Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fire Areas in Non Sprinkled Industrial Buildings

There is always a question whether a sprinkler is required to be added in a building after the shell has been built without one. I will go over how we determine this, some examples and some alternatives that are accepted under the code.

When I get an un-sprinklered building to upfit, I first look at how big the entire building is. If it LESS THAN 12,000 sf, that is usually good. Both the building code and fire code address the “fire areas.” (Chapter 9 for both building and fire code)

Fire area – The aggregate floor area enclosed and bounded by fire walls, fire barriers exterior walls or fire resistance rated horizontal assemblies.

Before I proceed, I have a disclaimer......
This information is accurate, but not absolute. The slightest change in program could throw other elements into the mix and require or exempt sprinklers. Please consult your favorite interior designer to confirm your specific needs. Tell her I said hello.

Wade Garret... I mean Sam Elliot from
He said, "I don't want to be known as a sex symbol. There's a great stigma that goes with that tag. I want to be a Sam Elliott"

Some Examples:
A few years ago, I worked on an upfit for a printing company. The facility was changing use from a storage facility to a manufacturing facility. Having said that, the space was larger than 12,000 sf. 20,000 sf warehouse and a 5,000 sf office with no sprinklers (25,000 total with an already rated demising wall). The office area was existing to remain. Because we were changing use, we had to bring everything “up” to the current code regulations.

With no sprinkler, we had to create a rated area in the back of the warehouse, rated doors and all. We also had to separate the office area from the warehouse. Since the suite was 25,000 sf, there were 2 areas of 12,000 sf or less that we needed to create. Luckily, we worked with the office/warehouse wall that already went to deck and was relatively easy to fire rate.

Fire areas are different from the allowed sizes for a building. For instance, chapter 5 of the 2009 NCSBC says I can have a building with:

Business – 23,000 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
S-1 – 17,500 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
S-2 - 26,000 sf (12,000 sf per fire area)
F-1 – 15,500 (12,000 sf per fire area unless there is woodworking. That is 2,500 per fire area)
F-2 – 26,000 (12,000 per fire area)

If you have a building of the sizes above, you would still need fire areas within it. The only exception to a fire area is a sprinkler system.

Be warned, if you have educational or A-2 (restaurant occupancy) the fire areas are different. Educational is 20,000 sf (woot woot!) and A-2 is 5,000 sf. Point is, the GENERAL rule of thumb is 12,000, but there is never a “be all end all” in the stinking code.

Speaking of sprinkler systems…….
If you have a building that has an office with a sprinkler system, but the warehouse does not., then what?
I can hear you now…..
“When would I EVER run into this sh*!?

Answer: Off Graham St. in Charlotte.


Some (most) people I know would ask…..
“Now when the hell would I ever run into this effing Sh*!”?

Answer: Off Graham St. in Charlotte.

Plan review looks at this condition as a non sprinkled building when it comes to fire areas IF the building is larger than 12,000 sf (typically). I just had to separate a warehouse with a fire barrier because the building was 15,500 sf, and we changed the use from a storage facility to a primarily Mercantile occupancy. The sprinkled office was 1,800 sf and a portion of the warehouse was also sprinkled. The office didn’t have a rated wall between it and the warehouse. In this case the tenant used one side of the fire area as storage, and the other side for their showroom.

Note: I keep mentioning “change of use”. This term is a huge proponent of the fire area in a non sprinkled building. It is kind of a lapse in the code from when these warehouses were had different requirements for building, and obviously were, at one time, were much more relaxed and code allowed larger fire areas. If you keep the occupancy the same in a building and move in another tenant that would be considered the same occupancy, you DO NOT need to change bring ”up” the building to the current code, so no fire walls.

In addition, there are a TON of single story I-2 buildings just off I-77 (you know who you are) with no sprinklers. *sigh* A majority of these buildings are less than 12,000 sf , so in this case, would not require a sprinkler or fire areas since typically those buildings have Business or storage within them.
An interesting pic of Burt Reynolds from
He said "I can sing as well as Fred Astaire can act."

Lastly, (and having nothing to do with industrial space or Burt Reynolds) think about McMullen Creek Shopping Center off 51. That baby is a monster, (283,271 sf) and guess what? Not Sprinkled. How? Fire walls. Fire walls are spaced throughout the shopping center and penetrate the roof line. That was designed almost like separate buildings within a building. Essentially, they create fire areas at the time of building shell construction. These are great, and usually effective “plan ahead” elements that make an upfit much easier, and the difference is that they penetrate the roof and are a structural member of the building and cannot be eliminated from the shell footprint. That is usually how shopping centers roll, even today.

Even as the author, I even trailed off during this composition so I apologize. I thought I’d share with you what I was thinking about. My next blog will be “change of use” It should be short, but very, very powerful, much like Mr. Miyagi. Wax on, wax off.

No caption required!

He said (as Mr. Miyagi) "Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FIRE ACCESS DOORS – I am good at this subject, and this will be (sort of) short and (not so) sweet. Here we go!

Fire access door = a personnel door (minimum 3’-0” x 6’-8”) that is used to access an area of a building with high pile storage, typically in showrooms, warehouses or mercantile spaces.

High pile combustible storage = any low hazard or moderate hazard commodity over 12’-0”. (This essay excludes the consideration of Haz mat commodities, which are sometimes lower in both height and quantity)

image from:

A fire access door:
1. Isn’t necessarily an exit or means of egress FROM INSIDE the space, and doesn’t need to be ADA compliant.

2. Cannot be accessed by a ladder.

3. If doors are required, they need to be min. of 100’-0” on the exterior shell wall where there is a fire apparatus road. In other words, where there is paved lot, there needs to be a door.

4. Does not “excuse” the warehouse from exit doors. You need both. A fire access door can double as a means of egress but would have to be ADA compliant in this condition.

5. Generally required in areas over 12,000 sf if the aisle way between racks is 96” or greater.

6. Must have a knox box somewhere on the building for the fire department to get a key.
Here is a little aside…#6 is required, but I just chuckle at the imagery of a fire truck tearing ass into a parking lot to an industrial building, men pouring out of it in their fire suits grabbing axes and hoses. One guy gets out, calmly jogs to the knox box, types in the code and holds the key high over his head as he runs toward the closest access door and everyone files in.
( I have only heard) 9 out of 10 times it is a scene from a John Wayne movie where the doors get kicked in left and right or someone opts to” axe” a glass storefront. You have to love it.
(in case you ever wanted to know the procedure to kick in a door)

The fire access doors only have to be in the occupancy in which there is high pile storage. If you have a warehouse with racking and an office (business occupancy) in the same suite, the office doesn’t need to have doors every 100’-0”.

I hope this helps shed some light on fire doors. I have confidence that you will sleep better because of this blog entry. Either, you were so concerned with what the guidelines actually were, you can now “sleep easy”, or you decided to read through this all the way. Result: deep sleep. Have a wonderful day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Today, I’d like to start my BLOG by thanking you for tuning in, whether it be just for today or if you have been losing sleep the past month because you just can wait to read what is in store at BJW. Quite honestly, I am not sure I totally understand what blogging is and why people want to do this. I mean, do I really think you care enough to read about what is going on with me on a weekly basis? No, I don’t. In the past month I have been called “lame” and a “square”, so it isn’t just me that thinks I am boring. That is why I try to focus on topics that are of interest to you!

As I was mulling over what to write about today, I came across a design award program out of Dubai. Then I thought, “what is the deal with all the innovative building in Dubai?”, so I looked it up. Dubai is a part of the United Arab Emirates, East of Saudi Arabia and across the Arabian Gulf from Iran Come to find out, Dubai currently has 20-25% of the worlds Cranes because of the incredible amount of construction there.. Take a look at these comparisons that I got from

Why is this? Why not Tunisia or Iceland or Oman? Several reasons; mainly:

Geographic location
Creation of the Jebel Free zone

Geography – Dubai is the gateway where “the East meets the West” and has employed many laborers from nearby countries for many decades. In the 1930’s Dubai was known for its pearl trade, but was on shaky ground because of World War I and The Great Depression.
Electricity – In 1950 electricity and phone was installed here and businesses began relocating from neighboring Emirates.
Oil – Oil was also discovered that same year. (jackpot)
Jebel Ali Free Zone – It is a program that offers tax and business incentives to corporations. This made it an International city.

Okay, now that we see where all the money came from, let’s look at what they did with it there. More than 20 years ago, the Palm Jumeirah, was planned and construction began. It is an (obviously) artificial Palm Tree shaped island that Nakeel, a real estate mogul “built”. It was sketched by the ruler of Dubai to solve issue with the lack of shoreline and has 17 fronds. It is now part of a triumvirate of palm shaped island groupings and identified by some as the eighth Wonder of the World. They are home to world class resorts and luxury living.

information and images from:

Dubai is also home to the world’s tallest hotel, the Burj-al Arab. Not only that, but it is a work of art and also a luxury domain – 7 Stars. The last time I saw 7 stars was when my brother “accidentally” hit me in the face with a basketball. This hotel is about to be the SECOND highest hotel this year. The tallest will be in …where? Dubai! It is the Burj al Alam or The World Tower.

(image referenced from )

This is Not to be confused with the Burj Dubai, the world largest building. Designed by Skidmore, Owens and Merrill (of Sears Tower and John Hancock Building fame), it boasts 140 stories and has the world’s longest elevator shaft, naturally. information and images from:

These, in addition to the indoor ski resort, Dubailand (an amusement park), state of the art monorail system, Dubai has also proposed hydropolis – ( a city on water). There is also a huge Green building movement there as well.
Thirty years ago, people perceived the millennium to be a vision of the future.
Chris Rock said at the 1999 VMA’s “When I was a kid, we thought the year 200 was going to be the future. We thought it was gonna be flying cars, moving sidewalks…we thought it was going to be like the Jetsons. It ain’t even the Jefferson’s right now”. I guess he hadn’t been to Dubai!

For more information about Dubai, check out

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Positive Outlook for Business in the Design Community

In the midst of this great….um…recession, (I don’t dare say the D word), I have recently noticed that the media has tried to spin every story into a positive one, or shuffle to the side the negativity and report “feel good stories” like how a dog saves his family from a burning house. When I received my quarterly, and very anticipated copy of Boutique Design, I thumbed through. All the articles are pretty much the same timbre; happy, positive and upbeat. I want to follow suit.
There is an article in this magazine entitled “The Boutique 18 Take Flight” by Rebecca Goldberg which has taken eighteen highly successful people in the design biz and had them answer six questions. One of those six questions is “2009 has been a challenge. What opportunities have developed?”

Alexis Readinger, an Architect at Preen, Inc. in La says,
“ 2009 has brought a fresh commitment to sustainability and a much needed emphasis on integrity. I thank the 60’s movement for what will be our saving”

I agree! Ironically, an economic slump is giving way to a historically expensive type of design. It is about time!

Michelle Aitala From Ralph Gentile Architects says in response to this question,
“ What opportunities do I see - Available storefronts! At some point the economy will turn around, and I think opportunities will emerge from people want to open or re-model restaurants, spas, hotels and casinos. We’ll be here for their interior design needs.”

Nice!! What a great outlook in this dismal path the economy is in!!

Erin Nichols from Wilson Associates says,
“Due to the current state of the economy, jobs are few and far off compared to the past couple of years. I think now is the time to get back to basics and focus on the importance of our relationships and client interaction. Also, maintaining a clear focus on taking design to a new level. Now is our opportunity to dream big!”

Very optimistic!!

I wanted to share those quotes to provide a upward look at design, it’s future and yours. We can all have hope if we want it. Asami Tachikawa-Choe states in her interview, “Detox, conserve and stay optimistic.” Isn’t that all we can do? Oh, one more thing, have a nice day!

Storing Hazardous Materials

Hello everyone! My topic today is Hazardous Materials. I know, I know. I’ll give you a minute to have a cigarette and take a shower to cool down. As I start to write this, I envision myself biting into a 2 day old scone with no drink; dry as a bone. I do like to work on hazmat projects, so I’ll try to pass along some of my excitement for this subject.

With eight + years under my belt of doing Industrial Upfits, I have worked on some hazardous material storage facilities. I actually really like to upfit them and figure out what classification the chemicals are, however, but I am convinced that the Mayor of Tromaville’s son is on the Committee that writes and enforces the NC State Building code. (Refer to Toxic Avenger, 1986, starring Mitch Cohen….exactly)

What I am trying to say is that the NC State Building Code is tough, and in the case of Hazardous Materials, or potentially hazardous materials, it doesn’t matter whether you are storing, manufacturing, mixing or even licking the chemicals off the floor, it’s all the same set of rules.

The most difficult part of my job is getting the plan reviewers to agree with the inspectors about what is on the drawings. There is little to no way that we can estimate the time it will take from permit to completion for this reason, and I hate that. We all do.

The goods news to all of the doom and gloom on this skin scorching, eye searing, explosive material, is that, with everything else, this industry is getting “greener” or rather, safer. One company had to upfit a “control area” for oil based adhesives which greatly limits storage quantity and height in even the newest facilities in town. Over the next 5- 10 years, those adhesives will be converted to water based.

There are also measures nationwide to keep the chemicals contained at the facility to avoid transport on roads, risking an accident or spill. A paper mill in New Jersey is now manufacturing chlorine dioxide bleach at the site instead of transporting chlorine gas by train. If the hazardous chemicals can be contained and away from flames, heat, gas and sometimes water, then everyone is happy. Chemicals are reactive and what I sometimes fail to see is that the reviewers and inspectors are protecting there “ac-ids” from any potential liability, so let’s just say they handle their duties with “kid gloves”
(I have heard that term twice in the past two weeks, and I was dying to use it).

I couldn’t go on without mentioning that the EPA is receiving money from the Stimulus package to clean up leaking underground storage tanks, and has a superfund for hazardous waster clean up program. This is important for a few reasons:

1. I feel like I should, when I can, inform you of where your tax money is going (So far, $4,052,986.00 has been applied to this*)

2. It demonstrates that, if standards today are tightened and enforced, less money will be paid out in the decades to come to clean up the environment. I am sure we’ll have many other issues to deal with then, so this may just be one less.

I deal solely with NC State building codes, but the facilities always have to deal directly with OSHA. OSHA (Occupational Safety Health Administration) has streamlined the process by developing a Chemical Database a few years ago. It has more than 800 commonly used chemicals and their MSDS sheets. Material Safety Data Sheets have the chemical properties, flammability and state of each chemical and are required to be submitted with the plans for review. The chemicals are at the crux of how a facility is designed so the plans reviewer must evaluate each one and how they are contained, controlled, stored, ventilated, or otherwise residing inside a building.

Overall, the design team makes a great effort and goes to great lengths to ensure the safety of the community in North Carolina. As a native of NY, I often go back to the Buffalo area, which is literally a nuclear dumping ground, and also happens to be a beautiful place; and a shame. It is a reminder that the diligence of OSHA, the plan reviewers, contractors, and design team is well worth the extra time in plan review and extra hours spent evaluating MSDS pages. With EVERY project, communication is key!

Even though Mitch Cohen’s acting career has come and gone, (refer back to Toxic Avenger) these chemicals will be around for a very long time and will potentially affect the health safety and welfare of our families for generations to come, if not handled properly. On that note, I am signing off… and as always, have a nice day!

*information complied from

Toxic Avenger V is currently in production. Hmmm…I’ll leave it at that.

There is a band called Hazardous Waste. They are a hardcore punk band. One of their MySpace friends is ‘Bad Skin’. Pretty fitting. They aren’t good.

NeoCon and the Great Strides in Carpet Reclamation

In a few weeks, Chicago will be host to NeoCon, the World’s Trade Fair; the Mecca of new products and concepts for the design community. Usually this show is all about the flash and the parties and food. This year, I would guess, will be different. There has been a lot of emphasis on green design and the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ideal in general. I fully expect that theme to be ever present at NeoCon.

I want to explore a few products that have been working overtime to be ahead of the curve on this move to be eco friendly. Thus far, the effort to streamline more environmentally friendly manufacturing has been extremely cost prohibitive overall.
The Muppet/Philosopher Kermit has so far proved that ”It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green”!

Shaw Industries is a company that has pulled out front for the past few years on the green movement, particularly with carpet recycling. Shaw is a flooring company that carries several lines, including Shaw Contract and The New Patcraft & Designweave, both of which I use for my tenant improvement projects. On a small scale, the company has provided prepaid mailing packets to designers to send back any carpet sample that goes unused. They are one of only a few that do that..
The concept of carpet reclamation was made evident to me when companies like DuPont were shipping used carpet to a reclamation site to be partially recycled in the early millennium. The problem was that it was super expensive to reclaim used carpet from job sites and deliver by truck to their one or two carpet reclamation sites in the country. Today, we see the recycle start at even the smallest carpet sample and on up. The concept of recycling and reusing has taken flight in the flooring industry.
Shaw today has 50 locations across the United States that collects carpet to be transported to their Evergreen Nylon Recycling Facility in Augusta, Ga. Nylon 6, widely used in both residential and commercial, is the preferred fiber to recycle. It can be returned to its original state without a compromise of its strength or resilience. This is a utilization of the “Cradle to Cradle” concept.

Cradle to Cradle was written in 2002 by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and outlines the industrial history, green design and how a person’s social consciousness has the ability to alter the outcome of sustainability of resources. In terms of design, the Cradle to Cradle concept means that a product is made using raw materials and installed. Once that product has been used and discarded, it is broken back down into raw materials to be manufactured again. This sheds a new perspective of reusing what is already existing and preserving raw materials in their natural state. It mimics the closed cycle of a plant. Simply stated, the plant grows leaves, they shed, then provide nutrients to the soil that fuels the next generation’s renewal. In the author’s terms, “Waste simply doesn’t exist”. This has been the basis, and to some degree, a manifesto for green industry today.

The important things to know about recycled materials in carpet today are:

1. The Content of recycled product in carpet is increasing
The New Patcraft & Designweave (which needs a shorter name, by the way)
Has a carpet with backing that is up to 25% recycled content. This is opposed to a few years ago when is was no more than 10%

2. The end user cost is coming down.
Recycled goods, just like organic food, is more expensive because of the additional processes involved. More recycling sites are being set up and now the reclamation is becoming automated, meaning quicker, cheaper turnaround for end-users. Always the bottom line!

3. More colors and styles are becoming available.
Oddly enough, recycled yarns are limited in the intensity of color. This has come a long way since I started in this industry 2 years…… I mean 9 years ago. This goes also for wall coverings and resilient flooring.

NeoCon this year undoubtedly will unveil even more concepts, recycling and design options for the environmentally conscious individual. The slumped economy has created the need to be more frugal and resourceful. This mixed with the momentum of the environmental movement, can only give way to major leaps and bounds in the recycling and reclamation processes and enviro-conscious design.

In the following months, I will touch on this subject through product information, LEED updates and my experiences with Eco friendly design. As always, have a nice day!

Mecklenburg County Fee and Grading Revisions in Effect July 1, 2009

Greetings all! This is my first shot at blogging and I know what you are thinking…an interior designer will be boring, stuffy and full of herself. That may all be true.
I also want this to be informational, creative and inspiring to you. I would like to take you on a journey through green design, building codes, inspections and artful practices of the Architectural world.

My mission this month is to remind the contractors and deal makers in Mecklenburg County that starting July 1, 2009, there are changes with plan review fees. There is a new proposed permit fee schedule.

Effective July 1, 2009
Total Construction Cost Fees

$1-$3,000 $60.00 Minimum Fee – not requiring a plan review

$1-$7,000 $ 80.00 Minimum Fee – Commercial projects requiring a plan review

$3,001 - $50,000 $60.00 + $12.25 per $1,000 or part over $3,000

$50,001 - $100,000 $635.75 + $5.52 per $1,000 or part over $50,000

$100,000 - $150,000 $900.71 + $5.96 per $1,000 or part over $100,000

$150,001 - $250,000 $1,198.71 +$4.62 per $1,000 or part over $150,000

$250,001 to $1 Million $1,660.71 plus $5.07 per $1,000 or part over $250,000

$1,000,001 - $10 Million $5,463.21 +$2.66 per $1,000 or part over $1 million

Over $10,000,000 $29,405.87 +$1.36 per $1,000 or part over $10 million

We at BJW Architecture have been diligent to attend meetings and Public Hearings on upcoming changes. After all, we are now not only going to be judged on our clashing purse and belt combo, but also on our pass/fail rate at the County, just like contractors. All professional seal holders (Architects and Engineers) per project will now be “graded” and siphoned into one of three categories.

(in high school terms – honor students)
These are the BMOC. The seal holder may schedule Express Reviews, Rehab, Onschedule and Pool reviews. There are some new incentives that will be in place that are also, well…. good incentives. They include “walk through” service and review schedule preference. These are all new concepts developed by the County and are subject to change, so I’ll keep you posted!

(Average? 50% would have landed you without car keys for the weekend)
This “Joe” can do most everything that a Superior Performer can do EXCEPT Priority review, walk through review, and peer reviews. Think: now. The average performer will be able to do of all that is offered today at Mecklenburg County.

(kind of a misnomer since some of these blokes may drive a Lexus)
This Level prohibits a seal holder from Express Reviews and “Pool” projects. A “Pool” is a revision that does not need a re-review date. This will also require advance meetings regarding the Appendix B and gatekeeper-ready documentation. The outcome of being a poor performer is that there will be more time spent in permitting.

This all pertains to the way seal holders (Architects and Engineers) are allowed to manage your projects in the county system. Hopefully, you as clients, do not see any fallout from this new system. By the way, not to brag, but I did graduate with honors….from High School, at least, so I am used to life at the top.

For more information about the Pass/Fail rate at Mecklenburg County, click on the link below:

There are also changes (again) to the North Carolina State Building Code itself. It is now called The 2009 NC State Building Code (Imagine Shadoe Steven’s voice in bold, please. Re-read if necessary). The new code is still based on the 2003 IBC, but has amendments exclusively for NC.

I am signing off for now. If you have any specific topics or questions you would like for me to explore, I’ll be happy to take your feedback. I promise a more rousing topic for the next post. Stay tuned! And, as always, have a nice day!