The Cayman Islands Department of Planning is working with local construction professionals to prepare for a comprehensive update of the territory’s building codes early next year.
The building codes set minimum standards that structures must meet in order to be approved for occupancy and deal with aspects of design and construction that most people might never notice, until an emergency occurs. Building codes regulate things such as the size of windows, width of doors, fire rating of walls, grade of stairs and placement of emergency exits.
“The whole premise of the building code is to protect public health and safety,” said Haroon Pandohie, director of planning. “Building codes ensure buildings are designed to be structurally sound, can resist wind pressure from hurricanes, can withstand seismic events up to a certain threshold, and, if there is a fire, occupants can get out in a timely manner.”
In place since 2006, the Cayman Islands’ existing Building Code Regulations are based on the 1999 Standard Building Code. The proposed 2014 Cayman Islands Building Code Regulations will be based on the 2009 International Code Council family of codes.
Changes over time, place
Mr. Pandohie said the codes must change in order to accommodate changes in the methods and materials used by the construction industry.
“The 1999 code used the best technology at the time. Time has marched on. We are moving to the more recent code in order to take advantage of those advancements,” he said.
For example, the 1999 code may have set a standard for firewalls to be rated to withstand heat and flames for two hours. The new code might allow those firewalls to be rated for only one hour, if the building has a fire sprinkler system.
Cayman’s existing building code is so out of date that it is difficult to get training and technical assistance on the code, or even to locate copies of the codebooks anymore, Mr. Pandohie said.
Indeed, the organisation behind the Standard Building Code (the Southern Building Code Congress) no longer exists, as it was absorbed in a merger to form the International Code Council.
Planning department staff have been working on the new building code regulations for about a year, Pandohie said. They have taken the International Code Council family of codes and have been adapting them in order to meet local needs.
While overall standards cannot be weakened at the local level, Cayman’s code is being developed with local circumstances in mind. For example, staff might delete snow load requirements for roofs and include stronger standards for wind speed resistance. Buildings in Cayman must be built to withstand Category 3 hurricanes.
Similarly, the 2010 Florida Building Codes (which took effect in March 2012) are based on the 2009 International codes.
Cayman’s new building codes are being drafted in the form of regulations, which will be sent to Cabinet for its approval.
The territory’s Building Code Regulations have been revised in 2006, 2005, 2002 and 1996. The first Building Code Regulations were enacted in 1995.
Mr. Pandohie said the planning department is mindful of how the Building Code changes could affect the local construction industry. Accordingly, his department has kept in discussions with professional groups such as the Cayman Society of Architects and Engineers and the Cayman Contractors Association, he said.
“In general, I think they appreciate the fact that things have changed in the industry, and we need to move to a code that is reflective of that,” he said.
The department is hosting free introductory training sessions on the new codes, which while geared toward department staff are open to code officials, architects, engineers and contractors. Facilitated by John England of England Training Division, the training sessions began 20 June and run through 4 July. Department staff will continue with specialised training from July to October.
Mr. Pandohie said staff are preparing well in advance of the 2014 implementation of the codes, so that they have time to take and pass the required certification tests.
If more local professionals wish to obtain training, they should contact the department, which will host additional sessions for the public if sufficient interest exists.
Mr. Pandohie said he believes the new building codes – which cover structural and non-structural issues, electrical codes, fire codes, plumbing and mechanical codes – will prove more “user-friendly” for local professionals. For example, the new codes lay out a prescribed process for contractors to follow in order to pass muster when they are renovating an older structure where it may be “technically infeasible” to bring it up to the letter of the new standards.
He said the new regulations shouldn’t impact building costs, as they increase some standards and provide for greater flexibility in other cases.
Additionally, smaller contractors who only build homes may appreciate that the new regulations will include a standalone residential code.
Mr. Pandohie said, “It takes all the components out of the documents that deal with residential buildings, and put them in one document. That means that if you are a homebuilder, you only have to deal with one document that covers all the codes, plumbing, mechanical, building.”