Amid one of the most impactful pandemics this nation has ever faced, one lesson that continues to be compounded is public buildings need to be updated to provide citizens with a sense of security in order to encourage an economic recovery. However, it is not enough to simply address society’s current needs — such as those brought on by COVID-19. It is important to consider both the ongoing and future concerns, as well. 

As the industry’s model baseline for safe and reliable construction regulations, the International Code Council’s family of comprehensive coordinated codes and standards addresses issues ranging from protecting communities against man-made or natural hazards to social topics, such as toilet rooms that are designated for use by everyone, regardless of sex. After all, buildings need to be designed with resiliency, sustainability and longevity in mind, while also prioritizing usability with unrestrained and unlimited access by all. 

Understanding this, the Code Council, through its open code development process where anyone is eligible to submit a code change proposal, continues to innovate the International Codes (I-Codes) to encompass the needs of society as a whole. 

The voting ICC membership approved three specific code changes that were submitted during the 2018-2020 code development process. The proposals led to progressive design details and options being incorporated into the 2021 International Plumbing Code (IPC). These updates offer guidance to designers on how to provide toilet rooms that are available for anyone and everyone to use. Specifically, the code changes impact how minimum fixtures are calculated, distributed and located, as well as who may have access to the rooms in which they are installed.

Breaking down the details

The building code, and subsequent plumbing code, detail how to perform fixture calculations. They explain to first divide the total occupancy in half and then apply the number of correlating fixtures for males and females as prescribed in the “minimum required fixtures” table. It also requires that when calculating the minimum number of required fixtures to always “round up” if the resulting number contains any fraction of a whole number. However, there has been a longstanding exception to this provision which allows for statistical data to be applied that demonstrates an imbalance in the distribution of sexes for a particular occupancy. 

The 2021 edition of the IPC has a new exception that incorporates “multi-user facilities that serve all genders.” This exception requires that when calculating the minimum number of fixtures for any “multi-user facility” designed to serve all genders, the fixture count shall be calculated based on 100% of the total occupant load. Additionally, each fixture type shall be in accordance with ICC A117.1 and each urinal that is provided shall be located either in a stall or in an area visually separated from the remainder of the facility.

Another exception was added to the same section that says the distribution of the sexes is not required where single-user water closets and bathing room fixtures are provided. In addition, new language was provided regarding single-user toilet and bathing room fixtures, which states that the total number of required fixtures shall be permitted to include separate facilities, or on the aggregate of any combination of single-user or separate facilities. 

While the IPC had once indicated that separate facilities shall be provided for each sex, it now contains six exceptions to that provision. Two of which were added through the 2018-2020 code change process. One exempts single-user toilet rooms and says they will not be required to be designated by sex, provided they are installed in accordance with Section 403.1.2. The other added exception says separate facilities will not be required so long as there are rooms with both water closets and lavatory fixtures that are designed for use by both sexes and privacy for water closets as required by Section 405.3.4. 

Lastly, the 2021 edition of the IPC has new language that says all single-user toilet rooms and bathing rooms (including family assisted) shall be identified as available to all persons regardless of their sex. 

Looking ahead

Going beyond the initial concern the codes were intended to address, these important, newly added details will assist greatly in the many aspects associated with toilet room design and construction. In fact, these changes are the first and only model regulations to embrace broader adaptability in minimum plumbing fixture applications and toilet room designs. 

The flexibility provided through the alternatives, which incorporate the latest technologies and design methods to serve the entire population, shows an understanding of where society may be headed and will help builders better design for the future in the most cost-effective manner. Understanding the importance of these codes, the full provisions within IPC, along with the full suite of 2021 I-Codes, can soon be viewed online on the Code Council website. 

Yet, this could just be the beginning. With the needs of society constantly evolving, in order for the codes to truly be forward-looking, it will require input from not only professionals across the building industry such as tradespeople, building and fire code officials, architects, engineers, etc., but concerned citizens as well. Therefore, the I-Codes are developed on a three-year cycle which features a highly collaborative and transparent process that is currently underway for the 2024 editions.