainability, make construction more cost-effective and build on our city’s reputation for innovative design and world-renowned architecture.”
-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel

Overall, these updates are in efforts to modernize Chicago’s Building Code in alignment with standard International Building Code. Improvements of this scale will simplify Chicago Building Code and make Chicago more accessible for architects and developers in other states and countries.

These updates also significantly increase flexibility within the code allowing for more opportunities and lower development costs and expenses. Flexible building codes, like this, give architects and developers more options for designing buildings and lead to less expensive end costs.

The updated Chicago Building Code will be gradually phased starting June 1st and officially replace the current building code in August 2020. For innovative contractors you can trust, reach out to Focus today!

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