RESIDENTIAL BY DAVID SHAPIRO
There are four sets of rules that protect U.S. residents with limited strength,
mobility or sensory systems:
• The ADA ( www.ada.gov)
• The Architectural Barriers Act, which
plays out in the Uniform Federal
Accessibility Standards ( http://1.usa.
• Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
• The Fair Housing Act (FHA) (www.
Of course, there may also be laws
found in a local jurisdiction’s adopted
amendments to the building code.
These four rules—not laws, but
rules—tend to be much more restrictive
than comparable requirements found
in the NEC and associated standards.
Here’s a taste: the maximum force that a
possibly disabled person can be required
to apply is 5 foot-pounds. Compare:
ANSI/UL 498 specifies 20 foot-pounds
as the average maximum plug insertion force for a 120-volt convenience
receptacle. Thankfully, NFPA 99, which
I have been told is the source for this
maximum, gives the minimum pressure
as 4 ounces. These numbers apply to
the shuttered slots of a tamper-resistant
(TR) receptacle the same as they do to
the plain slots of a non-TR receptacle.
Now, let’s see where I can find new
TR receptacles whose insertion force
meets the 5-foot-pound standard.
Before you start tearing your hair out,
here’s an important point brought up by
Mark J. Mazz, AIA, a longtime housing
expert. Except where a local jurisdic-
tion has adopted bits of these rules into
law, nobody is mandated to enforce
them. They are enforced only through
lawsuits. One point that gives the acces-
sibility rules some weight is that there
is no statute of limitations on lawsuits
citing failure to provide equal access to
a building, function or area.
However, there is another angle to
consider beyond legal liability. When
a contractor’s work has fallen short
of meeting accessibility requirements
on a government-funded project, he
or she may lose any chance at a piece
of similar future projects. A federal
agency, the U.S. Access Board, which
promotes equality for people with disabilities, choreographs this. While the
Department of Housing and Urban
Development, the Department of Justice, and other bodies police these rules,
there is no permit corresponding to
each set of rules, waiting to earn a green
tag on close-in, perhaps after a red tag
or two along the way.
Now here is what could be good
news for many readers. Most of the
rules mainly apply to institutional and
commercial settings. In residential appli-
cations, they only apply if federal money
has found its way into the project, so pay
attention when working on multifamily
housing, including dormitories; transient
housing; and four-plus-unit, single-story
townhomes or garden apartments. The
rules can apply even if they are single-
story and even if they have firewalls
separating them. This is not the case for
stand-alone, single-family residences
(SFRs). The four-plus-unit test also
applies to any residence covered under
Of course, if the customer wants
accessibility and wants to pay for it, then
you should accomodate them.
Actually, it’s a little more complicated.
When federal HOME program funds are
used to rehabilitate SFRs, say in disas-
ter relief, “Participating Jurisdictions”
and their partners that are involved are
required to make these homes acces-
sible when the homeowners call for it.
But there is a lot more to the rules about
projects using HOME funds. For more
details, visit http://1.usa.gov/1Ci3f5N.
Sometimes it’s better not to try to get
by with doing the bare minimum.
“Accessibility is the liability du jour,”
Most jurisdictions keep the architect
liable for seven years. For civil rights
issues, though, there’s no time limit.
Next month, I will discuss why
merely complying with these rules may
not be the best policy. I’ll also provide
more detail about what the rules actually require us to do.
The Liability Du Jour
WHEN I TALK ABOUT ACCESS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, whether
the disabilities are permanent or temporary, I am sure to keep the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) in mind. For that matter, I think of it when I talk about
access for elderly customers who may have reduced strength or other limitations.
I mentioned the ADA in my November 2013 column, “Receptacle Location,” in
which I shared up-to-date research on receptacle placement. Unfortunately, the
ADA is sloppy—at the worst, potentially deceptive—because it does not cover all
of the relevant rules.
SHAP IRO, author of “Old Electrical Wiring: Evaluating, Repairing, and Upgrading Dated
Systems,” is a contractor, consultant, inspector and writer/editor based in Colmar Manor, Md.
He also is affiliated with IAEI. He can be reached at email@example.com. IST