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New Handicapped Accessibility Design Tools

The United States Access Board has prepared computer animations to help designers understand the reasons for the standards that have been established for wheelchair maneuvering, wheelchair maneuvering at doorways, accessible toilet rooms and accessible bathing facilities.

While it is important for designers of handicapped accessibility improvements to follow the code that is enforced in the jurisdictions of their projects, it’s often helpful to know why a regulation exists rather than simply following the letter of the code. I find this to be especially important when trying to retrofit existing buildings to make them accessible for wheelchair users.

These videos can be also helpful for building owners who wish to improve the handicapped accessibility of their homes or businesses but are concerned about costs and don’t wish to embark on a project which is larger and more complicated than absolutely necessary.

Building owners may also benefit by viewing these videos before performing maintenance on their premises. Often, changes made years after a new building has been approved and occupied (e.g. non-compliant faucets, door hardware, toilet paper and towel dispensers and objects places in required floor spaces) render it inaccessible. Owners of commercial buildings that fail to be in compliance with the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act are open to being sued and may be responsible to pay the costs of legal and expert witness fees along with the cost of fixing the problem.

If you are interested in watching the computer animations prepared by the U.S. Access Board, simply click on the highlighted text.

Please let me know if you find this information helpful.




Wheelchair maneuvering,


 Wheelchair maneuvering at doorways,

 Accessible toilet rooms

 Accessible bathing facilities.

Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems may be required in New Jersey

A bill has been introduced in the New Jersey Assembly that would require the installation of residential sprinkler systems in all new one and two family homes – except manufactured homes, homes that are part of a development plan or homes that are not connected to a public water supply system. Although its caption states that the requirement is for new single and two family dwellings, it appears that bill A1570 will also require that a sprinkler system be installed when there is a change of occupancy.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) is planning to oppose this legislation; although it is generally supported by code enforcement professionals. The opposition is based upon the premise that government imposition of additional costs on residential property owners or potential property owners is bad. The supporters claim that the systems will save lives and protect property and lower insurance premiums. While none of us should argue about safer housing, the question that remains is “How much safety can we afford?”

It stands to reason that the most cost effective design and installation of a residential sprinkler system may be achieved when the home is being constructed. The water service can be sized properly and the pipes can be placed in the wall cavity before it is closed up. The costs to retrofit a sprinkler system in an existing home are much more variable. For example, Will the water service need to be upgraded? How much will the building be disturbed to place the pipes in the walls and repair the finishes? How much more labor will it take to perform the installation in confined spaces?

A report entitled Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment, prepared in 2008 by the Fire Protection Research Foundation cites an average cost of $1.61 per square foot to install a residential fire sprinkler system in a new home on a public water service. The cost for installation of a system in the test home on a well was more than twice the price. In 1990, the Phase II Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Demonstration Project, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Fire Administration, developed an average cost of $3.17 per square foot to install a residential fire sprinkler system in an existing single family home. With this very rough comparison, it appears that the cost of installing a residential sprinkler system in an existing one or two family dwelling is roughly twice the cost of putting it in a new home.

Bill 1570 exempts residences that rely on a well for their potable water supply, from the requirement to install sprinkler systems in one and two family homes. It seems unlikely that these homes are inherently safer – after all, won’t the fire department need to bring the water with them if such a home catches fire? It must be that the increased cost of this type of system is simply too much for the government to impose on the property owner.

Why then does the bill require installation of sprinkler systems in existing homes, when they are sold, or simply when the occupants change? The cost of doing so is similar to that of installing a sprinkler in a home with a well.

Why are homes that are part of a development plan exempted from the requirement? It’s understandable to exempt homes for which applications for building permits have been issued. Why exempt those that are still in the design process?

The bill requires that a separate water meter be provided to measure water usage for fire protection. This will result in a separate charge to the homeowner for the additional meter. A quick check of one New Jersey water provider showed a service charge of $25 per month for a one inch meter, even if no water flowed through it. Of course, the hope is that no water will ever need to flow through it. This fee alone is likely to offset any reduction in home insurance premiums.

It is hard to put a price tag on the increased safety afforded to the occupants of homes with residential sprinkler systems. At this time, however, it’s hard enough for people to sell their homes without losing money. I believe requiring the installation of a sprinkler system in an existing home is too much to ask.


The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

What is a current survey? – Why should anybody care?

I’ve been wrestling with the question of “What is a current survey?” for quite some time. Why, you may ask, am I wasting time and energy worrying about such an arcane matter?

In my capacity as a Municipal Engineer and Construction Official, I’ve been called upon to render judgments about the adequacy of land surveys to be used for proposed land developments or construction projects. If the property owner uses a recent survey, prepared by a licensed New Jersey Professional Land Surveyor, engaged for the project, things generally run smoothly. Sometimes, the property owner tries to save money by using an old survey. Then the confusion starts.

The property survey becomes the basis for the design of a new building project. It shows the size, shape, and contour of the property as well as existing features that are located on the lot and sometimes overhead or underground. The survey may also show evidence of legal encumbrances on the property such as rights of way, easements or building setback lines. These conditions change over time.

Design of buildings and site improvements should be based on accurate, up to date plans of the existing conditions. How old a survey is too old? One year? Five years? Twenty five years. What if the survey was prepared for someone other than the current property owner? Is that OK? Is it acceptable if the surveyor who performed the work is no longer licensed, or is dead? Who gets to determine if the old survey accurately depicts site conditions at the time the permit application is filed?

In most cases, the public official asked to review the survey will not be a licensed professional land surveyor. It’s likely to be a zoning officer, municipal engineer or construction official. I believe that they should be given guidelines to follow for making this determination. While some municipalities have enacted such rules, I’ve not been able to locate them in any state statute or regulation.

New Jersey law provides for licensing of professionals such as architects, attorneys, code officials, engineers and land surveyors to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. These licensees have shown that they possess specialized knowledge to assist the public with complicated real property and construction issues. Their designs and legal guidance should be based upon current, accurate land surveys.

To kick off the discussion, I’d suggest that a survey submitted for a building permit, subdivision or site plan should be no more than one year old. It must have been performed for the current applicant or property owner by a Professional Land Surveyor currently licensed in the State of New Jersey.

What do you think? Have you encountered problems with outdated surveys being submitted to your office? Have you experienced problems because of the use of bad data?

Please let me know.


The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC