When working in the building commissioning sector, in project discussions, you may often hear a person or group of people referred to as the AHJ – the Authority Having Jurisdiction – but who are they and why is it so important to meet their requirements?
One of the primary goals of commissioning is to “bring life to a facility” without compromise or risk to its new occupants but in order for this to occur, you will need a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from the AHJ.
The occupied building or multiple buildings that comprise modern facilities must be granted the CO from the local governing municipality – often referred to as the City or Town — whose governing boards determine the local laws.
In this case, the board assumes the legal position of being the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and this is the origin of the term.
Each Town or City will typically have a building department and employ a person in position of senior Code Enforcement Officer (CEO). This person is the AHJ’s representative and provides a single point of contact for code enforcement maters and is often referred to as the AHJ on job sites.
In most cases, this person will have final say in the issuance of COs and Operational Permits (OPs), which are essential for normal occupancy and the owner’s everyday use of the facilities.
The AHJ approves and issues building permits within their towns’ respective borders and their CEO’s focus is to ensure the safety, well-being, and protection of the community through building code compliance.
The AHJ’s main source for code compliance, adjudication, and enforcement resides in the International Building Code (IBC) but, as well as the IBC, there are numerous other codes, rules, and standards to comply with that the AHJ can site.
And even when the base codes and standards are met, this may not satisfy the CO criteria required by the AHJ. The holder of a building permit that has been approved by the AHJ is required to meet the criteria of the associated design documents. This includes the applicable owners’ specifications and standards. These can have more stringent requirements than code, and unless met, can present issues and delays in achieving CO.
In highly-complex and integrated facilities, certain code compliances can require special considerations when the written code cannot be strictly applied. In this case, resolution is typically achieved through designer approval and AHJ acceptance of engineered Alternative Means and Methods (AM&Ms).
The AHJ is given the authority to adjudicate compliance in such cases by determining if the intent or spirit of the code is met through application of an AM&M. However, don’t confuse an AM&M with a Variance.
A Variance is typically obtained by a builder through a process of legally appealing to a zoning board or examiner in case of ordinance disputes, most often pertaining to property use. AM&Ms are not a change to code. If approved, they are applied in specific situations on a case-by-case basis with extreme exception.
In addition to the quality assurance and control activities of the contactors and quality assurance activities of the owner, the AHJ may retain certain third-party consultants, engineering firms, and specific test and inspection agencies to produce data and information needed for the AHJ and CEO to determine their course.
The scope of these third-party entities is to: review designs, details, calculations, perform tests, inspections, analyze material data, and work processes in accordance with requirements of specific applied building codes and engineering standards. These roles and activities do not replace or negate the requirements of the Commissioning Process (CxP).
Once an OP is issued by the AHJ, the work does not stop there as it is subject to annual renewal.
The annual renewal is generally approved if the owner facilities maintain code compliance and requirements of the issued CO and can require the owner to perform and provide test results for critical life safety systems..
A good project and commissioning plan should take into consideration all the roles and responsibilities necessary for achieving a fully commissioned and operational facility. This should include the roles and processes to produce and provide documentation needed to perform commissioning as planned.
It is important to note the level of AHJ involvement can and does vary greatly from state to state and municipality to municipality. In most, if all applicable building code requirements and specific state and local laws/codes are being met, it is often times the purgative of the local AHJ to determine the level of involvement they require to perform their official duties.
To help a project achieve the benefits of modern “LEAN” strategies, it is imperative commissioning be an integral part of the project pre-design and design so that all future bases are covered to enable the transition from construction to occupancy with efficiency inclusive of the requirements of the AHJ.
The results of well-integrated commissioning processes properly planned and executed will play a major role in providing the designer, owner, and AHJ with the essential information needed to achieve safe occupancy, environmental compliance and a fully-operational factory.