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New Jersey's Building Code Update: What to Expect

9/3/19 Update: Beginning March 3, 2020 all New Jersey permit applications will need to reference 2018/2017 codes.

Milrose Code & Zoning Analyst, Andy Cattano, is currently serving as a public member of the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code Advisory Board (UCCAB), where he has been utilizing his expertise and experience to assist the board in updating the state's building code. We sat down with Mr. Cattano to get a feel for the code development process and get a sneak peek into some relevant code changes expected to be fully in place this time next year.

The Process

In 1975, the Uniform Construction Code Act (UCC) was signed into law by Governor Brendan Byrne. The UCC required that all New Jersey code enforcement agencies, mostly municipal, play by the same set of rules for occupiable buildings and other structures. Prior to the UCC, each municipality (NJ has 567!) had its own building code, making it difficult for design professionals and builders to navigate where they had projects in multiple towns. The UCC provided both an administrative and technical framework for consistent code enforcement throughout the State.

From the technical side, the UCC currently consists of 15 "subcodes": Building; Fire Protection; Electrical; Plumbing; Mechanical; Fuel Gas; Energy; Radon Hazard; One and Two-Family Dwelling; Manufactured Home; Barrier Free; Elevator; Rehabilitation; Asbestos Abatement; and Playground Safety. Whew … a mouthful … and a far cry from the beginning when there were only four. Code enforcement has become a sophisticated science in NJ and elsewhere – constantly evolving and changing. Hint: don't try to memorize everything … just know where to look. 

Of the 15 subcodes noted above, the majority are technical documents published by "model code" or "standards" organizations. The dominant player in the publication of model codes and standards is the International Code Council (ICC). This organization was formed in the mid-1990s when former territorial model code organizations merged. Again, the premise was uniform minimum life/safety building design rules throughout the United States and beyond! The UCC also consists of homegrown subcodes or publications by other model code/standards entities.

Generally speaking, most model code/standard organizations operate on a three year cycle. While they are constantly working to refine the current editions of their respective publications, actual editions are published once every three years. Once available, it is up to the authority having jurisdiction, in this instance the UCCAB and ultimately, the Commissioner of the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA), to review, propose and adopt the most recent codes that provide fair and reasonable life/safety criteria for the built environment in which we live, work and play.

In the March 4th New Jersey Register, DCA publicly proposed the new code editions listed below for adoption, with amendments. The proposal was subject to a 60-day comment period, which ended on May 3rd. The opportunity to comment on the proposal was open to all, and formal adoption is expected this summer. Following a six-month grace period (early 2020), the codes will replace 2015/2014 editions currently in force.

  • 2018 International Building Code (IBC) - Building Subcode
  • 2018 International Mechanical Code (IMC) – Mechanical Subcode
  • 2018 International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC) – Fuel Gas Subcode
  • 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – Energy Conservation Subcode
  • 2018 International Residential Code (IRC) – One and Two-Family Dwelling Subcode
  • 2018 National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC) – Plumbing Subcode
  • 2017 National Electrical Code - NFPA 70 (NEC) – Electrical Subcode

NOTE: The Fire Protection Subcode consists of portions of the IBC, IMC, IFGC and NEC listed above.

The Changes

While this code change cycle resulted in hundreds of revisions to the 2015/2014 model codes, many include new technologies, materials and processes in keeping with the times. A fair majority are administrative changes. Note, however, that reference to the administrative chapters (typically Chapter 1) of the codes listed above are proposed for deletion in favor of those in the administrative rules of the UCC. Architects, builders and developers should familiarize themselves with the new codes before taking on projects post enactment.

Here is a sampling of upcoming code changes that offer potential impact for projects in New Jersey:

This change stipulates that schools with fire areas that hold 300 or more occupants must have fire sprinkler systems. The revised subcode language matches the existing regulations for performing arts venues (A-1), places of worship (A-3) and indoor sports arenas (A-4). This adjustment followed years of public discussion on the topic, most of it stemming from a 2014 fire that destroyed an elementary school in Edison, whose replacement opened three years and $26 million later. 

This code change creates new fire protection requirements for midrise (up to 4 stories) multifamily residential structures with common attics. To adhere to this new requirement, developers must install sprinkler systems (NFPA 13R) in these areas. Alternatives include non-combustible construction materials; fire-retardant wood; or noncombustible insulation. The DCA anticipates this regulation will raise construction costs but contends that the reduced risk of fire damage will offset the spending. Among the catalysts behind this change was the January 2015 blaze that ravaged a multi-family apartment complex in Edgewater, displacing 1,000 residents and causing unprecedented damage.

This new provision stipulates that New Jersey colleges and universities with 1,000 or more students must perform risk analyses in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association's National Fire Alarm and Signaling code to determine whether mass notification software is necessary. Should the data suggest installation, these higher education institutions are required to move forward with this work. This new regulation is in response to active shooting incidents on college campuses.



This new rule stipulates that college classroom labs may contain quantities of hazardous materials slightly above certain thresholds without having to conform to high-hazard occupancy building fire resistance ratings.

This new rule requires a fire watch, at the direction of the fire subcode official, on construction sites for buildings 40 feet in height or taller above adjoining grade. Fire watch personnel will be tasked with ensuring active surveillance to identify and control fire hazards during construction.


FIRE WALLS (Section 1607.15.2)
This adjustment mandates that fire walls maintain structural stability and be capable of holding up to a horizontal load of five pounds per square foot.

This revision to Table 1607.1 effectively reduces the live load pressure metric for balconies located off bedrooms from 60 pounds per square feet to 45 psf. The regulation also changes the live load requirement for balconies and decks to one-and-a-half times the area served, without exceeding 100 psf, and cuts down load reduction usage for garages.



There has been a change in terminology in the IBC from V[ult] to basic wind velocity V. The section has been divided into two maps for Categories III and IV buildings. Values applicable to New Jersey are lower for Category III (substantial hazard): small schools, assisted living; and higher for Category IV (essential facilities): shelters, emergency buildings, etc. For Category I (low life/safety hazard) buildings, the 105 mph contour line has been shifted west, while the 110 and 120 mph contour lines remain the same. The Category II structures (ordinary hazard): residential/homes, offices, etc., wind map is unchanged. All changes were made for consistency with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7-16 (Standard).

OCCUPIED ROOFS (Section 503.1.4)
Rooftop spaces have become immensely popular in urban landscapes, with many architects and developers transforming once-drab areas into communal areas or elevated gardens. This code text creates new regulation for occupiable rooftops. The new mandates dictate the use of existing formulas to determine structure height above grade plane and require that roof areas have occupancy thresholds similar to those for enclosed floors. The provisions also institutes a 48-inch cap on rooftop enclosures. 


This change reduces the longstanding 100 gross square feet per person maximum floor area allowance for business occupancies to 150 gross square feet per person. The change has the effect of cutting occupant loads for businesses by one-third to reflect more accurately the actual occupant load conditions as observed in functioning enterprise structures. However, the code still allows for higher occupant loads for certain concentrated locations - trading floors, for example - as well as interior areas with high-capacity doorways, exits and stairwells.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that state commercial building codes must meet or exceed the ASHRAE 90.1-2016 energy efficiency standards found in the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code. DCA complied with the request and has adopted the ASHRAE guidelines, which cover virtually every facet of modern commercial construction. The US DOE estimated that implementation of the ASHRAE standards would result in 8.2% energy cost savings, 7.9% energy source savings and 6.7% site energy savings, nationwide. ASHRAE requirements are more stringent than the previous iteration released in 2013, as they call for strict prescriptive exterior envelope requirements, the extensive use of energy efficient lighting controls, LED-based lighting power densities and refined mechanical settings.


  • Safety glazing required within 24" adjacent to in-swing doors. Section 308.4.2
  • Floor-to-floor height increased to 151" from 147" for stair landings. Section 311.7.3
  • Alternate tread devices and ship ladders from lofts <200 sq.' Section 311.7
  • Solar panel rules for firemen access on roofs with no panels situated below required emergency escape windows. Section 324.6. Related change for the fastening of building integrated PV solar panels Section 905.17
  • New table for vinyl siding over insulation sheathing (non-wood structural panel) to withstand high winds. Section 703.11.2
  • Tiny Homes (for the minimalist) – 400 sq.' and less. Appendix Q

Milrose Consultants is here to help you prepare for the upcoming code changes that could affect your project. Please reach out to our New Jersey team of code, zoning and permitting experts if you have questions regarding how to file correctly under the NJ state code update.

Do you have an upcoming project based in New Jersey? Connect with Milrose today to learn more about our services.

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