Safety is one area that must be considered when creating a church design for a new or remodeled church building. Recently we offered a free i3 webinar covering the topic, and we are sharing some of the highlights here. In this post we will cover areas of safety that are addressed through building codes.

One quick reminder: Our expertise is church building. We are not safety and security experts, but our nearly 50 years of creating designs for churches brings with it much experience and insight which allows us to help church leaders integrate safety and security features into their new or remodeled church building.

IBC, Building Codes, and Church Building Safety

IBC stands for International Building Code, and it’s the standard template for building codes followed by most municipalities in the USA. The IBC provides minimum requirements that affect church design in the areas of safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, and many other areas.

Within the area of safety, there are many types of requirements in the IBC. Fire safety requirements, for example, can include automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, firewalls, fire doors, appropriate types of windows, and various kinds of fire ratings and fire separations for different parts of your church building. Another section of the building code covers emergency egress or exits. This includes exit signs, emergency lights, battery backups, panic door hardware, and other items with the purpose of getting people out of your church building quickly and safely in the event of an emergency within the building.

Incorporating Structural, Environmental, and Wellness Safety into Your Church Design

Some sections of the building code address less obvious components of your church design. There are structural codes that must be met if your church building could be exposed to high winds, specifically hurricanes or tornadoes, and extreme roof load requirements if your area gets major winter storms.

Environmental safety building codes address how to store and handle hazardous materials. While hazardous materials aren’t commonly found in most churches, there must be exhaust systems where fumes can arise, including hoods over cooking equipment in your church kitchen. Related to these are health and wellness requirements, usually connected with fresh air and natural daylight for classrooms and other church building spaces, and hand-washing regulations for kitchens and caregiving spaces.

There are cases where churches are exempt from some of these requirements, based on the size and structure of your church building and its various approved uses. Churches may also voluntarily install more safety equipment than is required, including automatic sprinkler systems. While this is a relatively expensive proposition, some church leaders have felt the added safety is worth the investment.

Do You Want Your Church Building to Be a Storm Shelter?

One interesting development in recent years is that some churches have decided to become voluntary storm shelters as part of their vision for ministry in the community. This involves part of your church building being designated to serve as a shelter from a weather event, such as a tornado, hurricane, or winter storm. Additional building code requirements must be followed if you choose to use your church building for this purpose.

In our next post in this series, we will address recent changes in the building codes for storm shelters, for those churches that may be pondering this possibility. All this information comes from one of our recent free i3 webinars, which cover helpful trends on a variety of topics. We will be sharing our 2020 i3 webinar lineup soon!