It is important for construction professionals to understand the differing roles and functions of building codes, product evaluation reports and industry standards.

Building Codes

Building codes establish minimum requirements to safeguard life or limb, health, property and public welfare by regulating and controlling the design, construction, quality of materials, use and occupancy and locations of all buildings and structures. To this end, many pages of our modern building code manuals are focused upon prescriptive instructions regarding the critical issues of fire resistance, structural strength and stability and means of egress for occupants.
These same codes typically address the somewhat less critical issues of waterproofing / weatherproofing the building envelope by using performance language that simply establishes the general ‘intent’ of the codes.

Note that a small amount of water intrusion (or even a small area of resulting mold growth) typically does not constitute the same level of crisis as that created by a fire or earthquake. Further, it is important to note that short-term leakage within a roof or wall assembly does not, in itself, necessarily represent a code violation, despite the loud proclamations of some building experts. The key question that must be asked in this situation is whether or not this minor leak can potentially accumulate in a manner that will result in harm to building occupants or in diminished building integrity and service.

Industry Standards
An industry standard is a written document, not simply the unwritten customary practices of some portion of the industry. In other words, just because everyone within a particular trade or profession reportedly does (or does not) carry out a particular activity; this customary action (or lack thereof) is not necessarily evidence of an industry standard. For example, poor quality construction cannot be defended by arguing that this level of workmanship is customary within a specific market or region.

An industry standard also is a consensus document that has been reviewed and accepted by representative leaders of the industry. In other words, an industry standard does not date to a single author’s initial writing(s) about a particular subject or issues even if these new perspectives lead to an exchange of views within the industry that result in formalization of a new consensus standard.

Industry standards serve both to supplement the typically minimalist instructions of the model building codes and to provide specific regional or national guidance for how best to implement the intent of the codes. The building codes allow the local building official to approve the use of ‘alternate’ materials, designs and methods for construction that are not prescriptively addressed with the building codes but instead have been demonstrated through independent testing to provide a level of performance that meets or exceeds minimum code requirements. An example is vinyl siding, which once was an approved alternate cladding product, but now is included within our building codes.

Evaluation Reports
To aid the local building official’s review process, building code organizations, past and present, have created independent, subsidiary testing firms that provide a comprehensive product evaluation service for many alternate materials and systems. Products that pass such testing are issued evaluation reports that, although not an approval per se, indicate to building officials that these items can be permitted with full confidence that they will provide service that is equivalent to the traditional products and systems that are addressed within the building codes.
In short, product evaluation reports are simply a means for extending the scope of our building codes.

In contrast, building envelope industry standards go beyond the prescriptive requirements of the building codes and the supplemental product evaluation reports to provide specific regional or national guidance for how best to implement the intent of the codes that our structures provide satisfactory long-term weather-resistive service.

November 2006
Issue One, Volume One

This article by Colin Murphy and Lonnie Haughton.

Colin Murphy
Murphy is a founder and managing partner of Trinity | ERD.

Lonnie Haughton
Haughton is a construction codes and standards consultant with Richard Avelar & Associates.



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"Pushing the Envelope: A Monthly Journal of Issues Concerning Building Design, Science, and Litigation" is a monthly publication of Trinity | ERD. This newsletter is intended as a thoughtful look into the issues of building construction.

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