Building codes and occupancy classifications address many significant concerns, including public safety and environmental protection. These codes and classifications are particularly important when constructing commercial buildings, including churches and other places intended for worship.
Building codes can significantly impact initial design and construction decisions, such as structural and seismic standards. This guide can help you understand the International Building Code and how it may affect your upcoming church building project.
What Is the International Building Code?
The ICC Building Code, also referred to as the IBC, is a set of building standards developed by the International Code Council. Most jurisdictions have adopted the IBC in the U.S. Foreign countries have their own building standards and codes, so ensure you check local laws if you are building a church in an international location.
These codes impact all residential and commercial structures, including churches. The standards affect the design and construction of the building and plumbing and mechanical elements as well.
You should carefully review these codes before the church design process, as it impacts the type and size of the building you can construct. Materials including wood, concrete, and steel must meet certain levels of fire separation or suppression requirements for your building to be approved for public use. Ensure your chosen materials meet approval requirements before moving forward.
What Are Occupancy Classifications?
IBC codes also set occupancy regulations that dictate the purpose or use of your building. These codes are primarily set for fire code enforcement. There are 10 occupancy classifications, with categories such as assembly, educational, business, residential, and institutional.
What Occupancy Classification is a Church?
Worship facilities, including churches and mosques, are classified as “assembly” buildings or Assembly Group A occupancy. Specifically, worship facilities are classified under Group A-3, a classification for assembly buildings that are used for places of religious worship, recreation, or amusement not classified in other assembly groups.
Other examples of buildings in Group A-3 include funeral parlors, community halls, libraries, and museums.
How Does IBC Affect Church Design and Construction?
While church occupancy codes outline many stipulations, here are a few of the principal regulations:
- If a church has fixed seating, the occupant load is the number of fixed seats in the room.
- Each room without a fixed seating configuration must have a sign detailing the maximum occupants for the space.
- If a room utilizes pew-type seating, the occupant limit must be at or under one person per 18 linear inches.
- Each room must have an accessible exit, and all exits must be clearly marked
A benefit of pew chairs is that they allow for pew-like arrangements that are easily movable. But the codes imposed on assembly buildings impact the size and seating you can use in your church design. Further, if you plan to include a daycare facility in the church, specific standards must be met. These regulations include room sizes and how many exits must be added to each room.
How Do Codes Impact Building Accessibility?
IBC also covers accessibility issues, although specific federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, govern these issues as well. For example, these codes impact how many universally accessible doors and wheelchair ramps must be included in each church building. How accessibility standards are governed varies by state and municipality, so you should check with your local authorities before making final design decisions.
Most IBC codes exist to ensure church occupants can safely exit the building in a medical emergency, fire, or natural disaster. During the design process, extreme care should be taken to ensure doorways and aisles are large enough to accommodate large groups of people. It may be worth the time and money to hire an architect experienced with accessibility issues to help you with your church building designs.
Are you looking for more materials and resources to support your church construction project? The ChurchPlaza blog includes helpful information on church facility design, church planting, leadership, and more.
Whether you are building a new church or making updates to your worship venue, we invite you to contact ChurchPlaza for your seating needs. We’ve been supplying churches with high-quality, accessible church seating for over 35 years.