Construction Referees: Evaluation Processes for Alternative Building Products

construction-refereeThere are products used in every building not referenced by the codes or standards.
These products can impact safety, public health and general welfare through their effect on structural strength, stability, fire resistance and other building performance attributes. I-code Section 104.11 (Alternative materials, design, and methods of construction and equipment) provides guidance on how these products are approved for use in the built environment and identifies the Building Official as the decision-maker. This is similar to a referee determining a player’s compliance with the rules.

Building Officials see submittals for a wide variety of alternative building products ranging from the simple to the very complex. The amount of data included in these submittals and their relevance and completeness varies significantly from insufficient and minimal to complete and very thorough. In the absence of publicly developed and majority-approved provisions, the Building Official is tasked to ensure the data provided is appropriate and adequately proves the alternative product meets code intent to protect public safety, no matter the product type or complexity. This is compared to the robust code and standards process in which committees with balanced representation publicly develop and deliberate on provisions in order to protect public safety. The question arises whether the 104.11 requirement implies that a similar robust process be used in the development of test and evaluation requirements for alternative products as is used for the development of code and standard provisions where there is public debate, resolution of negative opinions and a majority approval of the requirements. Requiring a similar code development process for alternative products would seems to make sense. Otherwise, a less rigorous process might be employed by those seeking to avoid a more robust code and standard process so as to achieve quicker and less stringent approval for their alternative products.

public-safetySome may argue that having to use a “code-like” evaluation process for alternative products would add too much of a burden in time and cost, and that it’s not necessary since individual registered design professionals and building officials have enough time, resources and expertise to determine acceptability. But this begs the question of why a similar public majority-approval process should not be required for new products as it is required for code-referenced products. Another question that comes up is ongoing acceptance of an alternative product, as their manufacture may have changed since their approval. Additionally, different jurisdictions have different expertise and resources and this can lead to different standards for approval for alternative products, leading to inconsistency.

Is there a solution which balances providing innovative and cost-effective alternative building product solutions to the industry in a timely manner with providing a thorough product assessment using a process similar to the codes and standards to better ensure consistency and public safety? Accredited building product certification companies, or evaluation service companies, that use a publicly developed and majority-approved acceptance or evaluation criteria and publish an evaluation report with the product’s description, design and installation requirements and limitations provide such a solution. These evaluation service companies are a third-party resource for building officials to assist in their determination of whether an alternative product meets code intent and should be approved for use in their jurisdiction.

The number of evaluation service companies has been increasing. The ICC Evaluation Service and the IAPMO Uniform Evaluation Service, two of the better-known such companies, are both ANSI accredited to ISO/IEC 17065 (Conformity Assessment – Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes, and services) to provide building-code product certifications (ICC-ES, IAPMO UES). However, accreditation by itself mainly verifies a certain process is implemented to ensure consistency and confidentiality. Both companies also have a public acceptance or evaluation criteria process. This process includes an evaluation committee made up of building enforcement officials. These officials evaluate the proposed criteria, listen to expert and industry input and only approve the criteria by a majority vote if products evaluated to those criteria will meet code intent. This is similar to how the codes and standards are developed — a transparent public process and a majority approval of requirements and not just an opinion of one or a couple of individuals.

The alternative building product review process for ICC-ES and IAPMO UES is similar and has the following important components.

  • CRITERIA: The accredited product evaluation service develops an acceptance or evaluation criteria, with the manufacturer’s and public’s input, that is publicly debated, revised and ultimately approved by a majority vote of a committee of building enforcement officials.
  • TESTING: The manufacturer contracts out to an accredited independent third-party test laboratory to either perform or witness the product testing in accordance with the criteria.
  • REVIEW: Registered design professionals with the accredited product evaluation service evaluate the testing and analyses performed and sealed by registered design professionals with the manufacturers or their representatives. The product evaluation service then publishes the evaluation report to their website, and the report typically contains the product description, design and installation requirements andsupervising-supervisorlimitations.
  • CONTINUOUS COMPLIANCE: The manufacturer’s quality system is inspected at least annually by the product evaluation service or an accredited third-party
    inspection agency to ensure that the product currently being manufactured is the same as that which was evaluated.

 

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While the term “product evaluation” is sometimes used, it is often “product certification” or “product conformity assessment.” ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004 defines “conformity assessment” as “Any activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that relevant requirements are fulfilled. Some “product certification” companies also provide “product listing” services for when testing and evaluation requirements for the product are already in code-referenced consensus standards, making the development of acceptance criteria unnecessary, thus simplifying the process.

A couple of previous blog posts on evaluation or code reports that you may find informative discuss steps to obtain an evaluation or code report and provide a checklist to determine adequacy of a report.

A mechanism is available to the building industry to provide innovative and cost-effective alternative building products in a timely manner that implements a public and majority product acceptance criteria process, similar to the codes and standards development process. This solution involves the Building Official referencing building product evaluation service reports, based on acceptance criteria, offering a robust evaluation better ensuring that an alternative product meets code intent, thus protecting the public. In fact, several jurisdictions do require evaluation service reports for alternative products.

Should there be an easier path to approval for alternative products than for code-referenced products? What is a reasonable path to product approval? What basis do you use in reviewing evaluation or code reports to determine whether an alternative product is “in or out of -bounds”? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Florida Product Approvals Made Simple

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This year, the new 5th Edition of the Florida Building Code was released and is now in effect statewide. First printed in 2002, the Florida Building Code was developed as part of Florida’s response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew and other hurricanes in the state.

Another component, which I would like to take a closer look at in today’s post, is a separate Florida Product Approval system designed to be a single source for approval of construction products for manufacturers, Designers and code enforcers. This single system streamlines the previous approach of different procedures for product approval in different jurisdictions. While statewide approval is not required, many jurisdictions, manufacturers and specifiers prefer using the statewide system to the alternative, which is called local product approval. To ensure uniformity of the state system, Florida law compels local jurisdictions to accept state-approved products without requiring further testing and evaluation of other evidence, as long as the product is being used consistent with the conditions of its approval.

The rules of the Florida Product Approval system are in Florida Rule 61G20-3. Here is some basic information about Florida Product Approval.

The Florida Product Approval system is only available for “approval of products and systems, which comprise the building envelope and structural frame, for compliance with the structural requirements of the Florida Building Code.” So users will only find certain types of products approved there. However, if you work in areas where design for wind resistance is required, the Florida system can be a gold mine of information for tested, rated and evaluated products. Not only will you find products like Simpson Strong-Tie connectors with our ICC-ES and IAPMO UES evaluation reports, but thousands of other tested and rated windows, doors, shutters, roof covering materials and other products that don’t typically get evaluation reports from national entities. The specific categories of products covered under the Florida system are exterior doors, impact protective systems, panel walls, roofing, shutters, skylights, structural components and windows.

To protect consumers, a recent law passed in Florida states that a product may not be advertised, sold or marketed as offering protection from hurricanes, windstorms or wind-borne debris unless it has either State Product Approval or local product approval. Selling unapproved products in this way is considered a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Once a manufacturer understands the process for achieving a statewide approval, it is not difficult to achieve, but it can be expensive. The manufacturer must apply on the State of Florida Building Code Information System (BCIS) website at www.floridabuilding.org. To prove compliance with the code, the manufacturer must upload either a test report, a product certification from an approved certification entity, an evaluation report from a Florida Professional Engineer or Architect, or an evaluation report from an approved evaluation entity (ICC-ES, IAPMU UES, or Miami-Dade County Product Control). Then, the manufacturer must hire an independent validator to review the application to ensure it complies with the Product Approval Rule and that there are no clerical errors. Finally, once the validation is complete, staff from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation reviews the application. Depending on the method used to indicate code compliance, the application may be approved at that time or it may have to go through additional review by the Florida Building Commission.

Here are several ways to find out if a product is approved.

  1. For Simpson Strong-Tie products, we maintain a page on www.strongtie.com that lists our Florida Product Approvals.
  2. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation maintains a page where users can search Product Approvals by categories such as manufacturer, category of product, product name, or other attributes such as impact resistance or design pressure.
  3. A third-party group we work with has created a website called www.ApprovalZoom.com that lists various product evaluations and product approvals. In addition to listing Florida Product Approvals, they also list ICC-ES evaluation reports, Miami-Dade County Notices of Acceptance, Texas Department of Insurance Approvals, Los Angeles Department of Building Safety Approvals, AAMA certifications and Keystone certifications among others.
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Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Product Approvals search

The process for searching for approved products on the Florida BCIS is fairly simple.

  1. Go to www.floridabuilding.org
  2. On the menu on the left side of the page, click on Product Approval. Or, click this link to go directly to the search page.
  3. On the Product Approval Menu, click on Find a Product or Application. Note that at this location you can also search for approved organizations such as certification agencies, evaluation entities, quality assurance entities, testing laboratories and validation entities.
  4. Ensure the proper Code Version is shown. The current 2014 Florida Code is based on the 2012 International Codes.
  5. At this point, several options can be searched. You can search for all approvals by a specific product manufacturer or a certain type of building component by searching Category and Subcategory, or if searching for a specific product, by entering the manufacturer’s name and the product name.
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Select the option highlighted in red

I hope you find the information contained in the Florida Product Approval system useful. Do you have other needs to find approved products?

Code Reports: Uniform Application of Code Intent in a Diverse Environment

Woodworks invited me to do a presentation on Testing and Evaluation of Products for Wood-framed Construction, and I found you can’t really talk about testing without talking about the test standards and criteria used in product evaluations. Usually the goal in testing to these standards is to show compliance with the intent of the building code and have the product listed in a code report.

Why not just follow the code?

Innovative architectural and structural building products not addressed by the building code are in every building. Revisions to the building code are considered on a three-year cycle and some standards are on a five-year cycle. Sometimes it may take several cycles to address a new building product.

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Confidence in Code Reports

Every building uses products that are not specifically covered in the building code. IBC Section 104.11 permits this if the “alternative material” is found to comply with the code intent by the building official after review of supporting information, such as research reports and tests.

Reviewing product data might be a challenge for some building departments, as they vary in size and expertise around the country. Some of the questions they might ask are:

1. What, if any, criteria was used to evaluate the product (e.g., test protocol, load rating methodology),

2. Was the criteria developed based on a single individual or a single company’s opinion or was there at least some involvement of others in the construction industry,

3. Are there any potential conflicts of interest in the parties wanting to use the product or the company who evaluated the product, and

4. Are there other tests or analyses that need to be completed prior to accepting the products use in the jurisdiction?

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