Last month the Houston City Council adopted a slate of new construction codes, including the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC). The GHBA, led by 2019 GHBA President John Williams, has been working on this code review with GHBA members, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the city’s Building Code Enforcement department for more than four years.
In addition to that review process and amendment proposals, the GHBA began meeting with all members of City Council in the summer of 2021 to outline concerns and offer compromise to the city’s proposed code changes. More than ten GHBA members spoke during the August meeting of the Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure (TTI) Committee when the code was first presented to council members.
These efforts continued through the fall until the item was ultimately placed on the council agenda for consideration in November. We were successful in delaying the item for two weeks as we continued to push forward with amendment alternatives.
The city allows for public comments on agenda items during its Public Session meetings on Tuesday afternoons prior to the Wednesday council meetings where action is taken on items. More than 15 members spoke in opposition to specific code changes during public session which spurred significant conversation between council members at both the Tuesday and Wednesday meetings.
Ultimately, some code changes were adopted that will have an impact on building within the City of Houston, but we were also successful in getting three amendments added on the day the council voted in favor of the new code.
The biggest change GHBA members need to note is the removal of the Houston-specific amendment that allowed for building to 3’ of the property line without installing a firewall, fire-rated protections or sprinklers. The base code states that building to anything less than 5’ requires the use of one of those protections. This change was heavily endorsed by City of Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña.
While the base code has outlined the 5’ minimum side setback requirement for more than a decade, we have been able to carry that 3’ amendment forward until now.
The city also adopted an optional solar-ready appendix to the code. Although it is estimated that only one in 1 in 100,000 homes in Houston opt to install a solar system, they chose to add these costly requirements for certain new single-family construction.
The biggest change will be the need for an obstruction-free rooftop solar ready zone. However, this will only be required on plan sheets for houses that have 600 sq. ft. of south facing roof space and are oriented between 110 degrees and 270 degrees of true north. The city estimates that this will only affect 25% of new homes.
As stated, we offered several amendments and were very successful in getting three passed, two by Council Member Amy Peck and one by Council Member Sallie Alcorn.
CM Peck’s first amendment was for section R311.1.2, where the city was going require that stairs, ramps and landings that are not part of means of egress system to comply as if they are part of that system, and this amendment struck their proposal to not require that. Her second amendment was for Section R202, where the city was proposing to establish new means of egress definitions which went beyond what is necessary and her amendment eliminated the new proposed definitions.
While the new code was originally scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, we were able to work with CM Alcorn to offer an amendment that will push that effective date to April 1, 2022.
We will continue to work with the city regarding implementation of the new code as the April 1 effective date nears. They have already put out drawings for one-story and multi-story structures to document a one-hour fire-rated exterior wall design for wood framed structures located less than 5’ to the property line to use when the new code goes into effect.