With the New Building Code, It's All About Timing

By F. Joshua Millman, AIA, CFM, LEED AP

Ever since signing a contract with a client last summer to construct a new final assembly plant, the design process has proceeded through a series of holds and restarts. The planning and documentation process that should have required four to six months is approaching its ninth month. This is our third facility with this client since our initial contract almost 10 years ago, and the start/stop pattern is now a familiar one. Our fees are set to cover a protracted schedule, and our client well understands the costs of their own indecision. The client was somewhat surprised that I requested an urgent meeting just after the first of this year to address the design completion schedule.

“New building code in Pennsylvania”…..

…..”March 31, 2019”

My explanation for needing to increase the sense of urgency was due to the imminent enforcement of a new building code in Pennsylvania. When the project began, I cautioned the client that; if we were unable to complete and submit the permit application documents by March 31, 2019, we would be required to redesign the building to the new code. This would in turn increase the building cost due to two changes: 

  1. The increased costs of building systems

  2. The increase in our fees to incorporate the new code requirements.

This redesign would also further extend the project schedule. Responding to the client’s request for more background on these concerns, I offered the following:

For decades, the building code was updated every three years. Typically, these updates included greater safety measures, tougher energy conservation requirements, and defined allowable uses for new products and systems that were being widely adopted. Occasionally, the new code edition would roll back some building requirements to address unintended consequences. The results of these code updates ideally resulted in buildings that were safer, more sustainable, and easier to review for code compliance, but most certainly these buildings were more expensive to build.

For many states outside of Pennsylvania, the new 2018 building code was an update of the 2015 building code, and typically went into effect sometime in 2018. In the case of Maryland however, they hope to start considering the 2018 Edition in January 2019.

What’s different about Pennsylvania?

A consortium of legislators and lobbyists had successfully managed to keep Pennsylvania from updating its 2009 building code for nine years, and the approved update (except in Philadelphia) is only to the 2015 building code. Those involved with the building industry will now experience a building code-induced construction cost jump for the first time in almost a decade.

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As with addressing many business issues, timing is critical to effectively manage this cost increase. For projects which the architect, engineer and/or contractor were under contract prior to October 1, 2018 (like the one we are currently designing for this client), the design can use either the 2009 or 2015 code as long as the permit application is submitted by March 31, 2019. All other permit applications on projects that were not under contract by October 1, and are submitted after October 1, 2018, must conform to the 2015 building code (2018 in Philadelphia). I explained to the client that the building code represents minimum requirements.

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For some building owners, there is a social responsibility to construct buildings that are as safe and energy-efficient as economically feasible;  for those building owners, jumping to the new code as soon as possible may make good business sense. In some cases economic feasibility can be achieved with the 2009 code, but not with 2015 code, so the permit submission timing may affect a go/no go decision.

This timing issue should provide impetus to our fast-tracking permit drawings to assure submission prior to March 31. When my client remained skeptical that he could achieve internal approvals so quickly, I offered the tactic of submitting drawings by March 31 even though the design requirements have not yet been fully blessed, and then amend the permit drawings later while still using the 2009 code.

I await the response from our client’s management!

Questions about the new building code? Contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com.

New Process Lines & Used Equipment: Putting It All Together

By David J. Atkins, PE, President | NuTec Design Associates, Inc.

NuTec has worked with many clients looking to expand their process operations, often through the addition of a new line; however, schedule and cost are always overriding issues. One approach to reducing expenses is to conduct research into the used or refurbished equipment market in order to meet the cost restrictions while also meeting schedule restrictions – mainly, needing to be operational “yesterday” and not having the luxury of waiting for new equipment to be fabricated.

This initial time savings and cost reduction obtained through the purchase of used or refurbished equipment can be attractive, provided that you understand exactly what you want – and what you are getting! Here are some key steps in the process:

1. Prepare Preliminary Layout.

A layout of the proposed process must first be created; this will help drive space requirements. An understanding of the required product flow is critical, as are any space constraints that may be present. At this stage you must also determine all the major equipment that will be needed for the process.

2. Determine Equipment Cost / Availability.

Next, you’ll want to research the availability of major equipment on the used/refurbished equipment market. Often it makes sense to bring a consultant on board to assist with this research, as there are many different outlets – online and offline – where this equipment may be obtained. Once you’ve narrowed in on your options, site visits will be necessary to view the equipment and confirm the condition. In addition to the purchase cost, also consider the cost to refurbish motors and other components, delivery costs (and don’t forget about lead times), warranties, etc.

  • You may find that used or refurbished equipment is not an option, forcing you to revisit your plans.

3. Prepare Specifications.

Once you have determined that used/refurbished equipment is available (or new is required), and fits within your cost and schedule limitations, it is critical to gain a thorough understanding of that equipment. What are the dimensions? Which utilities will be required? Where will the access points be located? How will you address replacement parts and establish maintenance requirements? This information should be conveyed to the project team, which comprises engineers, designers, maintenance staff, and operations personnel, among others.

4. Finalize Layout.

This process was initiated with a preliminary layout, and now a final layout must be developed in concert with the engineering team. Any missing pieces or equipment must be identified, and transitions needed for the process must be incorporated into the final design.

  • We’ve found that Building Information Management (BIM) software can be an invaluable tool for laying out processes, allowing our team to identify clearances, access points, maintenance platforms, motor lifting points, operations flow, and space utilization. BIM software (we typically utilize Revit) allows the process to be modeled in three dimensions, creating an effective visualization tool for the entire project team.

5. Fabrication.

Once the design is finalized, the engineering team must help the contractor fabricate necessary transition pieces, so quality data and enhanced visualization tools are important for project success.

Will It Fit?

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“Will it fit?” is a question commonly asked by our clients, who are typically looking to minimize cost and schedule by incorporating a new process into an existing building. For instance, we were approached by one of the world’s largest producers of refractory products about installing a new process line. The product was not present at any facility in North America, and they had 9,000 sq. ft. of space available within an existing manufacturing facility.

The space was not originally designed for production, so it was critical to follow the steps outlined above, including coordination with the owner’s selected used/refurbished equipment consultant. Once we reached the final layout stage, we utilized the power of Revit to model the product line as well as a portion of the existing building, incorporating the equipment and process requirements developed during the previous project stage. Building Information Modeling allowed us to “virtually” construct the process line, and with their staff and our engineering team members, we evaluated the virtual construction and made improvements to the design. This visualization became a powerful tool to enhance project success – and allowed the client to understand what they were getting.

Working within the constraints of an existing building and used or refurbished equipment – much less the sometimes extreme cost and schedule limitations – can create a number of barriers to a successful project. However, when you work with an experienced team that has faced these challenges many times before, you’ll realize the benefits of proper planning, design, specification, visualization, and fabrication.

Looking to expand your process and wondering if used/refurbished equipment will work – or if the line will “fit” into your existing building? Contact me at datkins@nutecgroup.com or 717-434-1505 to discuss your project.

Facility Planning: Knowing What You Don't Know

By F. Joshua Millman, AIA, CFM, LEED AP

For three years our firm had participated in off-and-on discussions with an Ohio-based snack food manufacturer. Originally, the discussions centered around design and construction of a new 250,000 sq. ft. production plant to replace an aging existing facility, which was about the same size. However, when the phone call finally came, it was not what we had hoped; in fact, it was more of a bad news / good news conversation.

The bad news was that corporate management had elected to postpone moving forward with the new facility for five years. At that time, they planned to make a decision about either building a new plant and renovating the existing plant for warehouse and office space, or else fully-renovating the existing manufacturing operation.

Unfortunately, the client had invested very little capital in the existing plant over the prior three years in anticipation of their new “Plant-of-the-Future” becoming a reality. Maintenance was deferred, wherever possible, and replacement of major mechanical and electrical equipment postponed, even though the equipment was well beyond its useful life. Furthermore, there were plenty of retrofits needed to support a growing production schedule for the next several years.

The good news was that the client had decided to commission our firm to conduct a fast-track five-year facility plan to identify the scope of work needed, a schedule for completion, and a budget for the renovations and upgrades.

Based upon the expedited schedule and amount of work required, we developed the following framework:

Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) – Survey of the existing facility to identify all the deferred maintenance items as well as upgrades needed to bring the building into conformance with current SQF, Life-Safety, and ADA codes. We also agreed to look at energy-reduction retrofits that could realize a payback of fewer than five years.

Brainstorming – Meet with all the department managers within the plant to identify all the facility projects required to meet upcoming production, quality, and employee welfare requirements. Special emphasis would be placed on prioritizing renovations necessary to minimize the risk of plant shutdowns due to equipment failures or safety incidents.

Draft Facility Plan – Develop rough scopes and budgets for each of the identified projects. Ultimately, several projects were combined while others were separated into multiple phases. Some projects had to be split into study and implementation phases, as the solution was not readily-apparent and budget projections could range widely until a better investigation of existing conditions and possible solutions were completed.

Finalize Facility Plan – Part of the response to the plan by the occupant managers was to set aside about a third of the projects whose payback period would go beyond Year 5. These projects would be reconsidered if the long-term decision was to renovate the existing building rather than build a new one. Some projects were added, including those that had longer paybacks because they would be needed whether the facility continued as a manufacturing site or was converted to house warehousing and offices.

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Unsurprisingly, of the 95 projects that were identified through the Brainstorming process, all but 20 proposed by the building occupants also appeared on the list from the initial FCA walkthrough.

Our final report presented a schedule and budget for renovations over the next five years, and the estimated cost in Year 6 to fully update the plant. The latter cost would become a benchmark of comparison as part of the decision-making process on whether or not to construct a new replacement facility. How would the cost of extending the life of the existing plant by ten years compare with the all-in costs of building a new plant? The total renovation budget in the plan exceeded our client’s initial projections.  This result likely hinged the long-term decision on the impact to the production schedule of renovating a building in phases during operations while maintaining SQF standards, or moving and recalibrating production and testing equipment.

When the client began this process, they didn’t know what they didn’t know. However, through the combination of a Facility Condition Assessment and Brainstorming with occupant managers, we were able to develop a five-year facilities plan that filled in a lot of the blanks, including budget and schedule, ultimately providing more detail to corporate management to have confidence when making their decision on whether to build new or renovate.

Questions about Facility Condition Assessments or Facility Strategic Planning? Contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com.

Ice Age: Designing for Cold Storage Facilities

by David S. Miller, RA, NCARB

One of the most unique challenges in designing buildings for the Food & Beverage Industry is to provide facilities with low temperature requirements, such as a -20°F freezer. Most people have not experienced temperatures that low. Food, pharmaceutical, and other products sometimes need to be stored at low temperatures to maintain their integrity. Proper building design and construction is critical to keep the next “ice age” from coming within the cold storage facility!


Cold storage spaces have their own unique environmental climates and need to be properly separated from the surrounding spaces; otherwise, condensation, snowing and ice conditions will occur – the referenced “ice age.”  Proper insulation and vapor barrier design and construction are essential to minimize the risk of a building envelope failure, which can lead to loss of temperature control, ice on floors, and water on products.


With low temperature building design, there is a “warm” side and a “cold” side. The greater the temperature difference between the two sides, the greater the risk of moisture infiltration through water vapor transmission. Because of this, it is critically important to maintain the continuity of the envelope. 


Warm air is actually a gas blend that holds moisture. If moisture seeps through the walls around a low-temperature area, this gas will condense on the cold side, forming water and eventually turning to ice and snow.


Nutec was recently hired to visit the site of a freezer/cooler storage facility that was exhibiting these exact challenges. Unfortunately, there was visible evidence of vapor barrier issues – they were either missing altogether or not continuous in the wall assembly, resulting in snow and ice forming at the insulated metal panel joints.


Another pitfall occurs when companies in need of freezer space attempt to convert an existing cooler to freezer use  – often with varied results. Is it cost effective to convert a cooler to a freezer?


Like most things in life, the answer is … it depends.


Coolers and freezers do share a general concept – keeping spaces cooler than ambient room temperature. In practice, they are very different. The requirements for freezers and coolers will vary depending upon the temperature needs of each space. Although the vapor barriers for freezers and coolers are essentially the same, wall and roof insulation thicknesses, floor insulation, and floor warming requirements will vary widely. Coolers are also designed to keep temperatures above +34°F, so moisture within the space will not condense and freeze. 


Coolers do not typically have floor insulation under the entire slab. More common is the presence of perimeter insulation to reduce thermal bridging. Floor warming systems are not required in cooler spaces because of the higher temperatures;  however, for freezer areas, floor warming is a must.

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Moisture falling from ceiling and freezing


Soil contains moisture, so it is critical that freezer floors be separated from the soil. If this doesn’t occur, over time the temperature of the freezer will transmit through the floor slab, and eventually the soil will be at the same temperature of the freezer. Once this happens, soil will freeze and expand, create an ice lens, and result in heaved floor slabs as well as building foundation and column issues. These conditions can be mitigated by installing an insulated floor slab along with floor warming. This floor warming system will heat the soil and prevent it from freezing.


Vapor barriers serve an important role in both coolers and freezers. These vapor barriers need to be continuous and be installed on the warm side of the space in order to keep the moisture vapor temperature from dropping too low. If moisture vapor does penetrate the cold storage space, it behaves differently. Within coolers, this moisture will condense and form water. In freezers, however, the moisture will turn to ice or snow.

Formation of ice stalactites from water vapor

The most critical design elements for freezers are:

  • Floor warming is present to ensure that the soil under the slab and foundations remains above 32°F. Techniques to prevent soil from freezing include vent tubes, electric warming, or heated glycol in tubing beneath the floor insulation.
  • Floor insulation is placed between the floor warming system and the building floor slab. The insulation thickness is dependent upon the freezer temperature. For instance, at -10°F, a minimum of six inches of insulation is recommended. 
  • Building columns that extend through the slab have a thermal break that is equivalent to the floor insulation.
  • A vapor barrier should be present in any facility, but this is absolutely critical for freezer storage facilities. If the vapor barrier is not installed properly or does not have a complete seal, moisture vapor will penetrate into the building, and over time ice will begin forming and expanding.
  • The building location’s annual outside temperatures plays a role in determining insulation thickness, both for walls and roofs. Room temperature is another driver of insulation thickness. For instance, a -10°F freezer in a certain geographic region may require as much as six inches of wall panel insulation and eight to nine inches of roofing insulation. 
  • Wall and roof penetrations through vapor barriers must be completely sealed and properly insulated to minimize the risk of condensation and moisture vapor infiltration. This is particularly challenging at personnel and forklift doors within freezer walls, and at duct penetrations in roofs.

Have you faced any challenges with moisture penetration in your freezer spaces? Looking for best practices to fend off the next “Ice Age”? Contact David S. Miller, RA, via email (linkto: dmiller@nutecgroup.com) or call him at 717-434-1577 to learn more and discuss your project.