Those of you who have been in the industry for some time may feel that the rate of innovation in the wall and ceiling industry is increasing and that adherence to codes and standards is becoming more complex. Product manufacturers are responding to increased competitive pressures from outside the industry, such as from the engineered wood and masonry industries. They are also responding to competition within the industry from competitors with similar products. To survive, product manufacturers are developing new and innovative products to drive down installed costs and thus make their products more competitive. This level of innovation is no more apparent than in the cold-formed steel framing industry.
In recent years, steel stud manufacturers, also known as roll formers, started developing nonstructural proprietary products to lower installed costs to be more competitive with wood framing construction. To achieve a lower cost, they changed the profile of the stud, used higher strength steel, reduced the thickness and used equivalent coatings from what was considered the common stud. To enable manufacturers to innovate, ASTM C645 provides standards language for studs whose performance is equivalent to nonstructural standard studs, otherwise commonly referred to as "EQ studs.” These changes also gave roll formers the ability to purchase surplus steel from other industries such as automotive, thereby significantly lowering their cost for steel coils. The flexibility to buy surplus steel has become very important in that steel prices are driven by worldwide demand, and roll formers need the flexibility of purchasing primary or surplus steel to lower their costs. The Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry published a research paper on the cost of cold-formed steel products; it can be downloaded from the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry website, www.awci.org/pdf/cost-of-cold-formed-steel-products.pdf.
In the manufacturing and marketing of proprietary EQ products, manufacturers utilize or retain experts in interpreting, abiding by and keeping current with the myriad of ever-changing standards to meet the ever changing construction codes. In an industry that is becoming more and more complex, it is improbable for suppliers and contractors to have the same detailed knowledge that manufacturers have regarding codes and standards. Contractors are required to be code compliant in the installation of construction products. Suppliers are required to provide code compliant materials to contractors. Manufacturers are required to produce code compliant products for suppliers. Manufacturers are dependent on steel mills and steel service centers to accurately label and deliver coil stock so that the manufacturers can produce code compliant cold-formed steel framing products. With the dynamics of the primary and surplus steel markets, it is possible for manufacturers to receive steel that has different properties, better or worse than expected. In addition, it is not normal practice for manufacturers to measure or test each coil received for adherence to ASTM standards for thickness, tensile strength and coating.
Difficulty of Keeping Up
Though codes- and standards-setting organizations work to make written codes and standards precise, they are quite complex and not always in line with one another, and portions of those related to cold-formed steel framing are interpreted differently to suit a particular interest (see sidebar on page 00). Interpretation also exists in the criteria for the manner in which walls are tested for limiting heights. Flexibility allows a test wall to be constructed differently from a wall commonly built in the field. There is also concern regarding the sources of materials; steel mills or steel service centers may unintentionally deliver coils outside of the manufacturer’s order requirements. The only way to assure that the coils meet the specifications is through consistent testing.
In recognition of these trends, the International Code Council Evaluation Service will conduct audits of manufacturers that have ICC-ES evaluation reports for their products. These are document-based audits done on the premises of the manufacturer’s facilities. The audits do not test materials.
Role of Associations
To address the potential problems of misidentification in the supply chain, the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, working with the Steel Framing Industry Association and the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association, helped launch third party code compliance certification programs. Both SFIA and SSMA have launched independent code compliance certification programs that apply to structural and nonstructural cold-formed steel framing members. Manufacturers that have passed their code compliance programs are listed on the associations’ websites: www.steelframingassociation.org, www.ssma.com.
There is a small difference between the SFIA and the SSMA programs regarding coatings, which AWCI is working to resolve so the two programs are identical.
To download the actual code compliance certification program developed by the SFIA, go to www.steelframingassociation.org/code-compliance/code-compliance-program.
Endorsement of Third Party Code Compliance Certification Programs
The details of independent third-party code compliance certification programs are very complicated and can allow for interpretations of the applicable codes and standards that may not be universally shared. In response, AWCI has developed criteria that will be used to evaluate code compliance programs. If the program meets the AWCI endorsement criteria, then AWCI will provide a formal endorsement of the program.
There are eight detailed conditions that a code compliance program must meet for endorsement by AWCI. Below are brief descriptions of the eight criteria:
• The program must be available and affordable to all manufacturers of cold-formed steel framing products.
• The manufacturer(s) or association sponsoring a code compliance program has oversight from a group of industry peers composed of manufacturers and non-manufacturers and includes contractors and suppliers/distributors.
• AWCI’s position is that industry codes and standards are set by professionals, scientific organizations and the consensus of the industry to manufacture and install safe, durable and well-performing products and systems, and that the code compliance program shall not be more restrictive or liberal in interpreting the codes, standards, methods and industry practices.
• The program must follow the most current readily available and accepted applicable codes and standards.
• The program will be administered and audited by an independent third party testing agency meeting IAS AC98 requirements and demonstrating compliance with ISO/IEC Standard 17020.
• Nonstructural inspection and testing will be performed to AISI S220, ASTM A1003/A1003M, ASTM B117, ASTM C645 and IBC 2009.
• Structural testing and inspection will be performed to AISI S100, AISI S200, ASTM C955, ASTM A1003/A1003M and IBC 2009.
• Literature and technical data for nonstructural, non-load bearing products for composite limiting heights shall be calculated and tested to the requirements of ICC-ES AC86 and constructed within established standards and common industry practice.
Of the two association code compliance programs, only the SFIA program has been endorsed by AWCI. As a contractor or supplier, look for the labels below on steel framing products. The appearance of these labels means the manufacturer has complied with the SFIA endorsed code compliance certification program.
Steven A. Etkin is executive vice president/CEO of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, executive director of the Steel Framing Industry Association, and publisher of this magazine.
More About the Steel Associations
You can learn more about the Steel Framing Industry Association at www.steelframingassociation.org and about the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association at www.ssma.com. The two associations approach the industry in different ways. SFIA is an industry-wide association whose membership includes contractors and suppliers among many other membership categories. SSMA members are limited to only stud manufacturers and manufacturers of steel accessory items.