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Planning and Community Development Department

  • Design & Historic Preservation

  • State Historical Building Code

    1. What is the SHBC? 
    2. What buildings qualify for use of the SHBC?
    3. When is the SHBC used?
    4. What are some examples of using the SHBC?    
    5. How do I apply to use the SHBC?
    6. For more information 

    What is the SHBC?

    The State Historical Building Code (SHBC) is a special State-adopted building code for historic buildings which allows flexible approaches to their unique construction problems. The SHBC was developed to accommodate changes necessary for the continued use of historic buildings, while preserving their historic character and significant architectural features. Applicants may elect to use the SHBC as an alternative to standard construction codes such as the Uniform Building Code or the Uniform Mechanical Code. Sections of the SHBC include: occupancy and use, structural (including seismic), mechanical, plumbing, electrical, exiting, fire protection, use of historic building materials and building systems (e.g., elevators), accessibility, and other construction-related topics.

    What buildings qualify for use of the SHBC?

    Historic buildings which qualify for use of the SHBC are those identified by a federal, state, or local jurisdiction, such as buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources. In Pasadena, the SHBC also applies to buildings designated as City landmarks, contributing buildings within designated landmark districts, and buildings included in the City’s architectural and historical inventory. The SHBC may also be used for historic structures (e.g., bridges), objects (e.g., signs and street lights), and sites. City staff in the Design & Historic Preservation Section can tell you if your building qualifies for use of the SHBC.

    When is the SHBC used?

    An applicant may elect to use the SHBC when significant features of a historic building would not otherwise be permitted by the requirements of standard codes. On a case-by-case basis, the City may approve reasonable alternatives to the standard codes which insure that comparable life-safety expectations and other requirements (e.g., accessibility) are achieved. Again, the SHBC can only be used when the standard code requirements negatively impact the building’s significant historic features; otherwise, the standard code requirements must be met.

    What are some examples of using the SHBC?

    Some non-conforming conditions may simply be permitted under the SHBC without modifications, such as a decorativestairway balustrade which does not meet required handrail specifications or a storefront door which opens into the public right-of-way. In other instances, the substitution of alternative means may be required to meet the intent of the standard codes. For example, an entry door in a recessed commercial storefront may not have the minimum required clearance for accessibility; alternatively, using the SHBC, installation of an automatic door opener achieves accessibility without altering the historic storefront. Or an exterior sprinkler system with at least one sprinkler head per wall opening may substitute for fire-resistant exterior wall construction.

    The SHBC allows the use and reuse of historic building materials (e.g., adobe and wood shakes) and methods of construction (e.g., balloon framing, boulder stone foundations, and exposed-rafter eaves). The SHBC also allows the continued use of existing configurations and conditions such as non-conforming roof-slopes, door widths, stair treads, room sizes, and ceiling heights. And the SHBC permits the continued use of such historic features as open-cage elevators, plumbing fixtures, and neon signs and existing building systems (e.g., heating and ventilating). The SHBC also provides methods to achieve seismic resistance, insure fire safety, and meet accessibility requirements for historic buildings. And the SHBC exempts historic buildings from compliance with State-mandated energy conservation standards.

    How do I apply to use the SHBC?

    Local jurisdictions are mandated by State law to use the SHBC for qualified historic buildings; however, the SHBC may only be used at the request of the applicant. When filing for a City permit or approval, the applicant must request to use the SHBC. A site visit or additional submittal materials, such as photographs, may be required. In most instances, this review can be conducted as part of the normal plan check process or, alternatively, within a few days time. There is no additional cost for using the SHBC.

    State Historic Building Code Design & Historic Preservation staff determine whether a building qualifies as a "historic building" for the purposes of the SHBC; and whether the building’s significant architectural features would be adversely affected by the requirements of standard codes. And Design & Historic Preservation staff will work with you and other City departments in applying the SHBC. The City department, under the SHBC, determines if proposed alternatives are reasonable equivalents to the intent of the standard code requirements. The decision of a City department may be appealed to the State Historical Building Safety Board in the Office of the State Architect in Sacramento.

    For more information

    Copies of the SHBC as well as technical preservation assistance are available from the Design & Historic Preservation counter in the Permit Center of the Hale Building, 175 North Garfield Avenue, opposite City Hall at Ramona Street. For more information call the Design & Historic Preservation Section of the Planning Division at (626) 744-4009. For further web browsing, try the State Historical Building Code website.

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