The Plan Check, Code Consulting & ADA Compliance
Resource For Building Departments

Nov. 29, 2012

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Requirements to Remove Architectural Barriers to Persons with Disabilities*

Information compiled by Tim McCormick, VCA Code ADA CASp Specialist

People with disabilities continue to face architectural barriers that limit or make it impossible to access the goods or services offered by businesses. Examples include a parking space with no access aisle to allow deployment of a van's wheelchair lift, steps at a facility's entrance or within its serving or selling space, aisles too narrow to

The ADA strikes a careful balance between increasing access for people with disabilities and recognizing the financial constraints many small businesses face. Its flexible requirements allow businesses confronted with limited financial resources to improve accessibility without excessive expense.

The ADA requires that businesses that provide goods or services to the public remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is "readily achievable" to do so. Readilyachievable means "easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense." This requirement is based on the size and resources of a business. So, businesses with more resources are expected to remove more barriers than businesses with fewer resources.

Readily achievable barrier removal may include providing an accessible route from a parking lot to the business' entrance, installing an entrance ramp, widening a doorway, installing accessible door hardware, repositioning shelves, or moving tables, chairs, display racks, vending machines, or other furniture.

When removing barriers, businesses are required to comply with specified access standards to the extent possible. For example, where there is not enough space to install a ramp with a slope that complies with the standards, a business may install a ramp with a slightly steeper slope. However, any deviation from the standards must not pose a significant safety risk.

Determining what is readily achievable will vary from business to business and sometimes from one year to the next. Changing economic conditions can be taken into consideration in determining what is readily achievable.

Economic downturns may force many public places to postpone removing some barriers. The barrier removal obligation is a continuing one and it is expected that a business will move forward with its barrier removal efforts when it rebounds from such downturns.For example, if a restaurant identified barriers under the 1991 Standards, but did not remove them because it could not afford the cost, the restaurant has a continuing obligation to remove these barriers when it has the financial resources to do so.

Priorities for Barrier Removal
Understanding how customers arrive at and move through your business will go a long way in identifying existing barriers and setting priorities for their removal. Do people arrive on foot, by car, or by public transportation? Do you provide parking? How do customers enter and move about your business? The ADA regulations recommend the following priorities for barrier removal:

  1. Providing access to your business from public sidewalks, parking areas, and public
  2. transportation;
  3. Providing access to the goods and services your business offers;
  4. Providing access to public restrooms; and
  5. Removing barriers to other amenities offered to the public, such as drinking fountains.
  6. Businesses should evaluate their facilities and develop priorities for removing barriers. Businesses are also encouraged to consult with people with disabilities in their communities to identify barriers and establish priorities for removing them. A thorough evaluation and barrier removal plan, developed in consultation with the disability community, can save time and resources.

In some instances, especially in older buildings, it may not be readily achievable to remove some architectural barriers. For example, a restaurant with several steps leading to its entrance may determine that it cannot afford to install a ramp or a lift. In this situation, the restaurant must provide its services in another way if that is readily achievable, such as providing takeout service. Businesses should train staff on these alternatives and publicize them so customers with disabilities will know of their availability and how to access them.

Steps for Success
Being proactive is the best way to ensure ADA compliance. Evaluate access at your facility, train your staff on the ADA's requirements, think about the ADA when planning an alteration or construction of a new facility, and, most importantly, use the free information resources available whenever you have a question.

ADA Information Resources
U.S. Department of Justice

For more information about the ADA, please visit the Department of Justice's website
or call the toll-free ADA Information Line 800-514-0301800-514-0301 (Voice) 800-514-0383800-514-0383 (TTY) to speak to an ADA Specialist. All calls are confidential.

"Reaching Out to Customers with Disabilities" explains the ADA's requirements for businesses in a short 10-lesson online course (

ADA National Network (DBTAC)
Ten regional centers are funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide ADA technical assistance to businesses, States and localities, and persons with disabilities. One toll-free number connects you to the center in your region: 800-949-4232800-949-4232 (Voice and TTY) 

Access Board
For technical assistance on the ADA/ABA Guidelines:
800-872-2253800-872-2253 (Voice)
800-993-2822800-993-2822 (TTY)
Internal Revenue Service
For information on the Disabled Access Tax Credit (Form 8826) and the Section 190 tax
deduction (Publication 535 "Business Expenses"):
800-829-3676800-829-3676 FREE (Voice) or 800-829-4059800-829-4059 (TTY) 

*This information was extracted from the publication ADA Update: A Primer For Small Business (2011), U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. To see the full document, click here.

October 23, 2012

Proposed Changes for the 2013 Energy Code

A draft of the 2013 California Energy Code (CEC) is currently available on-line, and while the proposed language is not the final edition, this draft is in the process of being edited by the commission and will be approved by the Building Standard Commission in December or January. According to an expert whom I contacted, the current text is an approximately 95% accurate representation of the code that will be approved. Here is a review of a few of the proposed changes to give you a sense of what may be coming up in 2013.

First and foremost, it is important to note that the commission has changed the numbering system by adding decimals. For example section 150 is now 150.0, section 151 to 150.1 and so forth.

In the proposed edition of the CEC, energy standards will increase by approximately 30% to 35%. This increase is in keeping with the CEC goal of residential buildings being net zero by the 2019 CEC edition; as a result of this goal, we can expect another substantial increase in energy efficiencies with the 2016 energy code.

The commission is also increasing the requirement for additional documentation. Some of the new documents include the "Design Review Kickoff Certificate" and the "Construction Document Design Review Checklist Certificate(s) of Compliance."These documents require signatures under the following guide:

  • Buildings less than 10,000 sq. ft. may be signed by the engineer of record
  • Buildings greater than 10,000 sq. ft. and less than 50,000 sq. ft. shall be signed by a qualified in-house engineer no other project involvement or a third party engineer
  • Building greater than 50,000 sq. ft. and all buildings with complex mechanical systems serving more than 10,000 sq. ft. shall be signed by a third party engineer The CEC is putting the burden of verification on the design professional. This new requirement, in conjunction with building commission, makes it apparent the CEC is taking additional steps to insure proposed building systems are incorporated into the construction documents and that the operation of the systems are then verified by the commissioning agent. The forms needed for these new processes may be delayed until January 1, 2015 because the commission is in the process of creating the new forms required for the 2013 code.

The CEC has added a new section, 120.8: "Commissioning," which applies the CALGreen commissioning process to the energy code. According to 120.8, buildings greater than 10,000 sq. ft. shall becommission.

In section 150.1: "Low Rise Residential Buildings-Performance and Prescriptive Compliance Approaches for Newly Constructed Buildings," the prescriptive package "D" has been replaced by Table 150.1-A. In the column for climate zone 9 several changes have been made. In the wall insulation category is R-15+4, which means R-15 cavity insulation plus R-4 continuous insulated sheathing.  There has been an addition of insulated sheathing for every climate zone. In some of the climate zones, Quality Insulation Installation (QII) is also required. The QII is an element of the HERS requirements and is now being introduced.

It is important to note that the efficiency standards for windows are also being increased:

  • 2010 Energy code window U-factor 0.57 and the SHGC 0.40.
  • 2013 Energy code window U-factor 0.32 and the SHGC 0.25

The new Section 110.10: "Mandatory Requirements for Solar Ready Buildings," is part of the net zero goal of 2020. The CEC has divided this section based on building type, with each category of building having a either a square footage area or a percentage of the roof area to be set aside for solar.

  • 250 sq. ft. for single family residence
  • 15% for low rise multi-family buildings
  • Hotel/motel and high rise multi-family buildings:
    • 15% for 10 stories or less
    • 1.5% X number of stories up to 30% of the roof area. (11stories and up)
    • 40% for non-residential buildings

Within this new section there are many conditions and exceptions, so building professionals must make sure to read all the language in order to be in compliance.

According to Section 150.1: "Performance and Prescriptive Compliance Approach, sec (c) 7, building permits issued prior to 1/15/2015, cooling system shall have a SEER equal to or greater than 14 and have a EER equal to or greater than 11. After January 15, 2015 efficiency standards increased to SEER of 15 or greater and the EER of 12 or greater.

The above are only a few of the many changes being proposed by the CEC. I hope that by alerting you t the changes in pending code language will help to prepare you for these new energy standards. I encourage you to go on-line and read the draft of the 2013 CEC for yourself. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

June 20, 2012

On July 1, 2012 the newest Title 24 supplements go into effect. For building officials and plan checkers, there are several additional enforcement issues to be implemented. The Building Standard Commission (BSC) is reintroducing light pollution into Part 11. As part of the plan review process, it will be necessary to verify if the proposed new project site lighting conforms to the new code standards. This article provides information and a basic guide to help with the plan review process.


Charles "Russ" Russell

New Light Pollution CALGreen Section 5.106.8

How to comply and how to enforce
In the last few months, many of you have received the next code supplemental pages for all parts of Title 24 that go into effect July 1, 2012. In CALGreen, Part 11, there is a newly reinstated section that addresses the issue of light pollution.

On July 1, 2012 local governments will began enforcing CALGreen Section 5.106.8, Light Pollution, required for newly constructed projects to comply with keeping all light generated on site from leaving the site by using reflectors, shields, screen walls, or any other method which will comply with the code's intent. This section provided some unique challenges for certain types of applications and occupancies.

As a result of the implementation challenges in early 2011, a petition was submitted to the Building Standard Commission (BSC) regarding concerns with security for different types of installations. On April 19, 2011 the BSC repealed the language in Chapter 5 and Appendix A5. The BSC then created a stakeholder group to develop new light pollution requirements. During the intervening months, new light pollution requirements were created and placed in Appendix A5. The BSC is now moving the new light pollution standards from Appendix A5 to the mandatory section of Chapter 5.

How will local agencies enforce and how will new projects comply with the new requirement?

The BSC non-residential guide states "the intent of this code provision is to ensure that newly constructed projects reduce the amount of light and glare from both interior and exterior light sources leaving the site."

For local agencies, the method of enforcement has several variables that include staffing levels, the ability of the building department to implement the code section, and the internal policies and procedures of the building department regarding this topic. Larger building departments will review the submittal for conformance, while other cities may delegate the light pollution review to the planning department, or the city may defer to an outside consultant with guidance from the building department.

The initial code language was based on the Illumination Engineer Society of North America (IESNA) cutoff classification system with four classifications (full cutoff, cutoff, semicutoff, and noncutoff).

New light classification system

IESNA Standard TM-15-11 is a new light classification system that provides information to lighting professionals regarding light distribution based on lighting angels.

This new system was developed because of concerns with nuisance lighting in many cities and to deliver a clear system that will provide an evaluation of light distribution based on thorough and comprehensive data.

This standard, a Lighting Classification System (LCS) analyzes lighting distribution angles in three basic different angels, behind the light (Back), above the light (Uplight), and in front of the light (Glare). This standard uses manufacture photometric test data that allows designers to evaluate and compare the distribution of light from a given fixture to permit selecting the fixture that will comply the code requirements.

Light pollution standard

The new CALGreen code standard for light pollution is based on the IESNA Standard TM-15-11 and compliance with the new CALGreen light pollution requirements;

  • Minimum light requirements in the California Energy Code for Lighting Zones 1-4
  • Backlight, Uplight, and Glare (BUG) ratings as defined in IESNA TM-15-11
  • Allowable BUG ratings not exceeding those shown in TABLE 5.106.8
  • Compliant with a local ordinance or this code section, whichever is more stringent.

Under this new supplement, building officials or city plan checkers will be reviewing submitted documents for the following:

  • Declaration of the proper light zone classification,
  • Review of the Light Fixture Table that should show:

  • Review photometric plan and compare with the fixture table,
  • Review light manufacturer data sheets supplied with submittal documents that show BUG ratings,
  • Review for any exception as defined in California Energy Code Sec. 147 and emergency lighting.

BUG rating

During the plan review process there maybe some question regarding the BUG rating declaration, or if the fixture manufacture has not developed the BUG rating, it will be necessary to review IESNA TM-15-11 Addendum "A." This document provides four different tables that allow you to convert the light angle test data into the BUG ratings. The addendum can be used by the plan checker or design professional to evaluate if a fixture is appropriate for a given installation.

As a design professional who is beginning to develop a project lighting plan, make sure you understand what the code is requesting for compliance and the methods used to evaluate for compliance. Select your fixture manufacturer, obtain fixture data sheets that show the BUG ratings, develop your photometric plan, and create a light fixture table that guides the plan checker through a logical compliance analysis.

I highly recommend reviewing the IESNA TM -15-11 Standard, Addendum "A" of TM-15-11, BSC Guide to Non-Residential Green Building Standards, and 2010 CALGreen with July 1, 2012 supplements. After you review the documents, if you still have questions, drop me an email and I will assist you to the best of my ability.

May 23, 2012

As a construction professional, you know that providing the highest level of service to your clients is sometimes challenged by of the evolving nature of building codes.

Every 18 months, we expect to see some level of code change based on State legislative activity (see my review of the CALBO legislative event below). Failure to keep current with the code evolution can be costly to you and your client, which can translate into unhappy clients and lost opportunities.

My staff and I deal with building codes all day long; it's our job. We're here to help. Call me or email me if you have any questions or need assistance.

Charles "Russ" Russell

CALBO Advocacy & Leadership Day: A Report from the State Legislature

I have recently had the opportunity to attend the California Building Official Organization (CALBO) Leadership and Advocacy Day at the California State Capitol. It was a privilege to be selected to attend this two day event that culminated with face-to-face meetings with members of the State Senate, Assembly and members of their staff.

During the two days which comprised the CALBO Leadership and Advocacy Day, attendees reviewed all current state laws with which building officials are required to comply. We also met with the CALBO Legislative Committee to review the list of bills the committee is currently tracking.

The Legislative Committee is very active in reviewing, identifying, and tracking all proposed legislation that may impact the CALBO membership. Working in collaboration with the two full-time Government Affairs staff, the Legislative Committee communicates with the authors of the state legislation on the merits and challenges posed by pending bills. Meeting with the Legislative Committee prepared the CALBO Leadership and Advocacy Day attendees for our meeting with state legislators.

Our meeting with state legislators afforded us a vehicle for introducing CALBO and its 400+ members to the legislators and allowed us a chance to educate them on the services provided by building officials to the communities they serve.

We were also given the opportunity to discuss CALBO's support of AB1612, opposition to AB 1801 and present the reasons for our opinion on each of these legislative bills. Additionally, we were able to offer the expertise of CALBO on any future legislation that may impact the job performed by building officials.

Although we were only allotted 15 minutes with each legislator due to the demand for face-time with them, it was enlightening to see the interest they took during our brief presentation on the pros & cons of the two selected bills. I was very impressed by the level of knowledge displayed by the legislators and their staff. They were able to quickly conduct research and provide us with an instant update on the status of any given bill.

If you are interested in the legislative bills that CALBO is currently tracking, you can view them here: Should you have any questions regarding the CALBO's position on any of the pending legislation, you can contact them via email ( I hope you will use CALBO as a resource to review pending bills and as a means for providing your feedback on pending legislation. 

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