Building Official's Blog


News and information from Fairfax County's Building Division which is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the public through enforcement of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code. Areas of focus ensure that construction is appropriately fire protected, structurally sound, energy efficient, accessible to the disabled and equipped with functioning and safe plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems. The Building Division is a unit within Land Development Services.


Code Highlight

Family or Assisted-use Toilet and Bathing Rooms

by Brian Byrne - October 19, 2017

Family or assisted-use toilet and bathing rooms

As the code advances, so do provisions and standards to provide greater accessibility for new and existing buildings.  In a significant change to the 2009 International Building Code (IBC) the term “unisex” was revised to “family or assisted-use” toilet room in IBC Section 1109.2.1.  This was done for two main reasons.  First, to differentiate this toilet room from the single occupant “unisex” toilet room permitted by IBC Section 2902.2 where separate facilities are not required for each sex.  Second, the term “family or assisted-use” better describes the intent of the room: where a disabled person may require assistance from a family member or persons of the opposite sex.

Family or assisted-use toilet rooms are required in assembly and mercantile occupancies where an aggregate of six or more male and female water closets are required.  Family or assisted-use bathing rooms are required in recreational facilities where each separate-sex bathing room has more than one shower or bathtub fixture.  A common example is an office building that contains a room with exercise equipment to which the requirements of Section 1109.2.1 apply.  If more than one shower or bathtub fixture is provided a family or assisted-use bathing room would be required.

For questions and other information, please contact Building Plan Review at 703-631-5101, TTY 711, or via email.

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Announcement

Project Management (in the Building Division)

by Brian Foley - October 18, 2017

Project Management (in the Building DIvision)

From a customer’s perspective, getting a project through the county approval process poses a risk to its success.  Considering all project risks and constraints coupled with the goal of increasing the speed, consistency and predictability of the related process, Land Development Services has created a project management team to provide enrolled projects a single contact for its entirety in the land development process, from “cradle to grave.”  This team resides in the agency’s Operations (Ops) Division and is helmed by Helman Castro.  Learn more.  Helman can be reached at 703-324-2586, TTY 711 or by email.  Email addresses in the county are typically firstname.lastname@fairfaxacounty.gov.

Folded into this new approach, the Building Division has assigned four positions to assist Castro’s team with plan review and inspection matters.  Three of the four positions have been filled by Jay Riat, Mohamed Ghiwane and Behrouz Hasheminejad.  See their bios below.  The fourth position is currently in the recruitment stage.  Jay, Mohamed and Behrouz are technically savvy and customer-service oriented with quality experience and knowledge of the land development process in Fairfax County.

No two construction projects interface with plan review and inspections in the same way.  The Building Division project management team is designed to guide a project by identifying and filling in gaps during the process.  For a complex project, the Building Division PM will proactively communicate with project stakeholders, develop a project plan, identify tasks and deliverables, create a preliminary schedule, and determine the critical path through the plan review process.  Once a project is in the system, the PM will monitor, control and make adjustments as necessary to leverage efficiencies.

With communication as a key element to success of the project management approach, PMs will regularly inform project stakeholders and Ops Division PMs of a project’s status.  This will result in better risk management, a code-compliant project, a tighter schedule and defrayed costs while meeting our goal to improve the speed, consistency and predictability of plan review and inspections.

New Building Division Project Managers

Si Ghiwane, P.E.

GhiwaneSi “Mohamed” Ghiwane was recently promoted to an Engineer IV as a Plan Review Project Manager.  He has six years of experience working with Fairfax County as a commercial building reviewer examining complex projects such as public and private schools and large assembly occupancies.  Mohamed graduated from George Mason University with a B.S. in civil engineering and is currently pursuing an M.S. in Construction Project Management.  He is a registered professional engineer in Virginia.  He can be reached at 703-324-1619, TTY 711 or by email.  Email addresses in the county are typically firstname.lastname@fairfaxacounty.gov.


Behrouz Hasheminejad, P.E.

HasheminejadBehrouz Hasheminejad has accepted a position as a Plan Review Project Manager.  Behrouz has a B.S. in mechanical engineering and has worked as a mechanical and plumbing design engineer for nine years prior to joining the county in 2013.  His tenure in the Building Division includes work as a plumbing plan reviewer for complex projects and manager of commercial trade inspections.  Behrouz can be reached at 703-324-1518, TTY 711 or by email. Email addresses in the county are typically firstname.lastname@fairfaxacounty.gov.


Jay Riat, P.E.

RiatJay was recently promoted to an Engineer IV as a Plan Review Project Manager.  He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Professional Engineer’s License in Virginia.  Jay has been a mechanical plan review for over five years with experience as a project engineer in HVAC design and construction prior to joining the county.  He is currently studying to obtain his Project Management Professional-PMP certification.  Jay can be reached at 703-324-1017, TTY 711 or by email.  Email addresses in the county are typically firstname.lastname@fairfaxacounty.gov.


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Metrics

September 2017 Building Division Metrics

by Brian Foley - October 11, 2017

September Building Division Data

Plan review times are divided into three groups: new commercial construction, commercial alterations (new tenants) and residential. The time count begins when plans are received by building plan review and ends when the last review is complete.  References in the charts to "peer review" are for plans submitted under the Expedited Building Plan Review Program.

New Commercial Construction

In the graph below, large plans are generally high-rise or complex buildings.  Small to medium plans are for buildings up to four stories.

September 2017 New Commercial

Commercial Alterations

In the graph below, Fast Track are tenant plans less than or equal to 4,500 square feet.  Small to medium are non-Fast Track plans up to 20,000 square feet. Large tenant plans are those greater than 20,000 square feet. 

September 2017 Commercial Alterations

Residential

In the graph below, Addition R are residential additions greater than 1,000 square feet and not reviewed under the Residential Walk Thru Program.  Masterfiles are plans that are reviewed once and constructed in numerous locations countywide.  New SFD are non-masterfile plans for single family dwellings.  The peer review number includes all residential plan types.

 September 2017 Residential

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Metrics

August 2017 Building Division Metrics

by Brian Foley - September 22, 2017

August Building Division Data

Plan review times are divided into three groups: new commercial construction, commercial alterations (new tenants) and residential. The time count begins when plans are received by building plan review and ends when the last review is complete.  References in the charts to "peer review" are for plans submitted under the Expedited Building Plan Review Program.

New Commercial Construction

In the graph below, large plans are generally high-rise or complex buildings.  Small to medium plans are for buildings up to four stories.

August 2017 New Commercial

Commercial Alterations

In the graph below, Fast Track are tenant plans less than or equal to 4,500 square feet.  Small to medium are non-Fast Track plans up to 20,000 square feet. Large tenant plans are those greater than 20,000 square feet. 

August 2017 Commercial Alterations

Residential

In the graph below, Addition R are residential additions greater than 1,000 square feet and not reviewed under the Residential Walk Thru Program.  Masterfiles are plans that are reviewed once and constructed in numerous locations countywide.  New SFD are non-masterfile plans for single family dwellings.  The peer review number includes all residential plan types.

 July Residential Timeframes

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Code Highlight

Cluster Toilet Rooms

by Anurag Baral - August 17, 2017

Clustered toilet facilities

If you read Section 1109.2 of the 2012 Virginia Construction Code (VCC), you are provided with location requirements for accessible restrooms.  If you pay particular attention to Exception 3, you will note that while it specifies how many restrooms are to be in a cluster, it does not define the term cluster.  

1109.2 Toilet and bathing facilities.
Each toilet room and bathing room shall be accessible.  Where are floor level is not required to be connected by an accessible route, the only toilet rooms or bathing rooms provided within the facility shall not be located on the inaccessible floor.  At least one of each type of fixture, element, control or dispenser in each accessible toilet room and bathing room shall be accessible.
Exceptions:

  1. Where multiple single-user toilet rooms or bathing rooms are clustered at a single location, at least 50 percent, but not less than one room for each use at each cluster shall be accessible.

The Building Division will consider clustered toilet and bathing rooms as three or more single-occupant bathrooms or bathing rooms located either adjacent to each other or across the hall from each other within a maximum travel distance of 10 feet measured from center of door to center of door of the nearest toilet/bathing room (see figures above).  Please note that signage requirements of VCC Section 1110.2 still apply.

For more information, please contact Anurag Baral at 703-324-7119, TTY 711 or via email.

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Metrics

July 2017 Building Division Metrics

by Brian Foley - August 15, 2017

July Building Division Data

Plan review times are divided into three groups: new commercial construction, commercial alterations (new tenants) and residential. The time count begins when plans are received by building plan review and ends when the last review is complete.  References in the charts to "peer review" are for plans submitted under the Expedited Building Plan Review Program.

New Commercial Construction

In the graph below, large plans are generally high-rise or complex buildings.  Small to medium plans are for buildings up to four stories.

July 2017 New Commercial

Commercial Alterations

In the graph below, Fast Track are tenant plans less than or equal to 4,500 square feet.  Small to medium are non-Fast Track plans up to 20,000 square feet. Large tenant plans are those greater than 20,000 square feet. 

July 2017 Commercial Alterations

Residential

In the graph below, Addition R are residential additions greater than 1,000 square feet and not reviewed under the Residential Walk Thru Program.  Masterfiles are plans that are reviewed once and constructed in numerous locations countywide.  New SFD are non-masterfile plans for single family dwellings.  The peer review number includes all residential plan types.

 July 2017 Residential

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Information

Arc-Flash

by Lamya Yadullah - August 3, 2017

Arc flash

Arc Flash is the electrical phenomenon created by an electric arc that releases dangerous amounts of energy in the form of an explosion; the extent of that energy depends on system voltage, the fault current and time duration of the fault.  Arc Flash can result in destruction of equipment, injury in the form of burns or even death to those inside the arc flash boundary.

Listed below are best practices and safety recommendations included in Chapter 1, Article 130 of the National Fire Protection Association Standard for Electrical Safety in the Work Place (NFPA 70E-2015) that can minimize or control the hazards from a potential arc-flash.

  • Avoid working on energized equipment/circuits.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Follow lockout/tagout and protection practices.
  • Require justification and permission when working on energized systems, even those as low as 50 Volt.
  • Obtain permission only from competent and knowledgeable authorized personnel when working on energized electrical work. 
  • Strictly adhere to the shock protection boundaries and associated access restrictions as outlined in Article 130.

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News

Building Division YouTube Debut

by Brian Foley - August 2, 2017

Building Division video

The Building Division is featured in the latest Fairfax County Channel 16 video on YouTube.  Please have a look to learn more about our mission, responsibilities and structure.

Watch the episode.

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Information

Anatomy of an Inherently Dangerous Deck, Part II

by Brian Foley - July 31, 2017

Whenever I go out of town, I notice the differences in deck construction, particularly in other states that don’t have a robust or uniform building code like Virginia.  One of the most common mistakes I can easily see from my informal windshield survey (or handlebar survey when I’m riding my bike) are notched guard posts.  Statistics from deck collapses nationwide verify that one of the weakest points on a deck is the connection of the guard post to the deck framing (the other is the ledger board connection; see the July 5, 2017 post).

Per the building code, in a worst-case condition, a guard post must resist a horizontal outward force of 200 pounds at its top.  For a 36-inch tall guard, that translates to a rotational torque (moment) at the connection to the deck of 600 foot-pounds.  The most important part of a post at that connection is its thickness – the exact location of the notch!

Most guard posts are comprised of wood 4x4s which have actual dimensions of 3½ inches by 3½ inches.  The average notch I’ve seen is roughly half of the guard thickness which equates to a 1¾ inches.  However, I’ve seen some truly butchered posts that were notched in both directions into a 1-inch by 1-inch section.  Considering a post with half its thickness notched, its ability to resist the rotation is not reduced proportionally.  Due to the way a section is analyzed, the actual resistance is reduced by 75 percent.  That reduction increases exponentially for every additional loss of section.

If you’re building a deck, do NOT notch the guard post, and follow all the connection requirements from the Fairfax County Typical Deck Details to ensure your guard system is constructed safely and can resist the required loads.

Learn more about deck safety in Fairfax County

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Code Highlight

Alternate Methods and Materials

by Brian Foley - July 25, 2017

Evaluaton report

One of the many questions the Building Division regularly fields is if a product, material or construction method is approved for use in Fairfax County.  The answer to that question is based on Virginia Construction Code Section 112.2, “Alternate methods and materials” and Section 1701.2, “New materials.”  These provisions enable Virginia jurisdictions to set a standard by which to accept alternatives to what is available through the code.  Most alternate construction methods can be reviewed and approved through the code modification process on a case by case basis.  However, materials and products have more specific functions and require greater scrutiny and review.

To assist us in that level of review, the Building Division relies on nationally-recognized evaluation services and their corresponding research reports.  Through the information therein, we receive guidance on what is required to approve the product’s use in the county.  These services review laboratory accreditation, test results and other data to formulate the research reports.  The reports (also called evaluation report , ESR-evaluation service report or CCRR-code compliance research report) give instruction to the designer, building and code official for the proper installation and code applicability.  The Building Division has accepted reports from the following agencies:

If you wish to use a product in your project, ensure it has a research report from one of the agencies listed above that references Virginia’s current building code (2012 edition), the preceding code (2009 edition) or any future code (2015 or 2018 editions).  Please note that the requirements in the report must be strictly following during permit application and installation.  Pay particular attention to a section in the report titled, “Conditions of Use.”  Building Division plan review staff ensure all applicable conditions are incorporated in the construction plans or are part of the submission package.

For more information, please contact the Building Division at 703-631-5101, TTY 711 or via email.

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News

Mason Matters

by Brian Foley - July 19, 2017

Mason Matters

Yours truly makes an appearance on Supervisor Penny Gross's cable access program, "Mason Matters." For the summer episode, I am joined by a fire colleague to discuss deck safety and other building code and fire prevention related topics.  Please have a look, and be safe this summer.

Watch the episode.

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New Inspector joins the Building Division

by Brian Foley - July 10, 2017

Travers Body

Travers BodyTravers Body recently accepted a Master Combination Inspector position in commercial-mechanical inspections.  Travers has 17 years of experience in design, construction and maintenance of building systems. Previous to the county he owned his own business. Travers can be reached at 703-509-4351 , TTY 711 or by email. Email addresses in the county are typically firstname.lastname@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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News

Fairfax County Student Wins State Scholarship

by Brian Foley - July 6, 2017

Building Safety Month Essay Contest Winner

While this year’s Building Safety Month is in the books, the importance of the code official’s role in building safety must endure year round.  For 2017, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development held a statewide essay contest as part of the month’s celebrations.  The winner of that contest hails from Fairfax County, and her message is quite topical here in the Building Division as we engage in implementing “Fairfax First” initiatives (see February 17, 2017 blog post).

Congratulations to Meghan Chudasama from Chantilly High School for the winning essay titled, “ Code Officials - Partners in Community Safety and Economic Growth.”

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Information

Anatomy of an Inherently Dangerous Deck

by Brian Foley - July 5, 2017

Nailed Ledger

Throughout my tenure with Fairfax County, I have been active in deck safety in terms of developing typical details and pursuing code changes that provide uniformity in deck construction. Over the years I have gotten to know a handful of other deck safety advocates through various meetings, training and code hearings. One such fellow, Dr. Frank Woeste, P.E., has published an interesting article regarding nailed ledgers. Anatomy of an Inherently Dangerous Deck, examines the ledger board connection and why nailed ledgers are bad, and those attached using code-compliant fasteners, i.e., lag screws, are so much better.

It should come as no surprise that people build decks without permits. Yes, this illegal, but it unfortunately happens more often than you might think. While we can perform inspections to ensure a permitted deck has a code compliant ledger connection, we don't have that ability if a permit is not obtained. With the majority of decks collapses occurring at the ledger board connection, it is essential that decks are built with a permit and inspected throughout its construction.

Read Anatomy of an Inherently Dangerous Deck
Learn more about deck safety in Fairfax County

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Code Highlight

Interior Passage in Residential Construction

by Brian Foley - June 28, 2017

R331.1 General. This section applies to new dwelling units that have both a kitchen and a living area on the same floor level as the egress door required by Section R311.2. This section is not applicable to additions, reconstruction, alteration, or repair. R331.2 Kitchen. One interior passage route from the egress door to the kitchen shall comply with R331.6. R331.3 Living area. One interior passage route from the egress door to at least one living area shall comply with R331.6. R331.4 Bedroom. Where the dwelling unit has a bedroom on the same floor level as the egress door, one interior passage route from the egress door to at least one bedroom shall comply with R331.6. R331.5 Bathroom. Where a dwelling unit has a bathroom on the same floor level as the egress door, and the bathroom contains a water closet, lavatory, and bathtub or shower, one interior passage route from the egress door to at least one bathroom shall comply with R331.6. Bathroom fixture clearances shall comply with R307 and access to fixtures is not required to comply with R331.6. R331.6 Opening widths. Opening widths along the interior passage route required by this section shall comply with the following: 1. Cased openings shall provide a minimum 34 inch (864 mm) clear width. 2. Doors shall be a nominal 34 inch (864 mm) minimum width. Double doors are permitted to be used to meet this requirement.

The internal passage provisions, currently in Section R311.2.1 of the 2012 Virginia Residential Code, have been refined and relocated in the proposed 2015 edition.  As shown above in the impending code language, the provisions have been completely rewritten to provide some very necessary clarity that was lacking in the 2012 version and moved to new Section R331.

The biggest impact this revision has is in Section R331.1 where it specifically excludes additions, reconstruction, alterations or repairs from requiring internal passage.  The Building Division will immediately begin enforcing the new provisions ahead of the 2015 code’s adoption date (still unknown at this time).  This means new homes and those on existing foundations with both a kitchen and living area on the same level as the main egress door are required to comply with all the interior passage provisions of R331.  However, additions, previously interpreted to qualify, will no longer be required to comply.

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Code Highlight

Fully Sprinklered Buildings Using the Non-Combustible Insulation Exception

by Chief John Walser - June 9, 2017

Insulation

“This building is fully sprinklered.”  The statement seems pretty straightforward.  Automatic fire sprinklers installed in accordance with NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, are designed to protect life and property.  In order for these two goals to be met, the standard generally requires all areas of a building to have fire sprinklers.  However, NFPA 13 does allow several exceptions for special areas where sprinklers do not have to be installed.  The majority of the areas not required to be sprinklered are in concealed spaces.  In the case of a combustible concealed space, one of the options allowed by NFPA 13 is to entirely fill the concealed space with non-combustible insulation.  Non-combustible insulation reported as passing ASTM E136, Standard Test Method for the Behavior of Materials in a Vertical Tube Furnace at 750oC.

When this exception is used, what are the requirements to have a plan approved?  When the fire sprinkler shop drawings are reviewed in the Fire Marshal’s Office, there must be a statement on the plans that state “non-combustible insulation will be used to entirely fill the void, in lieu of sprinklers.”  The insulation submission to the Building Division must include the statement, “insulation is installed to meet the requirements of the exception in NFPA 13 allowing a concealed combustible space.”   The submission must show the manufacturer’s rating of meeting ASTM E136 and include details of the insulation installation.  No inspection of the fire sprinkler system will take place until the insulation permit is approved.  For additional information, contact the Office of the Fire Marshal at 703-246-4806, TTY 711 or email or contact the Building Division at 703-631-5101, TTY or by email.

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Information

Commercial Inspections Podcast

by Brian Foley - June 9, 2017

Listen to Harold King, a commercial-trade inspector, describe his work and the duties our commercial inspectors are charged with.  This includes the inspection of carnival rides (amusement devices) which is quite topical considering Celebrate Fairfax begins this afternoon.   

Listen

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Metrics

May 2017 Building Division Metrics

by Brian Foley - June 9, 2017

May Building Division Data

Plan review times are divided into three groups: new commercial construction, commercial alterations (new tenants) and residential. The time count begins when plans are received by building plan review and ends when the last review is complete.  References in the charts to "peer review" are for plans submitted under the Expedited Building Plan Review Program.

New Commercial Construction

In the graph below, large plans are generally high-rise or complex buildings.  Small to medium plans are for buildings up to four stories.

May 2017 New Commercial

Commercial Alterations

In the graph below, Fast Track are tenant plans less than or equal to 4,500 square feet.  Small to medium are non-Fast Track plans up to 20,000 square feet. Large tenant plans are those greater than 20,000 square feet. 

May 2017 Commercial Alterations

Residential

In the graph below, Addition R are residential additions greater than 1,000 square feet and not reviewed under the Residential Walk Thru Program.  Masterfiles are plans that are reviewed once and constructed in numerous locations countywide.  New SFD are non-masterfile plans for single family dwellings.  The peer review number includes all residential plan types.

 April 2017 Residential

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Information

Sprinkler Saves

by Chief John Walser - May 22, 2017

Sprinkler save in a residential high rise

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units responded to a reported apartment fire in a high-rise building.  Upon arrival, firefighters found the remnants of a fire that was contained and extinguished by the building sprinkler system.  This occurred 26 times in Fairfax County last year.  These activations occurred in buildings that were worth over $492 million.   Over 5,000 people live and work in the buildings that experienced a fire, but a sprinkler activation limited the impact.  As a comparison, a recent fire occurred in an un-sprinklered residential high-rise building in a large northeast city.  This fire resulted in one death and numerous injuries to residents and fire fighters.  The building was severely damaged.

sprinkler statistics

The risk of fire is a serious consideration in any type of structure.  Fire sprinklers are one of the best methods of fire control that exist.  Sprinklers react quickly, often the first form of alerting firefighters that there is a fire in the building.  While firefighters are responding, the sprinklers have already activated and are working to control the fire.  They can dramatically reduce heat and smoke that are produced during a fire.  Several benefits of sprinklers are:

  • Safe for families - fire alarms and sprinklers buy precious time to escape unharmed before the fire grows too large to escape.
  • Safer for firefighters – firefighters do not have to battle a large fire, minimizing their risk.
  • Business continuity – sprinklers limit the damage to a building, so businesses can be back up and running more quickly. They can re-open often in a matter of hours or days, compared to weeks or months of downtime.

The 26 sprinkler “saves” highlight the life-saving importance of fire protection systems.  They not only allow occupants to escape but limit property damage.  This creates safe communities and ensures businesses the opportunity to grow and thrive. 

The Fire Prevention Division of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is available to answer any questions regarding fire protection systems.  We can be contacted at 703-246-4889, TTY 711.

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News

Firewalls

by Brian Foley - May 16, 2017

Townhouse fire

The fire-resistance design of townhouses rely heavily on the firewalls between each building.  Because each townhouse is a separate and independent structure, the building code requires firewalls in between to restrict the spread of fire from the foundation to the roof with sufficient structural stability to remain in place during and after a fire.  If designed correctly, a fire in one townhouse should be contained so as not to affect neighboring structures for a specified time to enable the local fire department to respond.

A perfect example of this protection was seen Friday morning on May 12 when a townhouse on Koluder Court in the Lorton area caught fire ( an investigation is still pending as to the cause).  As seen in the image above, the firewalls on both sides of the affected townhouse remained in place, prevented the fire from engulfing the adjacent homes and allowed continued occupancy for both neighbors.

To learn more, go to the townhouse provisions, Section R302.2 of Chapter 3 of the Virginia Residential Code.

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Metrics

April 2017 Building Division Metrics

by Brian Foley - May 8, 2017

April Building Division Data

Plan review times are divided into three groups: new commercial construction, commercial alterations (new tenants) and residential. The time count begins when plans are received by building plan review and ends when the last review is complete.  References in the charts to "peer review" are for plans submitted under the Expedited Building Plan Review Program.

New Commercial Construction

In the graph below, large plans are generally high-rise or complex buildings.  Small to medium plans are for buildings up to four stories.

April 2017 New Commercial

Commercial Alterations

In the graph below, Fast Track are tenant plans less than or equal to 4,500 square feet.  Small to medium are non-Fast Track plans up to 20,000 square feet. Large tenant plans are those greater than 20,000 square feet. 

April 2017 Commercial Alterations

Residential

In the graph below, Addition R are residential additions greater than 1,000 square feet and not reviewed under the Residential Walk Thru Program.  Masterfiles are plans that are reviewed once and constructed in numerous locations countywide.  New SFD are non-masterfile plans for single family dwellings.  The peer review number includes all residential plan types.

 April 2017 Residential

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Building Division
12055 Government Center Parkway
Suite 324
703-222-0114, TTY 711

Monday – Thursday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Friday: 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 

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