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How to Have an Effect on National Codes

Of particular interest to me lately is the apparent increase of activity in creating inspection standards. Most of this activity is coming from consultant community. ASTM Committee E06, Performance of Buildings, is in the process of working on several new standards covering inspection and commissioning. Having participated in several commissioning projects, I can tell you that “commissioning” is just another word for “inspection.” My intent here is not to take a position one way or the other on these proposed standards, but to simply make you aware of what might be coming down the pike. I do not feel that standards for inspection are a bad idea, but there just might be a case where an individual reads the standard and then feels—by virtue of having read the standard—that he can present himself as a competent inspector on the subject. The International Code Council does test individuals on various subjects, and it requires these credentials before accepting an inspection report.

For the most part, third-party inspections on items other than concrete and soils are not that common nationwide. Contractors in California, where most state funded projects are inspected for just about everything—including drywall, will tell you a different story. This leads to some interesting questions and consultations. It is also the reason that bureaus still exist in California.

Let’s go back to our proposed standards issue. I was told today that an association of structural engineers is presenting a proposal to the ICC in the next round of code revisions, and that proposal will include mandatory third party inspections for cold formed steel framing. This group has tried unsuccessfully in previous code hearing to push this through. They are also approaching local jurisdictions to include their proposal in the building codes.

This is another example of how to get language into a building code. Remember, the I-Codes are model codes and must be adopted by localities before the I-Codes have the force of law. I have not seen the proposal but expect it to be available after the January filing deadline. When it is available, I’ll let you know what the proposal contains.

Sometimes it is easier to get a code change passed on the local level than it is trying to change the I-Codes. I attended ICC code hearings in Baltimore a couple of years ago. The proposals for revisions are presented by code consultants, hired guns if you will, who represent special interest groups pushing an idea. I was surprised to see the same code consultants speaking on just about every proposal up for discussion. The few individuals who were not consultants did not capture the attention of the members of the committee. I have had this scenario verified by several individuals who had participated in hearings for the legacy codes. If you want to effect changes in the I-Codes, it is best to have a hired gun working for you.

But on the local level your ability to be heard may be easier than on the national level. You are dealing with individuals who you might be acquainted with professionally or socially. I know many of you are very active in your local communities and have vast networks both in and out of the industry. For those who are active, I know I am preaching to the choir. If you have the opportunity, share your experiences with other AWCI members.

Yet another way of having an effect on revisions to the I-Codes is through ASTM. Most of the work performed by Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry members is covered by ASTM Standards. These standards are incorporated into the I-Codes by reference and replace the prescriptive statements that you knew under the legacy codes.

I do not mean to imply that changing ASTM Standards is easy—far from it. Proponents of major changes in existing standards or new standards need to budget at least five years for the proposal to make it through the ASTM system. It can be a very frustrating process but a very necessary process to maintain the integrity of the consensus standards we all depend on. This is why I am not overly concerned about the proposed inspection standards presently in the pipeline. I can assure you that members of AWCI who participate in the ASTM process are very careful when casting a vote on might have the appearance for presenting problems down the road.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to [email protected], or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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