Building codes, industry standards and evaluation reports
Construction professionals must understand the appropriate applications
Given the complementary roles and functions of building codes, industry standards and product evaluation reports, it is important that all construction professionals understand the appropriate applications for each.
Building codesThe controlling building codes for most state and local jurisdictions across the United States are modeled upon the International Building Code (IBC) and/or the International Residential Code (IRC) published by the International Code Council (ICC), www.iccsafe.org.
These “I Codes” establish minimum requirements for safeguarding life or limb and the public health and welfare by regulating and controlling the design, construction, quality of materials, use, occupancy and locations of virtually all buildings and structures.
To this end, many pages of the model I-Codes are focused upon highly “prescriptive” (mandated) instructions, regarding the critical issues of fire resistance, structural strength and stability, and safe means of egress for occupants. An example of a prescriptive code requirement is Section R606.2.1 of the 2012 edition of the IRC, which mandates: “The minimum thickness of masonry bearing walls more than one story high shall be eight inches.”
The I Codes also contain “performance” language that simply establishes the general intent of the specific code section. For example:
- “The exterior wall envelope shall be designed and constructed in such a manner as to prevent the accumulation of water within the wall assembly…” – Section 1403.2 of 2012 IBC
- “Flashing shall be installed in such a manner so as to prevent moisture entering the wall and the roof through joints in copings, through moisture-permeable materials and at intersections with parapet walls and other penetrations through the roof plane.” – Section 1503.2 of 2012 IBC
Industry standardsMore and more, the modern building codes also rely upon widely acknowledged industry standards to control installation of building materials and systems. According to the “1997 UBC/2006 IBC Nonstructural Comparison & Cross Reference” manual by ICC, 2007:
“The trend in code writing is to reference national consensus standards rather than incorporate the standards into the code by transcription. This is the approach taken by the IBC. It is imperative, therefore, that code users obtain the necessary standards in order to have access to the full range of code requirements and any applicable conditions of approval.”When compliance with such installation standards is prescribed within the I Codes, then the standard simply becomes an extension of the building code, as noted in Section 102.4 of the 2012 IBC: “The codes and standards referenced in this code shall be considered part of the requirements of this code to the prescribed extent of each such reference…”
Excellent examples of controlling industry standards are found at Section R606.1 of the 2012 IRC: “Masonry construction shall be designed and constructed in accordance with the provisions of the section, TMS 403 or in accordance with the provisions of TMS 402/ACI 530/ASCE 5.”
- Chapter 44 of the 2012 IRC identifies “TMS 403” as the 2010 edition of the “Direct Design Handbook for Masonry Structures,” published by The Masonry Society.
- “TMS 402” represents the 2011 edition of “Building Code Requirements for Masonry Structures,” published by The Masonry Society, the American Concrete Institute, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The IBC similarly mandates compliance with a wide variety of other well-known industry standards, particularly key standards published by ASTM International and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). For example, Section 2013.11.1 of the 2012 IBC requires that: “Tile set in dry-set Portland cement mortar shall be installed in accordance with ANSI A108.5.”
- Chapter 35 of the 2012 IBC identifies “ANSI A108.5” as the 1999 issue of the ANSI publication “Installation of Ceramic Tile with Dry-set Portland Cement Mortar or Latex-Portland Cement Mortar.”
However, it is important to recognize that there are many other meritorious industry standards that deserve careful review even though they are not specifically identified within these model I Codes. Consider, for example, ASTM E 2266 (“Standard Guide for Design and Construction of Low-Rise Frame Building Wall Systems to Resist Water Intrusion”) and ASTM E 241 (“Standard Guide for Limiting Water-Induced Damage to Buildings”). Both of these ASTM standards deserve close consideration by construction professionals, yet neither is referenced within the IBC or the IRC. In fact, the authors of ASTM E 241 advise readers: “This guide is not intended for direct use in codes and specifications. It does not attempt to prescribe acceptable limits of damage.”
This leads to a critical point: While compliance with certain industry standards is mandated by the code authorities, prudent construction professionals also will carefully consider, evaluate and implement other nationally or locally recognized industry standards, particularly when weatherproofing the building envelope.
These industry standards serve both to supplement the typically minimalist instructions of the building codes and to provide specific regional or national guidance for how best to implement the intent of the codes.
As an example, while both TMS 403 and Chapter 21 of the IBC prescribe specific instructions for proper masonry construction, and IBC Section 1403.2 mandates that exterior walls must be weather resistant, and Section 1405.4 requires the use of flashings when necessary to achieve this goal, these directives by themselves do not fully inform the contractor how best to install a masonry veneer system in a manner that ensures long-term structural integrity and weather-resistive service. Instead, this supplemental guidance often is provided by masonry industry standards and details recognized within regional markets.
- Up in the Pacific Northwest, the Masonry Institute of Washington publishes numerous quality details at its website, www.masonrydetails.com.
- Similarly, Virginia’s Masonry Veneer Manufacturers Association, www.masonryveneer.org, publishes quality details in its “Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer Installation Guide.”
The key word in this guidance is “consensus.” An industry standard is a published document or detail that helps define the levels of design, materials and workmanship that currently are recognized – via consensus – by regional or national industry associations that represent a broad spectrum of the key players within the specific industry. These consensus standards represent the minimum efforts necessary to achieve a level of quality construction that, with reasonable and timely maintenance, will provide satisfactory performance throughout the intended service life of the system.
An example of broad-based consensus is ANSI’s 114-page “American National Standard for Installation of Ceramic Standard” (ANSI A108, A118 & A136), published in 1999, which credits the work of representatives from 33 separate associations, manufacturers and industry groups for the standard’s credibility and success.
Industry standards are not simply the unwritten customary practices of some portion of the industry. Even if everyone within a particular trade or profession reportedly does, or does not, carry out a particular activity, this fact is not evidence of an “industry standard.” In short, poor quality construction practices cannot be defended by arguing that this level of workmanship is customary within a specific market or region.
Further, self-serving publications by a specific trade or interest group do not constitute industry standards. Similarly, an author’s initial writing(s) about a subject do not constitute an industry standard; instead, such efforts may produce an exchange of views within the wider industry that could to future formalization of a new consensus standard.
Evaluation reportsSimilar to industry standards, manufacturer-specific product evaluation reports issued by the independent International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) and several lesser-known “evaluation services” across North America have evolved to augment the building code.
The I Codes and their predecessors have provisions that allow local building officials to approve the use of “alternate” materials, designs, and methods for construction that are new, or not fully specified within the building codes, but have been demonstrated through approved independent testing to provide a level of performance that meets or exceeds minimum code requirements.
As an example, “alternate” cladding assemblies are independently tested, weather-protective systems that are not described within the I Codes, but which still may be accepted by the local building official after review of an approved evaluation report. A case in point is ICC-ES evaluation report ESR-2987, which describes one manufacturer’s “rainscreen with mortar screen drainage system,” and then confirms that this assembly complies with the design and performance requirements of IBC Section 1403.2 and IRC Section R703.1.1.
Numerous similar evaluation reports approving many alternate products and systems can be downloaded without charge at the ICC-ES website, www.icc-es.org, and the websites of other independent evaluation services.
In summaryIn the end, the backbone of the construction process is comprised of the chapters and sections of the local or state building code, which commonly is modeled upon a current edition of the International Building Code and/or the International Residential Code. The IBC and IRC code-writing authorities are increasingly reliant upon installation standards published by highly credible industry associations, including ANSI, ASTM International, and The Masonry Society.
Industry standards referenced within these building codes generally have the same force of law as does the published code. However, there are many other highly respected industry standards that are not specifically referenced within the I-Codes, but still should be considered, interpreted and implemented during construction, particularly when weatherproofing the building envelope.
An industry standard is a consensus written document that reflects a broad spectrum of interests within a specific industry. In some markets, the challenge for building professionals is to identify and reject those documents that purport to represent local “industry standards” but, instead, are self-serving publications by special interest groups seeking to lower potential legal exposure related to poor quality workmanship.
To promote top-quality installation of materials and systems, building professionals should undertake the following measures:
- Closely study the controlling building code to identify specific installation guidance, including referenced standards by industry associations
- Evaluate key industry standards not identified within the code
- Follow the manufacturer’s published installation instructions
- Where applicable, comply with instructions published within product-specific evaluation reports.
About the Author
Lonnie Haughton, MCP, CDT, is a principal codes/construction consultant with Richard Avelar & Associates in Oakland, Calif. He is a licensed general contractor and a professional member of RCI Inc.; Construction Writers Association; Construction Specifications Institute; Forensic Expert Witness Association; Western Construction Consultants Association (Westcon); and is an EDI-certified EIFS Third Party Inspector. He is one of about 800 who is certified by the International Code Council as a Master Code Professional.