Modernizing Chicago’s Construction Codes

By: | December 04, 2018

Chicago has been working to comprehensively review and update its requirements for the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings to align more closely with the latest edition of widely-used consensus-based model codes and standards.

The monumental undertaking is taking place in three phases.  Phase I involved the electric code and conveyance devices and resulted in City Council adoption of local codes that align with the 2017 National Electrical Code and the 2016 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, as well as eight other standards.  Both efforts received broad support and are not in effect.

For approximately 10 months, under the direction of Building Commissioner Judith Frydland, the Department of Buildings has been working with internal stakeholders to review the model codes and prepare an initial draft, incorporating content from previous code modernization efforts, departmental priorities and existing code provisions.

BOMA/Chicago has been a long-standing advocate for Chicago to adopt the International Building Code (IBC) model. The IBC model allows for adopting jurisdictions to modify the code specifics to reflect local uniqueness and challenges, but is organized and cross-referenced to provide consistency with other jurisdictions.  Adoption of the IBC model would bring Chicago’s building codes in line with the rest of the nation and will attract a broader array of developers, design professionals and ultimately businesses to the City.

On December 3, BOMA joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Officials in a kickoff meeting of Phase 2 Stakeholder Working Group which addresses core construction and renovation requirements and property maintenance standards. This phase of the modernization effort will align the core construction, fire protection, renovation, and property maintenance provisions of the Municipal Code of Chicago with the International Building Code and related model codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC).  These model codes are the basis of construction regulations in every other major city in the United States and are regularly updated to reflect industry consensus on how to safely and cost-effectively build with the latest construction materials and methods.

Following the kick off, six technical working groups, consisting of architects and engineers were set to begin working to review the Department Draft.  The working groups will meet on a weekly basis for the next two-and-a-half months.  At the same time, the Stakeholder Working Group will begin meeting monthly to review the progress of the working groups and provide input on larger policy issues presented by the code modernization process.

BOMA/Chicago has been a long-standing advocate for Chicago to adopt the International Building Code (IBC) model. The IBC model allows for adopting jurisdictions to modify the code specifics to reflect local uniqueness and challenges, but is organized and cross-referenced to provide consistency with other jurisdictions.  Adoption of the IBC model would bring Chicago’s building codes in line with the rest of the nation and will attract a broader array of developers, design professionals and ultimately businesses to the City. 

The final product of the Phase 2 effort is expected to be an incorporation of the parts of the IBC as well as Chicago specific code provisions formatted to be compatible with the IBC. The Department intends to present the initial Phase 2 code reform package to the City Council in early 2019, begin accepting permit applications under the new code later in 2019, and completely implement the new code in 2020. The Fire Department anticipates a supplemental Phase 2 package to address requirements for highly-regulated hazardous uses and fire safety planning and operations later in 2019.

A third phase of the modernization effort will address updates to plumbing, mechanical, natural gas and energy efficiency.