GAMAzine: Seismic Certification Shakes Things Up

July 25, 2005
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Chapter 16 is not a new code requirement, but it is one that has caught up to the HVAC industry. GAMA is concerned about who should be responsible for establishing the seismic requirements for mechanical equipment.
Preparing and protecting HVAC equipment from earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters has always affected some states more than others.

However, Sept. 11, 2001, opened up new doors to preparing for disasters and earthshaking events in all areas of the country. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to anticipate and deter these threats to the United States whenever possible, and provide the ability to respond quickly if a threat does arise.

The DHS also is responsible for assessing the country's vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, which includes emergency shelters, hospitals, and first-responder stations - the same infrastructure that must withstand natural disasters. Protecting these buildings' mechanical systems from blasts or attacks, so they can continue to provide emergency heat and hot water after such an event, is becoming an increasing concern when enforcing seismic requirements in model codes for all areas of the United States, rather than those areas subject to seismic- only events.

The question still remains: Where does the responsibility lie when certifying a component or product for structural design - with the manufacturer or the building designer? Battle lines from all sides of the equation are forming.

Code Rumblings

The International Code Council (ICC) has recently published the "2005 Report of the Public Hearing" on the 2003 editions of the international codes, which is part of its 2004-2005 code development cycle. The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is working with its members to provide input to upcoming code changes as the 2003 International Building Code (IBC) is adopted in various jurisdictions.

GAMA specifically became involved with the issue of seismic design and certification when its manufacturer members encountered building officials who were requiring commercial heating equipment to be tested and certified to demonstrate their compliance with IBC seismic criteria, Chapter 16, even though the equipment was being installed in a low seismic zone. (Chapter 16 is derived in part from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7-02 Section 9, titled "Earthquake Loads.")

Though this is not a new code requirement, it is one that has caught up to the HVAC industry and has created confusion as to how manufacturers should comply and attain certification. GAMA is concerned about who should be responsible for establishing the seismic requirements for mechanical equipment, and that certification to such requirements should be accomplished in a uniform, consistent manner that will not create an unlevel playing field in the marketplace.

In response to those concerns, GAMA proposed a revision to the IBC to exclude mechanical equipment from the seismic design requirements. GAMA's rationale was that the expertise needed to correctly design seismic restraining systems is currently addressed by the professional and seismic design engineers, rather than by the engineers designing and manufacturing HVAC equipment.

For this reason, GAMA noted that removing mechanical equipment as proposed would result in no change in the building's seismic evaluation and the same result is achieved.

At ICC's Code Development Hearings held last March, GAMA's proposal was disapproved by the committee with the following reasoning:

"There are manufacturers of mechanical equipment that currently provide various levels of approval. Equipment manufacturers should be willing to provide this if they are selling products in high seismic zones. The code needs to include the integrity of the equipment. There is no reason to exclude mechanical equipment as was proposed."

As various jurisdictions adopt the IBC, building officials will require commercial heating equipment to be tested and certified to demonstrate their compliance with IBC seismic criteria Chapter 16, even if the equipment is installed in a low seismic zone.

Light At End Of Tunnel?

GAMA, however, is banking on another proposal (S82), submitted by an individual. The ICC committee did approve, with modifications, this proposal, which is intended to reformat and clarify the existing criteria for mechanical and electrical components.

"Although proposal S82 does not change the existing requirements for manufacturers to have their equipment tested and certified for seismic design, for submittal to the registered design professional and the building official, the changes have some positive aspects," said David Bixby, manager of Technical Services for GAMA.

For example, the list of specific equipment using combustible energy sources, tanks, heat exchangers, and pressure vessels has been deleted, which means, according to Bixby, that the only equipment list is the more generic version under 1707.7. Also, the criteria requiring each manufacturer to maintain an approved quality control program, as evidenced by a permanent label on each piece of equipment, has been deleted.

Furthermore, the "registered design professional" in charge of designing the seismic system is now the person who establishes the applicable qualification requirements for such systems.

All public comments will be reviewed by the ICC at its final action hearings, scheduled for Sept. 28-Oct. 2 in Detroit.

Publication date: 07/25/2005

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