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The Building Code Part 4, General Building Height and Area Limitations

October 21, 2011

In design there is a tension between the requirements of the program and what the building code will allow you to build. The heart of this tension is found is Chapter 5 of the IBC (2006) 

Table 503 of the IBC (2006) outlines the maximum height and area of a building. The two pieces of information you need to understand to use this table is the use group and the type of construction. (For more information on use groups see part 2 and for more info on types of construction see part 5) For example, if your building is Use Group A-1 and your type of construction is 1A you have an unlimited building area and height. With this table they are trying to balance the chance of fire and the ability of a person to escape a building.


If you haven’t gotten enough square footage to work with your program there are two ways to increase your square footage. Both of these exceptions are allowed because it makes fighting a fire easier.

Height Modifications:

If a sprinkler system is present the height of a building is able to be increased by 20′ and one story. (Section 504)

Area Modifications:

Area increases are dependent on two things;  a sprinkler system and frontage. (Section 506) Frontage is a fancy term for allowing a fire truck access all sides of a building. The allowable area increase is determined by a complicated equation that I won’t go into, because you won’t have to know if for the ARE.


In the end if you are still not able to get the square footage you need for your program, you can partition the building into multiple building separated by fire walls.



Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Use and Occupancy

Part 3 – Special requirements

Part 4 – General Building Height and Area Limitations

Part 5 – Types of Construction

Part 6 – Fire Resistant Construction

Part 7 – Interior Finishes

Part 8 – Means of Egress


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