Special Inspections: Changes Implemented Under the 2022 Construction Codes

30 November 2023 | 10 min read

BOMA New York – November Monthly Forum

Special Inspections: Changes Implemented Under the 2022 Construction Codes

BOMA New York’s November Virtual Forum entitled “Special Inspections in NYC: Changes Implemented Under the 2022 Construction Codes,” offered a highly informative, professional engineer’s experienced insight into the latest special inspection requirements of the International Building Code.

The Code, or “IBC” as it’s known, is followed by most states and municipal jurisdictions in the USA. It mandates special inspections as part of the construction permit process. With the goal of higher safety standards for the public and real estate property, it was updated by the New York City Department of Buildings last year and was implemented in late 2023 to include recent developments in technology and safety standards.

Presented by Young Suh, P.E., Director and Chief Engineer at AMAA, formerly Alan Margolin & Associates, the forum briefed attendees on the highlights of the new codes. AMAA is an accredited Special Inspection Agency (SIA) with more than 40 years of experience. AMAA has performed special inspections for 10,000 projects.

Changes to the IBC include new protocols to determine how construction operations influence adjacent structures, the use of cross laminated timber as structural elements – limited to seven story building heights in New York City; improved techniques for open web steel joists and joist girders; and continuous inspections to observe the installation of rock and soil anchors.

New York’s updated codes also include seismic-related requirements for plumbing, mechanical systems and fuel, gas and electrical components, especially as they relate to hospitals and police stations.

Highlights include inspections of on-site storm water drainage and holding systems to prevent flooding; requirements for special inspectors to witness all tests of mechanical building systems, and test parameters for concrete and cold-formed steel strength tests. The new codes also address inspections of seismic isolation systems, sprayed-on fire resistant materials, and new building fire sprinkler systems using flexible piping.

Suh said, “Code is always the bare minimum of what you need to do. Maybe you should be more concerned. It’s always okay to exceed code and go above and beyond.” He stated that because special inspections are directly related to the permitting process, inspections should take place throughout the project construction timeline, from design to completion.

Suh especially noted the importance of how new construction can structurally affect the condition or occupancy of adjacent buildings. Specifically, he addressed the necessity of special inspections for the underpinning of excavations, the most common structural support of buildings in New York City.

The latter, he said, “requires a minimum of three special inspections, including design document compliance, the sequence of operations, required monitoring of structure stability during demolition and construction, and keeping records of special inspections.”

In addition, he said, under the new codes, compliance with a Tenant Protection Plan, or TPP, has become highly significant in terms of tenant emergency egress, construction noise, dust mitigation and fire safety. TPP special inspections should be performed weekly during construction, and are “a hardship for owners,” but are nonetheless required. As an example, Suh cited the Grenfell Tower catastrophe in West London in 2017. “The building was re-clad with combustible material,” he said. “The whole exterior acted as a chimney.”

Although a similar tragedy was unlikely to occur in New York City, Suh stated that New York’s high-rise building positive pressure vent systems carry hazardous heated air within ductwork under pressure than ambient air pressure. The system is highly efficient and allows heat energy to be captured and used by other building systems. He said, “High efficiency boilers use positive pressure vent systems, requiring special inspections, (often) using a smoke test.”

As an example, Suh compared conventional fireplace chimneys with positive pressure vent systems. From an engineering standpoint, conventional chimneys rely on “buoyancy.” Hot gases are allowed to rise naturally because chimneys have the same pressure as the surrounding air. If there are leaks, cooler air will enter the system, but buoyancy will allow the smoke to rise. On the other hand, positive pressure vents will force toxic gases out of any leaks – a genuine hazard.

In conclusion, Suh discussed costs and pricing for special inspections. He said that lump sum pricing arrangements are best for all parties. He said, “A lot of inspection agencies operate on a lump sum basis – no matter how long the process,” unless there are change orders. He strongly advised that special inspectors should be on hand right from the kickoff meeting of any project. And, Suh stressed that owners should require copies of all inspection reports.