The massive 2015 fire that destroyed the Avalon at Edgewater apartments in Bergen County may prompt changes to New Jersey's construction codes with proposed legislation for Assembly Bill No 1914.The apartment complex was constructed in accordance with existing code; however, the buildings’ lightweight wood framing and lack of sprinklers in certain areas made it more difficult for firefighters to control the fire, resulting in the destruction of 240 apartments and displacement of about 500 people - this is why the consideration of Assembly No 1914 is proving integral to current NJ construction codes.
Assembly Bill No 1914
As a result of this tragedy, lawmakers are currently considering legislation (Assembly Bill No 1914) that would amend the state’s construction code with the aim of improving fire safety. Many of the bill’s provisions stem from recommendations made by the Code Advisory Council of the Fire Safety Commission.
What impact could Assembly Bill 1914 have?
The proposed changes to the construction code would impact the construction of many multiple dwelling structures built in New Jersey. The legislation specifically addresses structures built with lightweight wood frame construction (Type V) and equipped with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13R sprinkler systems, which allow for the omission of sprinklers in certain areas.
The proposed changes to the construction code would impact the construction of many multiple dwelling structures built in New Jersey.
The bill also amends provisions of the New Jersey construction code that allow for the construction of buildings on top of structures such as parking garages, which effectively allow the buildings to be built higher than otherwise allowed.
Requirements under Assembly Bill 1914
Under the proposed legislation, whenever an automatic sprinkler system is installed in accordance with NFPA 13R in a building comprised, in whole or in part, of lightweight wood frame construction:
- Unprotected and unheated wood-framed attic areas must be protected by a dry type sprinkler system; and
- If the building is a multiple dwelling, the sprinkler system or systems must be monitored for both supervisory and alarm conditions that result in notification of the fire department.
- Buildings of Type V construction and equipped with an automatic sprinkler system installed in accordance with NFPA 13R may not exceed two stories measured from the grade plane; and must not exceed a per-story floor area of 12,000 square feet.
- Meanwhile, a building of Type V construction that is equipped with an automatic sprinkler system installed in accordance with the more stringent NFPA 13 may not exceed three stories measured from the grade plane; and may not exceed a per-story floor area of 36,000 square feet.
- Additional square footage may be permitted by constructing an additional detached building(s) or an attached building providing a minimum two-hour masonry or concrete fire wall between each attached building.
Backing for Assembly Bill No 1914
According to the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), “The bill balances fire safety concerns with other policy considerations by affording developers an opportunity to increase the floor area of developments without increasing the height of buildings.”Build With Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, is also lobbying in favor of the proposed changes to the New Jersey construction codes. In September, Build With Strength released the results of a voter poll that found 95 percent of New Jersey voters support . The survey also found that 93 percent support legislation requiring all buildings over three stories to have concrete and steel frames.
Assembly Bill No 1914 has been pending before the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee since early this year. We will continue to monitor the status of the proposed bill and post updates as they become available. Otherwise, if you wish to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Victor Kinon, at 201-806-3364.