Building Codes

Articles involving the work of NKAPC's building inspectors and department's staff. NO Image:
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Permit numbers so far leading toward a very busy construction season

Posted on June 07, 2016

Construction activity has significantly increased this year from last year according to a recent report from TRAKiT, PDS’ comprehensive development-tracking software. If these numbers remain steady, 2016 could end as the best construction season since the housing crash in 2007-08.

“Our permit numbers have grown from 1,097 to 1,298 permits for the same time period over last year”, says Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official.

These numbers include all permit activity including new structures, additions, renovation/alterations, HVAC, automatic fire suppression systems, manual fire alarm systems, etc. With this trend, inspections will be sure to increase. To date, inspection numbers are roughly 400 more this year than they were this time last year.

The chart below—from builderonline.comdemonstrates housing start and completion numbers.

PDS has seen new housing starts increase from 43 to 52 permits this year to date. New commercial permits have grown from two the previous year to eight this year to date.

“Hopefully, activity will increase and help drive the economy back in Northern Kentucky,” says Sims.

With the workload increasing steadily, PDS needed to hire an additional entry-level inspector to replace one of the positions laid off during 2010. That inspector started in the building department last fall in an effort to get him trained for this building season.

“Our new inspector has come along very well. He is now performing inspections on his own and is really helping out with our current workload,” says Sims.

This brings PDS’ total number of building inspectors to six. This staffing level is expected to hold for now even if permits rise slightly in the future.

National Guard provides excellent experience for building inspector

Posted on December 29, 2015

The recent observance of Veteran’s Day provides an appropriate opportunity to introduce PDS’ new building inspector. Gary Forsyth, II enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard in March of 2007 in an effort to serve his community and the commonwealth.

Upon entering the Guard, Gary chose the military occupational specialty (MOS) code for vertical construction, as he was interested in engineering. Gary is currently a Carpentry Masonry Sergeant (SGT) (E-5) with the 149th Vertical Construction Company (VCC) based in Cynthiana.

In 2010, leaving a five-day-old baby girl and new mom at home SGT. Forsyth arrived at training in Hohenfels, Germany. The training was to prepare him for combat deployment with an exercise in building replica cities for infantry units. The major challenge while training in Germany was converting imperial measurements to metric. The conversion did not always work well, so the company went out and bought metric tools to finish the job.

SGT. Forsyth was deployed in 2013 to Afghanistan during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM as a team leader of five soldiers, eventually placed as a squad leader of two teams for a total 12 soldiers. In June of that year, the soldiers of the 149th VCC were tasked with a very high priority construction mission at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

The engineers were tasked with constructing a two story tactical operation command center for the 2nd Brigade, 1stCavalry Division, known as the “Black Jack” Brigade that were due to arrive in Afghanistan during the summer. Some challenges of constructing buildings in Afghanistan were convoy trucks with supplies could be blown up and new materials would have to be sent. Also, local materials were sometimes used in construction, and the quality of the resources was questionable and tricky to incorporate into the build.

The VCC completed the critical Cavalry construction and exceeded expectations creating a conference table in the shape of the Cavalry patch and includes all the likeness of the very recognizable yellow shield that is established as the symbol of the United States Cavalry. Due to the company’s fine work and for going above and beyond the call of construction, to show their gratitude the “Black Jack” Brigade held a surprise ceremony to induct those Soldiers into the “Order of the Combat Spurs” to show their appreciation.

From that day forward, the 2/1 Cavalry Division recognized the Soldiers of the 149th by issuing the award that authorizes the troops that are given the prestigious honor to wear the Cavalry Stetson and Combat Spurs in noted situations as honorary members of the Cavalry.

SGT. Forsyth’s highest award is the Bronze Star for meritorious service during deployment. From the narrative Bronze Star submittal, “SGT. Forsyth demonstrated outstanding professional skill, knowledge, devotion to duty, and determination. He was instrumental in the success of 12 vertical construction missions, one being a theater priority $1.3 million Tactical Operations Center for the 2-1 Cavalry.”

When asked what SGT. Forsyth missed the most on deployment to Afghanistan he responded, “No question, it was my kids and family.”

“We’re really proud to have Gary on our team,” concluded Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “The experience he received and is still receiving in the Kentucky Army National Guard is extremely beneficial to his responsibilities with PDS. We continue to thank him for his service to our country.”

Strengthening economy, mild weather spur building permit workload

Posted on March 02, 2015
Most preseason forecasts for our winter weather seemed to include another polar vortex like what we endured last year. As of this week, however, we have had one very minor snow incident and this week’s measureable snowfall. Mild temperatures have been the norm in Kenton County. What does this mean to the construction industry? Full speed ahead.

PDS’ building department has seen an increase of 188 permits, 118 plan reviews, and 235 inspections during the three recent months of November through January from the same period the year before.  

“Typically in the winter, we have a month or two where we can play catch up on old files right before the spring busy season hits but that hasn’t occurred this year,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “Hopefully, that is a sign of good things to come.”

Even with the increase in workload and the enforcement of new codes that went into effect last year, PDS is maintaining its commitment to a short turnaround times on plans as well as quick inspections out in the field.

KCPC, staff see increase in applications for communications towers

Posted on March 02, 2015
There has been an increase in new cell tower applications in Kenton County. Following a five-year period during which no new cell towers were constructed, PDS staff has processed two applications within the past four months. Time will determine whether this trend continues.

Larry Perry, a nationally-recognized radio frequency engineer and consultant to PDS, states that this trend may continue as the economy improves, technology and data speeds increase, and wireless providers seek to fill the holes in their networks.

“Part of the reason the need for new towers is increasing is LTE (long-term evolution) technology that is so popular today,” says Perry. “LTE technology reduces signal coverage somewhat while increasing the speed of the data that is transmitted.”

In addition to new cell towers, PDS’ Building Codes Administration Department has also received numerous permit applications to upgrade equipment on existing cell towers and structures.

New cell towers are often the most contentious issues that a planning commission hears and decides. The two most common complaints and objections that the Kenton County Planning Commission (KCPC) hears at public hearings are the loss of property values and the aesthetics of towers.

These objections by themselves, however, are usually not sufficient for denying an application. To deny an application, the planning commission must have “substantial evidence” to deny an application. While property values and aesthetics are important concerns for residents and communities, often times little factual evidence is submitted to the planning commission as a basis for its decision.

Federal and State regulations regarding the placement of new cell towers severely limit the purview of the planning commission. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 preserves the ability of the planning commission regarding the placement, construction, and modification of wireless service facilities for personal wireless service, subject to some very important federal limitations.

  • The planning commission cannot have the effect of denying Service. The KCPC cannot develop policies that have the effect of denying an application once an applicant demonstrates a need to construct a tower in a location based on coverage or capacity needs and an inability to co-locate on existing towers.
  • The planning commission cannot discriminate. The KCPC cannot favor one competitor over another competitor or, for example, base a denial because a carrier already has service in an area so there is no need for another carrier to provide service.
  • The planning commission cannot consider environmental effects. The KCPC should not allow evidence of environmental effects at the public hearing.
Kentucky law (KRS 100) states that only the planning commission has the authority to review and approve the construction of new towers. The planning commission must hold a public hearing and make its decision within 60 days of an application being received. Because of the time limits and limitations placed on the planning commission, new cell towers are often very hotly debated within the community.

“[Another reason why more new towers may be built], the FCC has authorized a total of 13 carriers for transmission of mobile data (smart phones) and currently we have only five in our area,” says Perry. “The new carriers are going to need tower space for their equipment also, thus additional potential applications.”

With smart phone technology improving and being nearly a necessity in today’s society, Kenton County is likely to see more conflicts between new cell towers and residential areas of the county.

Building department recertified to pursue state-level building projects

Posted on November 06, 2014

PDS has once again demonstrated to Kentucky’s Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction (DHBC) that it maintains the certification and knowledge to handle larger projects within Kenton County. The agency was granted its renewal recently for the expanded jurisdiction program for all of Kenton County absent Erlanger that has its own program.

To gain expanded jurisdiction, local building departments must demonstrate that they have the manpower, certification, and knowledge to handle larger construction projects. These projects are those with an occupant load of at least 100 or more persons. Office buildings of 10,000 square feet, industrial buildings larger than 20,000 square feet, and residential buildings larger than 20,000 square feet or three stories are some examples of buildings that fall under this criterion.

“I’m proud to acknowledge once again that our building inspection team has earned Frankfort’s trust,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Our office personnel and field inspectors work hard to justify this trust. They also work closely with building contractors to help them achieve their goals within the parameters set by the state building code.”

PDS first acquired expanded jurisdiction from the state in 1998 and has renewed it every three years since through an audit process. The resulting contract gives DHBC control over how the program is run and the ability to terminate the program if the local department fails to live up to state standards.

DHBC personnel visit the local jurisdictions after the application process and verify in the field that all parameters of KRS 198B.060(5) are met. Once the Department is satisfied that the local jurisdiction is maintaining proper procedures and meeting state standards, it makes sure all local ordinances and agreements are in place lawfully and then signs the contract for the next three years.

With PDS performing these larger projects locally, dollars spent on permits are kept locally and not returned back to Frankfort for dispersion throughout the commonwealth. It also allows for projects to occur quicker. Typically, inspections are provided with 24 hours’ notice and plans are reviewed in seven to eight business days if not sooner where it can be up to a month or more for a plan review at DHBC.

Senior Building Official Elected to ICC Board of Directors

Posted on October 13, 2014
Kenton County Senior Building Official Jeff Bechtold was elected to the International Code Council (ICC) Board of Directors during the association’s recent 2014 Annual Conference. The Code Council develops codes and standards that states and local jurisdictions use in the construction of safe homes and buildings to create strong communities. The ICC Code is the basis for the Kentucky Building Code which is mandatory for all jurisdictions across the commonwealth.

“Those who serve as volunteers on the Code Council Board of Directors are leaders in the profession who devote their time, energy, and expertise to ensure public safety in the built environment,” said ICC Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims. “We thank them for their leadership, and we thank their local jurisdictions for supporting their service.”

As Senior Building Official, Bechtold pursues both plans examinations and field inspections in all phases of construction except for plumbing and electrical in Kenton County. He is one of five building officials employed by Planning and Development Services of Kenton County (PDS), the public agency that provides building, zoning, and property maintenance services for 17 of Kenton County’s 20 local governments.

Bechtold was appointed to a two-year term by the governor to the Single-Family Dwelling Advisory Committee for Kentucky’s Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction. He was a volunteer firefighter serving the cities of Erlanger and Elsmere. Active in code development, he also has served on the ICC’s Means of Egress Code Change Committee.

“We’re very proud of Jeff’s election to this position,” said Dennis Gordon, PDS executive director. “We work hard to find and keep the best professional staff possible to serve the people of Kenton County. Jeff’s election is indicative of the professionalism and service mindedness that our staff possesses.”

The International Code Council is a member-focused association. It is dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. Most U.S. communities and many global markets choose the International Codes.

Building codes department maintains strong ISO rating for community

Posted on August 15, 2014

Every five years ISO—the Insurance Services Office—assesses building codes administration programs in communities around the world and evaluates those communities’ commitments to enforce them. Kenton County’s most recent assessment came earlier this year when ISO personnel visited PDS and met with staff in its building codes administration department.

This program assesses the risk of buildings for insurance rating purposes. Any building constructed in the year ISO classifies a community, or in a later year, is eligible for the program. Buildings in communities with classifications of 9 and lower (down to 1) receive a rating credit. A classification of 10 receives no credit. Classifications of 1–3 receive the highest credit; classifications of 4–9 receive intermediate credits.

Since 2009 when PDS was reviewed last, ISO re-evaluated its program and changed its grading system to make it more challenging to get a lower score. In the ISO grading system a 1 is exemplary and 10 needs major improvements. There are two categories of scores: commercial and residential.

“A lot of data and effort that goes into the evaluation process,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “It takes a good number of man hours just to collect the data and fill out the survey from. Information from our building department, zoning, GIS, engineering, PVA, and our accounting department must be submitted to complete the survey.”

The result of this year’s assessment was a 3 for PDS on commercial construction and a 4 for residential construction. These are the same ratings the agency earned in 2009 and are among the very highest granted to jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“While on the outside this may seem as though no improvements have been made over the past five years,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director, “PDS maintained its scores during a period when the ratings assessment was made significantly tougher.”

Gordon says some categories are out of his staff’s hands and other local jurisdictions as the adopted building codes in the commonwealth are adopted as mini/maxi codes. That is to say that when the Legislative Research Commission adopts Kentucky’s codes, local communities by default get the score assigned to that category since they cannot make a certain section more or less stringent.

“I’m really proud of what these ratings signify for PDS and what they contribute to the communities we serve,” said Gordon. “PDS is a service organization and I can’t think of a better example of the services we provide than the financial benefits these ratings contribute to property owners.”

ISO is a provider of data, underwriting, risk management and legal/regulatory services (with special focus on community fire-protection efforts and building code effectiveness evaluation) to property-casualty insurers and other clients. The organization serves clients with offices throughout the United States, along with international operations offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, India and China. Ratings earned by rated communities can have a real world impact on insurance premiums that building and home owners pay for coverage.

To read more on ISO’s program, click here.

Covington fire incident illustrates value of building codes

Posted on May 23, 2014
A little-noticed event in Covington early this month provided the perfect illustration of one of the services NKAPC provides to the community. Given that May is Building Safety Month, this incident was a particularly useful illustration of the value of building codes.

A gentleman, living in a turn-of-the-century school that was converted to apartments in the 1980s and gutted and remodeled recently under a permit issued by NKAPC, survived a fire. He was lying on his couch smoking and fell asleep. He has several medical issues that include the need to be on continuously-supplied oxygen; the tube delivering the oxygen was reportedly involved in the fire.

The gentleman was able to rescue himself by reaching the corridor where he was protected by building code-rated construction and a building code-rated self-closing door. The sprinkler head above the couch opened and extinguished the fire. The only thing burned, other than the occupant, was the couch and coverings he had to stay warm. The man was admitted to the hospital with minor issues. All other occupants were allowed back in their units after a short period of time.

As building codes professionals remind people periodically, “When we do our jobs, nothing happens.”

Inspectors implement new building code requirements

Posted on February 26, 2014
January not only brought on a new year, it also brought the commonwealth new building code regulations. NKAPC building inspectors are administering those new building regulations now as required by law.

Kentucky moved from the 2006 model of the International Building Code to the 2012 model code. This code remains a mini/maxi code, meaning no local jurisdiction can enforce a code more or less restrictive than the model code. And for the first time since its printing of the 2002 Kentucky codes, Kentucky printed its own code with the help of the Code Administrators Association of Kentucky (CAAK), which can be purchased online.

“This is great a thing for all code users in Kentucky,” said Tim Tholemeier, one of NKAPC’s senior building officials. “No longer does one need to read the code and then go to Kentucky’s changes to see if a section has been modified.”

For a complete list of the current codes in Kentucky, click here.

One of the major changes in this new edition is that Kentucky included definitive language relevant to tents and permitting procedures for them. Tents not only need local site placement permits, but must also have model approval from the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction. All tents larger than 400 square feet need to be permitted for installation with the exception of private tents.

If you have questions on whether or not a permit is needed, call NKAPC at 859. 957.2408, or you can view the code sections here.

Previous upgrades to the residential code have tried to get automatic fire suppression systems installed in all residential structures. The Commonwealth of Kentucky has not adopted this method yet, but other factors now have been added to protect a home.

For instance, floor systems now require a ½ inch gypsum wallboard, 5/8 inch wood structural panel or equivalent applied to the bottom side of all floor framing member unless the building is suppressed, over a crawlspace or the floor assembly uses dimensional lumber equal to or greater than 2-inch by 10-inch nominal lumber.

With more home builders using engineered wood framing members to help with labor costs and use less construction material, other factors which would help ensure the home’s integrity under fire conditions are needed soon.

Permit numbers stay strong despite frigid temperatures

Posted on February 04, 2014
December and January weather usually prompts a decline in building activity in Kenton County due to cold temperatures and snow. Not this year, in spite of colder than normal temperatures and higher than usual snowfall.

NKAPC reports indicate that since January 6, 2014, when the polar vortex moved through Northern Kentucky, NKAPC has issued 43% of the 217 permits it processed since December 1.

Even with the subzero temperatures, contractors are braving the cold, completing projects, and calling for their inspections, according to Brian Sims, CBO, NKAPC’s chief building official. NKAPC staff performed 223 inspections within this time period.

“We don’t want to be out in this weather anymore than the next guy, but we have to make ourselves available to help our customers move their projects along,” said Sims.

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