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Some notable changes to the California Building Code (effective January 1 2011 & effective January 2008)

Updated on September 15, 2011

Califonia Green Building Standards 2010

Apply to all new construction.

Changes to the California Residential Code in 2011

California adopted the International Residential Code in January 2011. Below is a summary of some of the resulting changes.

Minimum ceiling height of habitable space is 7'-0"

Door allowed to swing out over one step

No handrail required for steps of 4 risers or less

Handrail no longer needs to continue past the top and bottom risers by one foot- can stop at the top riser and bottom riser

Type 2 handrail added (it's a top 34-38" tall guard on stairs)

Carbon Monoxide detectors required in all residences with fuel burning appliances

Fire Sprinklers are required in all new residences

Some of the changes related to the installation of sprinklers include:

Exterior wall fire separation distances:

This section of the code has been revised from previous code editions because of the requirement for the installation of fire sprinklers in all new dwellings covered under the new California Residential Code (CRC).

Sprinklered Dwellings:

The distance to property line can be reduced when sprinklers are installed. 0’-3’ requires 1-hour wall construction without openings. >3’ no protection is required for these walls.

Non-Sprinklered Dwellings:

0’-3’ requires 1-hour walls
3’-5’ requires 1-hour walls but allows 25% openings
> 5’ no protection measures are required

Vertical Egress:

Habitable levels more than one story above/below the level of an egress door may not have a point that is located more than 50’ from an egress stair.


  • Residential sprinklers are not required in detached garages or carports that do not have occupied space above. Required in every dwelling, including SFD’s. NFPA 13D system compliant.
  • Not req. in unoccupied, concealed space unless space includes fuel burning equipment.
  • Not req. in bathrooms up to 55 sq ft.
  • Not req. in closets/pantries up to 24 sq ft.
  • Not req. in detached garages, carports or exterior porches that do not have habitable space above.
  • Not req. for additions to (e) unsprinklered dwellings.

R 301 – CRC covers all structural requirements for conventional construction.

R301.1.1.1 Alternate provisions for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings

R301.1.3 California licensed architect or engineer required when:

  • R301.1.3.1 - structure deviates from conventional framing
  • R301.1.3.2 - woodframe structure exceeds two-stories
  • R301.1.3.3 - structures are other than woodframe

R301.2.2.1 – New seismic design categories.

TABLE R301.2(1) – Complete table with local requirements applicable for climate, topography & geographic conditions.

R302.1 – Exterior walls.

Table R302.1(1) – Dwelling & Accessory buildings without automatic residential fire sprinkler protection

Table R302.1(2) – Dwelling & Accessory buildings with automatic residential fire sprinkler protection

R302.5 & 6 – Occupancy separation between dwelling and garage or carport.
o Exception – Door only required to be self-closing & self-latching if garage & dwelling unsprinklered. (solid core, 20 minute not required)

R302.9.5 –Stability. Requires interior finish material to remain fastened in place for not less than 30 minutes when subjected to 200 degrees F.

R303.1 –Added items #4 & #5 allow windows other than emergency egress windows to open into passive solar energy collectors with increased area for glazing and ventilation to compensate for area required for interior space.

R303.8 – Required Heating – 68 degrees F, 3 feet above floor and 2 feet from exterior walls in all habitable rooms

R309.4 – Automatic garage door openers must be listed.

R309.5 – Garage door springs – per Section 1211 CBC

R309.6 –Fire sprinklers for carports & garages

R311.4 – Max travel distance of 50 feet from floors above or below the first floor. (CA HCD)

Note: in 2008 the requirement for a second means of egress from a third floor was eliminated, this revision simply requires that a second means of egress is required if the travel distance to the first stairs is more than 50'. (in which case you might want to have a second stair anyway)

R311.7.7 – Handrails - only one side required, can be on top of 36" high guard (old mushroom cap style,) only need to extend from top riser to bottom riser. (not 12" past top and bottom)

R312.2 – 42” high guardrails. (34" high guardrails allowed at stairs.)

R313.2 – Residential Fire Sprinklers required in all new construction.

R315 – Smoke and Carbon monoxide alarms required. Required for new and alterations over $1000.

R317 – Field cut, notched, drilled treated wood must be field treated.

R322 – Flood-resistant Construction – Consider FEMA requirements and local ordinances. Note

R322.1.9 – deleted from IRC and not part of CRC. IRC

R322.19 addresses Manufactured Homes in the Floodplain.

R325 – Requirements for Licensed 24-hour Care Facilities in Group R-3.1. (CA SFM)

R326 – Requirements for Large Family day-care homes. (CA SFM)

R327 – Wildland Urban Interface completely revised (CA HCD)

  • Applies to all new construction with WUI area and add/alt’s to compliant homes
  • Ignition Resistance
  • Attic/underfloor vents 1/16”- 1/8” or special vents. Special vents w/in 12’ of grade
  • Exterior door and window protection
  • Exterior walls, roofs, decks
  • IRM better defined- no spray coatings
  • 2x rafter tails and sheathing may be exposed at eaves
  • 2x fascia boards permitted.

R401.4.1.1 –Geotechnical evaluation.

R401.4.1.1 – Foundations & soils investigation required per H&SC 17953 & 17955 (CA)

R401. – Preliminary soil report – Ordinance required

R401. – Soil investigation by lot – critically expansive soil

R401. – Approval, building permit conditions. Local Appeals Board R403.1.8 – Foundation on expansive soil – Design required with CBC 1808.6

TableR403.3 (1) – Frost Protected Footings – 2000 Air Freezing Index – Sierra & Nevada Counties

R505 – Steel floor framing requirements

R602.10 – Connection requirements for block wall to roof framing. New blocking requirements.

R602.10 – Wall Bracing requirements allows angled corners, out of plane, max 8 ft.

R602.10 – Let in-bracing not allowed in Seismic Categories D and E.

R602.10 – Portal frame hold down and garage not allowed in Seismic categories D and E. Engineering req.

R603 – Steel Framing- extensive section with many details.

R601.3 – Vapor Retarders – Class I or II required in CZ 14 & 16 T24, Part 6

R601.3.1 – Class III vapor retarders

R602.10.5.4 – Continuously sheathed braced wall lines in SDC D0, D1, and D2 or 100 mph wind design require design in accordance with CBC.

R606.1.1 – Masonry Construction – requires all construction documents stamped and signed by California licensed architect or engineer. B&P code 5537.1 & 6737.1

R611.1 – Exterior concrete walls - requires all construction documents stamped and signed by California licensed architect or engineer. B&P code 5537.1 & 6737.1

R613.1 – Structural Insulated Panels - requires all construction documents stamped and signed by California licensed architect or engineer. B&P code 5537.1 & 6737.1

R806.4 – Unvented attics. Permitted with conditions 1-5.

R807.1 – Attic access. See CMC where mechanical equip located in attic.

R902.1.1 – Roof Coverings – Very-High Fire Hazard Severity Zones

R902.1.2 – Roof Coverings – State Responsibility Areas

R902.1.3 – Roof Coverings – All other areas.

R902.1.4 – Roof coverings – Wildland-Urban Interface area.

R902.2 – Fire-retardant-treated shingles & shakes. UBC STD 15-3 or 15-4, ICC- ES EG 107, H&SC 13132.7 (j) Table

R1001.1– Category “C” deleted from footnote “b”.

R1003.9.1– Spark Arrestors. All fuel-burning appliances require spark arrestors. 12-gauge wire added to screen material Chapter 44

Changes to the CBC in 2011

The following brief list of some changes from the 2008 to the 2010 California Building Code is not inclusive. Please refer to the particular code section for the complete text.

SECTION 308 – Group I-1 (buildings housing clients) eliminated. 24 hr residential care moved to R2.1, section 310.1. (CA)

SECTION 403 – High-rise buildings expanded to include Group I-2 occupancies having occupied floors located more than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access

SECTION 419New section: Live/Work Units

  • Limitations
  • Occupancies
  • Means of egress
  • Openings,
  • Fire protection
  • Structural
  • Accessibility
  • Ventilation

SECTION 420 – Groups R-1, R-2, R-2.1, R-3, R-3.1, & R-4

Separation between dwellings and other occupancies 420 – R2.1 “Assisted Living” no longer I-1 occupancy.

  • Fire resistive construction
  • Licensed 24 hour care facilities
  • Smoke barriers
  • Fire barriers
  • Fire sprinklers
  • 1 hour corridors

SECTION 421 - Hydrogen Cutoff Rooms

SECTION 422 – Ambulatory Health Care Facilities

Group B Amb. Health Care Facilities (w/5 or fewer incapable of self preservation)

  • Smoke Barriers
  • Refuge Area
  • Independent Egress
  • Automatic Sprinkler systems
  • Fire Alarm Systems

SECTION 423 – Storm Shelters (New Section) - must comply with ICC-500

SECTION 424 – Special provisions for hotels. (CA HCD)

TABLE 508.2.5 – “Incidental Accessory Occupancies” per table.

SECTION 509 – New rules for podium buildings.

SECTION 703.5 – Fire-resistance-rated glazing

SECTION 703.6 – Marking and identification: Label Fire and smoke barrier every 30 feet

SECTION 704 - Fire-Resistance Rating of Structural Members

SECTION 704.13 – New requirements for Sprayed Fire-resistant Materials (CA SFM)

SECTION 705.5 – Fire rating of exterior walls - The fire resistance rating of of exterior walls with a fire separation distance of less than or equal to 10 feet shall be rated for exposure to fire from both sides

CH 7A – Materials and construction methods for exterior wildfire exposure.(Changes)

SECTION 913 – Fire pumps. (New Section)

SECTION 914 – Emergency responder safety features. (New Section)

SECTION 915 – Emergency responder radio coverage.(New Section)

SECTION 1005.1 – Egress Width: stairways - .3”/occupant and egress width - .2”/occupant with no reduction for sprinklers.

SECTION 1017 – Aisles. (New section)

SECTION 1019 – Egress Balconies. (New section)

SECTION 1024 – Luminous Egress Path Markings.(New Section)

SECTION 1028 – Applies to assembly occupancies accessory to Group E occupancies.

SECTION 1029 – Rescue Windows (CA exceptions) Ch 11A and 11B – very few changes in disabled access requirements. See the 2009 Supplement 1104A – Renamed - “Covered Multifamily Dwellings”.

SECTION 1105A – Garages, Carports and Parking Facilities. (Renamed)

SECTION 1802.2 – Site specific soils reports. 1809 – New section - shallow foundations.

SECTION 1810 – New Section - deep foundations.

SECTION 2308 – Conventional construction is restricted in seismic categories D and E.

SECTION 3008 – Occupant Evacuation Elevators Part 7 – Elevator Safety Code removed from CBC Part 2. (CA)

Some localized changes of note

According to Gary Lin at the City of Oakland:

The City of Oakland has adopted the 2010 California Codes with amendments.  In those amendments, we have taken out the requirement that all decks be constructed of one-hour fire rating or protected with sprinkler heads.  There still is a requirement for fire rating if the deck is in the region of the property that windows are not allowed (ie. with 3’ of p/l for residential).

Here’s a link that would lead you to the Oakland Amendments to the 2010 California Codes (13047 CMS):

Changes in 2008

One and Two Family Dwellings

1) Rise and run of stairs - Maximum allowable rise is 7¾ inches, minimum allowable run is 10 inches - existing stairs can be replaced in kind in some circumstances. (The current code allows 8" maximum rise, 9" minimum run.) (Sec. 1009.3)

2) Projections into required stairway are allowed up to 4 ½", below the handrail. (Current code allows only 2½ inches.) (Sec. 1012.7)

3) Guards (formerly guardrails) are required to be 42" high in all occupancies. On the open side of stairs, a 34-38" high guard is allowed when the top rail also serves as a handrail. (The current code allows 36" high guardrails.) (Sec. 1013.1)

4) Spiral stairs may be used as a second exit within dwelling units without limitation to size of floor area served. (Existing code limited floor area served to 400 square feet.) (Sec 1009.80)

5) Light and ventilation requirements are reduced - Required light is now based on 8% of the floor area; required ventilation is based on 4% of floor area. Mechanical ventilation is permitted in lieu of natural ventilation. (The current code requirement is 10% for natural light and 5% for natural ventilation.) (Sec. 1205.2 and 1203.4)

6) Minimum heating requirement is now 68 degrees at a point 3' above the floor. (Current code is 70 degrees). (Sec. 1204.1)

7) Required minimum distance for un-rated walls and unprotected openings from property line is now 5 feet or more. If closer than 3', walls are required to be one hour and no openings are permitted. When the wall is located between 3' - 5' to the property line, protected and unprotected openings of up to 25% of the area of the wall are allowed. Openings are required to be protected with a ¾ hour rated assembly. Openings less than 1296 square inches, and height and width less than 54" respectively, may be protected with steel frames with ¼ inch wired glass. (Tables 704.8 and 715.5)

8) Emergency Egress and rescue window - Minimum required square footage for the window is reduced from 5.7 square feet to 5.0 square feet for grade floor openings. All other required dimensions are the same as current code. (Sec. 1026.2)

9) Doors - The minimum clear width for required egress doors is 32" with a height of 80". (Clarifies current code requirement.) (Sec. 1008.1.1)

10) Required wall rating between the garage and living space may be protected with ½" Type X drywall. (Current code requires 5/8"type X drywall.) (Sec. 406.1.4)

11) Minimum kitchen gross floor area is now 50 sq. ft. with a minimum clearance of 3' between counters and appliances or counters and walls. (Current code has no minimum floor area or clearance). (Sec. 1208.3 and 1208.1)

12) Attic access opening - Minimum dimensions reduced to 20" x 30" net clear opening. (Current code requires 22" x 30" opening.) (Sec. 1209.2)

13) Second exit from 3rd story no longer required (R-3 only) - Only one exit required regardless of the number of stories or how many square feet per story. (Current code requires 2nd exit for 3rd story over 500 sq. ft.) (Sec. 1019.2 #2)

14) Minimum ceiling heights for storage and laundry rooms have been established at 7'0", the same as for kitchens and bathrooms. Ceiling heights for occupable and habitable spaces remains at 7'6". (Current code is silent on storage and laundry rooms). (Sec. 1208.2)

Structural code changes of note:

2304.11.2.2 Wood supported by exterior foundation walls. Wood framing members, including wood sheathing, that rest on exterior foundation walls and are less than 8" from exposed earth shall be of naturally durable or preservative treated wood.

Fire Resistance Rating Requirements:

From Table 602:

When the fire separation difference in residential construction is less than 5', exterior walls must be one hour rated. (The definition of fire separation distance is the distance from the building to the property line.)

In residential construction, the most common way to achieve a 1-hour rated exterior wall is by installing a layer of gypsum sheathing directly under the siding material and 5/8 Type-X sheet rock on the inside of the stud wall.

This provision applies to accessory structures as well as main building.

Commercial Buildings:

1) Sprinklers - Can be used in more situations • For both height and area increases. (Current code can be used for either height or area increase, but not both). (Chapter 5) • In lieu of rated corridors when building is fully sprinklered. (Table 1017.1) • To reduce exit separation to 1/3rd of the diagonal distance of the area served (Table 704.8) 3

2) Height of multi-story wood frame buildings - Depending upon site conditions, wood frame buildings could be constructed up to 70 feet in height. (Current code limits the height to 50 feet). The allowable number of stories remains at four. (Chapter 5)

3) Area of multi-story wood frame buildings - Allowable area provisions have been made less restrictive. (Chapter 5)

4) Exterior wall openings - major changes, allowing combination of protected and unprotected openings depending on the actual area of openings and fire separation distance. (Table 704.8) *Effective January 1, 2008. This list does not constitute a complete list of all the code changes. The above information is provided as a tool to assist homeowners, contractors and others in becoming aware of some of the most frequently encountered changes. Further Assistance: Go to our website for a 43 page cross-reference listing of many of the changes from the 1997 UBC to the 2007 IBC. The list does not include the California amendments, which can be found on the websites of the adopting agencies of the State of California. Publications: Codes and related publications may be purchased at many booksellers and online, including the International Code Council at or Builders Booksource 1817 4th Street, Berkeley or online at Training: Professional organizations such as California Building Officials, International Code Council, American Institute of Architects, Structural Engineers Association of Northern California and some local community colleges provide seminars or classes to assist the design and construction community in learning the new code requirements. Industry professionals, including licensed architects, contractors, registered engineers, plan checkers and inspectors have a professional and legal obligation to learn code requirements. G:\CODES\FORMS\2008 California Building Codes some changes.doc 4

General Provisions

1) Occupancy Classifications - Classifications have been renamed, deleted, added. (Chapter 3)

2) Construction Types - Have been renamed and revised. (Chapter 6)

3) Allowable Areas & Heights - Have been substantially revised. (Chapter 5)

4) Fire/Life Safety Provisions - Have been substantially revised including substantial changes in terminology.

5) 2-Volume Code - Volume 1, Chapters 1-15; Volume 2, Chapters 16-35 and Appendices.

6) New structural provisions - The current 2001 California Building Code, which is based on 1997 Uniform Building Code, contains complete structural design provisions for concrete, masonry, steel, and wood structures. The 2007 California Building Code that becomes effective on January1, 2008, and is based on 2006 International Building Code, relies on adoption by reference to national standards, such as ASCE 7-05, for load determination and material-specific design requirements. All standards referenced in the 2007 CBC are listed alphabetically in Chapter 35 and are considered part of the code. 2007 CBC is geared towards Load and Resistance Factor Design (LFRD). The main changes are in steel and wood design. For steel construction 2007 CBC relies upon AISC 360-06 National Standard, which combines LRFD and ASD (Allowable Stress Design) into a single unified steel design specification. For wood construction 2007 CBC relies upon NDS-05, which also combines LRFD and ASD into a single unified wood design specification. Technical provisions for wind and seismic load design have been completely rewritten, removed from 2007 CBC, and are located in ASCE 7-05. 1

7) References - No references are reproduced or restated in the code. All references are in separate publications and conforming to national standards from a variety of organizations including ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction), NDS (National Design Specification for wood construction), ACI (American Concrete Institute), MSJC (Masonry Standards Joint Committee), ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), etc. (Chapter 35 contains the Referenced Standards).

8) Design Professional of Record. New definition of Registered Design Professional has been established in Chapter 2. The responsibilities of the Design Professional in Responsible Charge are defined in Section 106.3.4 of the Appendix Chapter 1.


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      4 years ago

      A FISHER SAVED MY LIFE! After my mother's death in 1987 I was very desrpesed. I had lost faith in myself and in life and ended up farming my 2 teenage kids out to friends and going homeless myself. Home, as it were, became the woods of Phippsburg, Maine, where I pitched a tent and furnished it with a cot, a lantern and a camping stove. I kept my clothes in plastic bags. Well, I had been there through the summer and fall, and now it was late November. It was getting very cold and icy rains were falling hard. In fact, I was woken up about midnight one night and the rain was coming down so hard I thought it would flatten the tent. I thought I'd better get up and check the tent poles. So I flung my foot over the side of my cot and, to my utter shock, it plunged into frigid water about half way up my calf! So I yanked it back and grabbed my flashlight. When I swept the inside of the tent with the beam I saw a strange site all of my plastic bags of clothes were floating here and there. The tent was filling with water! I burst into tears and probably added another few inches of water to the flood. But incredibly despite how awful things were, the next day I STILL couldn't bring myself to rent an apartment even though I had $10,000 in the bank! That's how messed up I was. It was going to take something even worse to motivate me. Here's what finally levered me out of my emotional morass: it was the middle of the night, just a few nights later Thanksgiving eve I recall and I was jerked awake by the most god-awful sound. It sounded like a women being murdered and shrieking in the most utter agony! Could it really be that? But then I remembered that there was a local legend about The Phippsburg Shrieker, which was described as a yeti-like monster. And that scared me even more! In any case, it sounded so close that I thought for sure it whether it was a murderer or a monster was going to rip my tent open and kill me! I lay wide awake and shaking, huddled in my sleeping bag, clutching my open jack knife, all night. But that did it. I had finally had enough. So when, the dawn eventually broke an eternity later I took a cautious peek outside, and seeing that the coast was clear, I dove into action: broke camp; threw my gear in my truck; barreled to the nearby town of Bath and rented the first place I looked at which was a half of a duplex on Elm Street. Then I got my stuff out of storage and my kids from friends and we moved in. The place was a dump (but with good-bones ) and my kids dubbed it The Nightmare on Elm Street. But I was so happy to be inside where it was warm and dry, and to have my children with me again that I didn't care. And besides, I love to do extreme make-overs. (This turned out to be very extreme but worth it.) So, on the wings of my new found gratitude and abundance attitude I #1 turned the dump into into a palace, #2 started a new successful business, and #3 transformed my nightmare life into a dream. However, it wasn't until the following June, when I went back to Phippsburg for my birthday celebration, that I discovered exactly what it was that I had heard that terrifying night the November before. My family and I were seated in Spinney's restaurant ordering a lobster dinner and looking out at the sunset over the water. While we were waiting for our meal to come I got talking with some folks at the next table. They were local people I knew slightly. And in the course of conversation I shared the story of my encounter with the Phippsburg Shrieker. As I wrapped it up, I noticed the family exchanging knowing glances and grins. Then, after hemming and hawing a bit the father explained, Ayuh, we git rid of a lot of folks-from-away with thet monst-ah myth. But since you ahn't from too-o-o far away, I'll let you in on the truth. The Shriek-ah is really just a FISH-AH. Ayuh, ayuh, ayuh. Well, we all had a good laugh about that and ever since I have loved fishers, because if it hadn't been for The Phippsburg Shrieker they'd have probably have found my frozen body in that tent come spring.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be really something that I feel I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next publish, Ill try to get the cling of it! dkbfkagddecf

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      are manufactured homes exempt from sprinklers in a wui area? if so where can I get that copy

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well written and informative. Why were so many codes made less restrictive? Like why reduce window space re light and ventilation? Reduce attic access hole size? Hmmmm

    • profile image

      Cheryl Regina 

      11 years ago

      This is a good source of information. Thanks for sharing.


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