Builders in Massachusetts will be seeing a new update of the statewide building code in 2016 — and without the usual grace period that has applied in previous code revisions. But the lack of an extended phase-in period could actually be good news for coastal builders — because the "9th edition" of the Massachusetts Building Code, based on the 2015 International Building Code and International Residential Code, will actually relax some of the tough requirements for wind-resistant construction in areas near the ocean, Cape Cod, the South Shore, and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

The coming update was announced on the website of the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (see: "Draft 9th edition of the Building Code approved by BBRS.") "It is expected that the new code will become effective during the first quarter of 2016," the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) announced (although with the proviso that the process might be delayed). And the Board noted, 'Unlike previous editions, there will not be a concurrency period as we segue to new code requirements.  Instead, BBRS members encourage code users and enforcers to become familiar with provisions of the applicable 2015 I-Codes and associated Massachusetts amendments over the next several months in preparation for the transition.  Building owners, designers and contractors should consider changes in the 9th edition that may affect projects scheduled for permit application during the first quarter of next year. However, please remember that there may be changes made due to the FPFP review and\or comments received at public hearing."

So what's changed in the new code? A handy quick reference is posted along with the announcement — and it points to some easing of the restrictions on wind-resistant construction (see: "Summary of Key Changes"). 

The requirement that designs conforming to the International Residential Code (IRC) might have to draw on engineering standards from outside the code for guidance on wind-resistant structure has been eliminated, the document says: "For high wind locations (typically the southeast shore of MA, the Cape and the Islands) the Residential code requires the use of other references for design. Recent data, research and modeling indicate slightly less wind speeds than historically predicted. Accordingly, the IRC 2015 significantly reduced the geographic area in MA requiring “out of code” design. Further detailed investigation by staff indicates that the high wind design boundary is no longer triggered in MA and high wind design outside of the code is only necessary for severe exposures. This simplifies design and construction thus reducing cost."

 The 2015 edition of the IRC has expanded the areas where the code requires shutters or impact-resistant windows to guard against windborne debris. But after a closer look, Massachusetts officials have decided not to include that new requirement. Here's what they say: "For high wind locations (typically the southeast shore of MA, the Cape and the Islands) the Residential code requires protection against windborne debris for building openings such as doors and windows. This requirement can be satisfied by using windows with impact resistant glazing or providing a special shutter system. Although recent data, research and modeling indicate slightly less wind speeds than historically predicted, the IRC 2015 has increased the geographical area requiring windborne debris protection. Further detailed investigation by staff indicates the new wind speeds in this extended windborne area are less than the wind speed that triggered windborne debris requirements in the 2009 IRC. With that consideration, and not finding any historical evidence indicating windborne debris has been the primary cause of major structural damage after much investigation, the windborne debris requirement has been eliminated. This simplifies design and construction and significantly reduces cost."

Still up in the air is a question of how the state will regulate fire separation assemblies or other fire-resistant details in light of recent national news coverage of several high-profile fires. "During its August 11, 2015 meeting, BBRS members decided to take a second look at certain chapters particular to fire protection systems," the Board explained. "Consequently, Chapters 4, 9, 34 and 51 were forwarded to members of the Fire-Prevention\Fire Protection (FPFP) Committee for further review.  FPFP members will review portions of these chapters relative to lessons learned from recent large-loss fires to determine if there may be further modifications should be made prior to the public hearing."