Wisconsin’s Revised Commercial Building Code: A summary of code changes

As you are probably aware, the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) has now completed promulgation of Wisconsin’s Commercial Building Code (SPS 361 to 366). The final rule became effective on May 1, 2018.

Primarily, the rule revisions update the model building codes from the 2009 to the 2015 editions of the model codes produced by the International Code Council (ICC). The revisions also update the adopted technical standards and incorporate legislative requirements since the last rule revision, such as 2013 Wisconsin Act 270, 2015 Wisconsin Act 240, and 2015 Wisconsin Act 333.

In 2015, DSPS staff, along with the governor-appointed members of the Commercial Building Code Council, began a methodical and comprehensive review of the commercial building code. The council members consisted of building inspectors, contractors, architects, engineers, designers, and experts in the building trades and fire service. Over the following year, the council reviewed outdated standards incorporated by reference in chapters SPS 361 to 366 and researched thousands of significant changes contained in the 2012 and 2015 editions of the model building codes and their associated standards. The council looked to identify requirements that could impose an undue financial burden that did not appear to be offset by improved life-safety or cost savings.

After reviewing the council’s recommendations and nearly 300 written comments received during the three public hearings held around the state, DSPS ultimately adopted approximately 95 percent of the new changes in the 2015 ICC model codes. The Department determined about 40 of the new ICC changes would have an adverse effect on stakeholders. The code was then modified accordingly. These modifications – or exceptions to the model codes – are commonly referred to as “Wisconsinisms.” These modifications to the 2015 model building code provisions are not required under Wisconsin’s revised 2015 commercial building code as a new provision in the rule allows owners and designers to voluntarily implement a more recent edition of the model building code suite than what is adopted in the commercial building code. If this option is used, the more recent editions of the model code suite must be used in their entirety, including any updated referenced standards.

The following paragraphs provide an overview of many of the substantial changes that are included in each chapter of the updated commercial building code:

Chapter SPS 361 establishes standards for the administration and application of the commercial building code relating to plan submittal and approval, procedures for submitting petitions for variance, inspection, product and standard review and approval, and rules that allow local jurisdictions to examine plans and inspect buildings. Revisions to this chapter include the following modifications:

SPS 361.05 updates the model building codes used in chapters SPS 361 to 366 from the 2009 edition to the 2015 edition of the model building codes.

SPS 361.30 clarifies industry practice for calculating total building volume.

SPS 361.36 (1) (g) clarifies that plan approval for bleachers and canopies will expire two years after the approval date.

SPS 361.40 (3) (b) requires the owner to retain a new supervising professional within 30 days if the supervising professional withdraws from a construction project.

SPS 361.41 (1) creates a provision for on-site inspections to be conducted within five business days, when required, and permits construction to proceed if the inspection has not been completed within that timeframe.

SPS 361, Subchapter V is created to establish procedures for approving and inspecting modular multifamily dwellings and their components. Standards for modular dwellings are established as part of Wisconsin’s uniform dwelling code. However, this revision recognizes that standards for multifamily dwellings are established under chapters SPS 361 to 366 and incorporates requirements into the commercial building code.

SPS 361.51 (8) is created to allow building owners and design professionals to use a more recent edition of the model building codes in lieu of the code edition adopted under SPS 361.05 if the model building code is used in its entirety and the code is identified in plan documents. Currently, a building owner or design professional must either submit a petition for variance or a request to use an alternate standard under SPS 361.51 to use a more current version of a building code. This provision allows the use of such code without requiring payment of a separate fee or application. Municipalities are permitted to contract with a third-party inspection agency to perform plan reviews.

Chapter SPS 362 amends the 2015 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) and includes the following modifications:

SPS 362.0306 permits the production or manufacturing area of cheese factories to be classified as a group F-2 occupancy.

SPS 362.0423 eliminates the mandatory storm shelter requirements in Wisconsin. If a storm shelter is provided, it shall be constructed in accordance with ICC 500.

SPS 362.0504 creates an exception from height and story requirements for A-2 occupancies listed under SPS 362.0903 (18) (b) 2. relating to sprinkler exemptions for repurposed agricultural buildings located on a farm premise.

SPS 362.0506 is necessary to correct an error that appears in the 2015 IBC Table 506.2 for I-3, Type IIA construction.

SPS 362.0903 (5) modifies the automatic sprinkler requirements for multifamily dwellings to attempt to align the building code requirements with s. 101.14 (4m) (b) 2., Stats.

SPS 362.0903 (12) to (17) creates some exemptions from, or clarifies requirements for, automatic fire sprinkler systems under certain conditions and occupancies.

SPS 362.0903 (18) creates an exemption from fire sprinkler requirements in certain buildings, including rural banquet halls, restaurants, taverns, and bars, farm buildings temporarily or permanently repurposed for use for weddings or similar events, places of religious worship, and cabins, camp or lodge buildings that do not have access to a municipal water supply to operate a fire sprinkler system. This section also creates a new administrative option that will allow for buildings not exempt from fire sprinkler requirements under current IBC requirements to build without a sprinkler system and without seeking a petition for variance if the building meets the Wisconsin requirements and limitations and is approved by the local commercial building inspector and fire code official.

SPS 362.1010 (3) modifies the requirements under IBC section 1010.1.10 relating to installation of panic and fire exit hardware on doors in electrical rooms.

SPS 362.1013 creates an exemption from the requirements for floor-level exit signs.

SPS 362.1015 clarifies where guards located along elevated open-sided walking surfaces are required, including roofs.

SPS 362.1107 modifies the requirements under IBC section 1107.7.2 and maintains 2009 IBC requirements related to multistory units by eliminating the requirement for additional living spaces to be located on the accessible level.

SPS 362.1210 (2m), 362.2900 (3), 362.2901, and 362.2902 modify the requirements relating to privacy screens or partitions for urinals and water closets, providing for urinals to be substituted for water closets, and allowing the minimum number of toilet fixtures to be provided in unisex toilet rooms.

SPS 362.1405 (1m) and (2m) modifies the requirements under IBC section 1405.3.1 to require that Class I or II vapor retarders be provided on the interior side of frame walls and ceiling assemblies and extends vapor retarder requirements to ceiling assemblies, providing requirements that are consistent with the Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC).

SPS 362.1809 exempts floating slabs used with non-masonry, unheated, single-story buildings that are less than 12,000 square feet and utilized for low occupant load or unoccupied minor storage from requirements for frost protection of foundations.

Chapter SPS 363 adopts the 2015 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and modifies provisions from the IECC or ASHRAE 90.1 to adapt to Wisconsin’s needs. The 2015 IECC lays out the energy requirements for residential and commercial buildings in separate sections, which is substantially different than the 2009 IECC. Consequently, many of the modifications to SPS 363 were to renumber provisions to correspond to the new numbering system used in the 2015 IECC. This chapter also modifies the 2015 IECC requirements and retains the requirements from the 2009 IECC for the prescriptive compliance method due to cost concerns. Although this chapter modifies the 2015 IECC, the excluded provisions may be voluntarily implemented in a building project. Additional modifications to this chapter include:

Modifies certain insulation requirements related to the building envelope, efficiency package options, and total energy performance compliance requirements (SPS 363.0402, 363.0406, 363.0407, 363.5402, and 363.5403 (3)).

SPS 363.0401 excludes automatic receptacle control requirements under ASHRAE 90.1 section 8.4.2 from the requirements.

SPS 363.0403 (6) to (11) modify requirements relating to building mechanical systems.

SPS 363.0403 (9), 363.0404 (5), and 363.0408) modify requirements relating to system commissioning.

SPS 363.0405, 363.0503, and 363.5404 modify requirements relating to high-efficiency lighting and lighting controls.

Chapter SPS 364 establishes standards related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning requirements and modifies provisions from the 2015 edition of the International Mechanical Code (IMC). Revisions include:

SPS 364.0202 is revised to include new definitions for “enclosed parking garage,” “living area,” and “motorized vehicle” and revises the definition of health care facility to include community-based residential facility.

SPS 364.0309 (3) allows spot heating to be used to heat individual work stations in an industrial building in lieu of heating the entire space if the design temperature at the station is at least 60 degrees.

SPS 364.0401 clarifies how the distance of intake openings from the lot line should be measured.

SPS 364.0403 (5) (d) 4. provides an exception to air exchange requirements.

SPS Table 364.0403 is modified to update ventilation requirements and explanatory notes for nail salons, aircraft hangars, enclosed parking garages, and warehouses. This section also clarifies that a mezzanine floor area open to a service or repair area may not be included as floor area when determining the exhaust rate from a room or space.

SPS 364.0404 revises mechanical ventilation requirements for enclosed parking garages to provide additional options and clarify current requirements for ventilating enclosed parking garages over those required in the IMC.

SPS 364.0505 and 364.0507 (1) to (3) creates exemptions and modifies the requirements under IMC section 505.4 relating to domestic and commercial kitchen exhaust equipment.

SPS 364.0602 modifies the requirements under IMC section 602.2.1.1 relating to non-combustible materials within plenums.

SPS 364.0607 (1m) creates new language describing a condition under which supply and return smoke dampers shall be closed.

SPS 364.0802 creates an exemption for the requirements under IMC section 802.9 relating to door swing.

Chapter SPS 365 establishes standards for the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of fuel gas piping systems and utilization equipment, and gaseous hydrogen systems and adopts the 2015 edition of the International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC). The rule revision clarifies that barometric dampers may not be used for combustion air and creates an exemption from the requirements relating to door swings, which compliment requirements in chapter SPS 364. This rule revision also clarifies language related to unvented heaters and updates the reference to the ANSI Z223.1/NFPA 54 standard.

Chapter SPS 366 establishes standards for the repair, alteration, change of occupancy, addition, or relocation of existing buildings and adopts the 2015 edition of the International Existing Building Code (IEBC). This rule revision renumbers provisions to reflect changes in numbering between the 2009 and 2015 editions and makes the following revisions:

SPS 366.1102 creates new language that allow buildings that meet the legacy Wisconsin unlimited area provisions to have unlimited area additions without a separating firewall.

SPS 366.1204 exempts historic buildings from building envelope requirements in the IECC except for certain provisions outlined in the rule.

SPS 366.1401 (4) creates an additional requirement under IEBC section 1401.2 relating to providing plumbing fixtures in quantities specified in the IBC if occupant load increases by more than 20 percent.

The Department feels the final building code strikes a balance between the safety of Wisconsin’s citizens while keeping building costs affordable. This same sentiment is summed up by several stakeholders who wrote in their public hearing testimony, “We commend the contractors, building inspectors, fire chiefs, skilled building trade professionals, and engineers that have spent the better part of the past two years serving on the Commercial Building Code Council. The Council applied their significant combined valuable experience and ensured an inclusive, transparent process that included the views of all interested parties. The result is a consensus up-to-date Building Code that strengthens public health and safety while achieving economic value.”

The Department encourages stakeholders to visit the DSPS website at dsps.wi.gov (click on Self-Service) and subscribe to receive electronic notifications of DSPS news, updates, and notices. Recently, the Division of Industry Services (DIS) disseminated a notification pertaining to new “insert pages” for chapters SPS 361 to 366 that have been found to be helpful to identify the various Wisconsinisms. The insert pages, along with several new and updated FAQs pertaining to the code update and related topics, may be accessed under the Publications section of Commercial Buildings page of the DSPS website.

By Mindy Allen, Administrative Rules Coordinator – Division of Policy Development, and Steve Dobratz, Section Chief – Division of Industry Services, Department of Safety and Professional Services

Note: The Wisconsin legislature recently passed several pieces of legislation after the final rules were adopted. This legislation includes 2017 Wisconsin Acts 59, 198, 243, 317, 329, 330, and 331. Consequently, these requirements were not included in the rule package and will require future rule-making to update the commercial building code to reflect this legislation. The final commercial building code is available on the legislative website at docs.legis.wisconsin.gov

Recommended Articles
Safety (articles and papers)


Stop Falls Stand-Down week is May 6 to 10
Articles & Papers


Trenching and excavation safety is a year-round responsibility
Articles & Papers


More than just money: Tap into your business banker for financial success