Green Building Code?

Many school districts in communities around the country — in fact around the world — have fully embraced environmental stewardship and a commitment to sustaining the environment through a number of efforts in their school buildings. Community groups, architects and building managers have all heard of initiatives like reducing carbon emissions, implementing recycling programs, buying local to reduce transportation emissions and energy efficiency, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) design guidelines.

Many elementary, secondary and high schools are now designed to meet LEED standards, and as such, require management of storm water onsite and the reduction of urban heat loads to gain difficult-to-obtain points to reach the highest level of certification.

Design teams are now also looking at products that reduce the need for large areas of concrete paving onsite. This can have a direct impact on emergency vehicle access. As your facility design team looks at replacing traditional concrete pavement with concrete pavers or reinforced grids that allow grass to grow through, pay close attention to fire code requirements for your community.

The International Fire Code does not require any specific product or method of construction for the surface of emergency vehicle access roads. Section 503.2.3 simply states the access roads must be designed and maintained to support the imposed loads of fire apparatus and shall be surfaced to provide all weather driving capabilities. Design teams are free to choose any product that meets this requirement — of course they will have to consult with the local fire department to obtain the fire apparatus point loads for vehicles in that community.

For many communities, the design team will need to provide specifications of the products they want to consider and show how that product meets the fire code requirement. Submissions should include testing agency load specifications, detailed installation drawings and site plans indicating locations the product will be used and how it can be identified as safe for emergency vehicle use. Be prepared for a rigorous review — this is a new technology and local authorities may be hesitant to accept it.

As a starting point, find products that are designed to handle AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) H-20 loading specifications. H-20 establishes a reference point for loading of 36,000 pounds over several points. Specifications should also be provided showing water absorption rates and compressive strength of the paver. ASTM C 1319 can be used to supply these last two pieces of information.

One concern any fire department will have relates to being able to determine which pavers are safe to drive on. There are several ways to identify pavers. Using a specific color that is unique for emergency access roads is one solution. Marking the route with traditional fire lane signs could be another. Most schools can supply maps for all responding stations that identify access roads. Updating these maps and providing station tours will also help familiarize emergency crews with these locations.

This information should also be provided to plow crews so pavers are cleared during snow season. Training for plow drivers must include a policy stipulating the full width of the pavers is cleared. Fire codes require a full 20 feet of clear width be provided in summer and winter. Some method of marking the edge must be in place so drivers can determine they have cleared the full width. This will also assist fire crews during the winter; they will be able to tell when outriggers on their apparatus have been deployed successfully on the paver surface.

The fire service is looking at many products that are now being introduced to the building component market. Understandably, reviewing products that look and perform differently from traditional materials will require time and a team approach. Start involving city engineers, building officials, fire officials and inspection teams early in the design process.

Determine if the local agency has amendments that would prohibit pavers, or if they have incorporated local code modifications that allow these materials to be used. Many communities are in the process of adopting green building codes. Review local ordinances and find out if your town has adopted a green code. It may make the process of proposing this type of installation a little easier.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.