Agora Architecture


Code and ADA Compliance - Your Unknown Top Priority

Before and After - Winfield Police Station

Before and After - Winfield Police Station

            Building codes, including ADA Requirements, are like traffic laws. Most we live with, but some we ignore, some we never knew existed, some we relatively respect, and the rest we tend to forget about. The problem is that, on occasion, the code requirements, like traffic ordinances, can bite us if we don’t comply. A common complaint regarding code requirements is that the fix can be expensive and at times unexpected, similar to a speeding ticket. For example, rebuilding a non-compliant stairway can cost a good chunk of change but the pitch of a stairway is regulated so we can comfortably and safely move from one floor to another. The same is true for entrances and bathrooms in your business that a handicapped person cannot access. The key idea is safety, the same as with speed limitations. So, many of our codes have to do with moving through structures and fire safety in buildings. Building codes are derived from accidents and disasters, much like traffic codes. All codes set a reasonable standard that must be met. Of course, “reasonable” is always debatable, but most of our codes were derived from reasonable assumptions and have been fine-tuned over the years. Any interpretation of the code is made by the governing body with help from the coding institute, so you may find yourself in a pickle if you don’t do your homework.

1.      Always meet or exceed the code or risk being sued

When purchasing an existing building, be careful to ask the right people about its compliance – a licensed and trusted Architect and/or Contractor. Oftentimes, we find comfort in knowing that a building was built to a set of standards. However, if the person reviewing your building has low or no standards of code, then you are likely to buy a building that you will have to spend money on to bring into compliance. Never let a Contractor, for example, convince you that his/her solution to an inadequacy, although not code compliant, is “as good” as the code standard. A qualified and licensed Architect or Contractor will meet, or often exceed, the minimum standard of the building code. The codes will serve you well, so always hire professionals that are knowledgeable and meet or exceed the code. It is not uncommon for building owners with unmet code standards to be sued, by a customer/visitor to the business, for non-compliance.

2.      Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Now, let’s take a quick look at ADA requirements. They are a part of the building code that addresses the accessibility of a building for individuals with handicaps. Basically, the ADA insures that everyone has access to a building, not just able-bodied people. Therefore, constructing your buildings with accommodations for those in wheelchairs or who have other problems with mobility is a crucial part of planning for your building or remodeling project. These requirements range from ADA Compliant stairs to doors, door hardware and openings, ramps, special parking spaces, heights of counters, and more. Most people are not aware of the complexity of the ADA requirements, usually called accessibility guidelines, written in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments.  It is approximately 300 pages full of requirements; this is a great amount of information to be thought of when building and remodeling.

3.      Code and ADA Compliance as it applies to your existing business

As stated above, most Governing bodies adopt the ADA determined regulations into their building codes and enforce the requirements as written. The gray area, of course, is existing buildings, how to handle existing buildings, and how to handle existing non-compliant issues. Generally speaking, non-compliant issues have to be addressed if an existing building is purchased or a construction revision occurs on or in any part of an existing building. This purchase or remodeling of an existing building usually triggers a 20% rule. This is a rule which requires that a dollar amount, equal to 20% of construction cost of the construction revisions, be spent on eliminating ADA non-compliance. 

Non-compliance, according to ADA Requirements, starts in the parking lot. The reason for this is - it makes no sense to have a compliant bathroom if you have a non-compliant entry into the building, or no compliant parking spaces. It is important to visit with the governing body planning department, or your Architect, before diving into a commercial building remodel or purchase. Each building and site has a unique set of ADA requirements that need to be explored and considered when developing a budget for these types of projects.

4.      Common code and ADA compliance issues

In an effort to educate the public, we have compiled a list of the most commonly seen code or ADA compliance issues.

·         The 20% rule – this is a common issue because business owners are suddenly made aware of this 20% increase in their budget. It often ends with the business owner having to do less of a remodel or spend less elsewhere to make this very important rule happen.

·         Failing to start ADA compliance in the parking lot. – This is mentioned above with the 20% rule, but this is very important to point out because this rule prevents the owner from picking and choosing what to make code and ADA compliant. Which can be expensive at times because it is a minimum of 20% and you can’t leave the parking lot  or space half finished.

·         After the parking lot, the entrance needs to be compliant as well as the access to the entrance. There are specific grading and elevation requirements that have to be met here.

·         Bathrooms have to be made ADA Compliant AND the access way to the restroom has to be made ADA Compliant.

·         Not having a design professional do an ADA assessment of the building you own or are contemplating buying or hiring a Contractor who has limited knowledge of the ADA requirements and subsequently fails to comply. This is very expensive.

·         Finally, failing to consider all options of the code and ADA compliance and thinking no one will mind, may lead you into a lawsuit. Just because a governing body has not forced you to correct a compliance issue does not mean a person affected, or thought to be affected, cannot file a lawsuit. This happens all too often.

To further educate yourself, visit the United State Access Board's website linked below.

This was a quick look at building and ADA codes. Unfortunately, they are sometimes confusing and complex. A design professional can help you navigate through them and comply with the governing bodies. You may spend money on hiring the design professional, but you will spend more if you don’t.

If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to get in contact with our office. We would be delighted to help you navigate the world of codes and ADA compliance. We offer a service called a Code Footprint. With a Code Footprint, an entire analysis is done of your building and corrections are made to create compliance.