Understanding the code evaluation process

Certain products, like sprayfoam insulation, often utilize research reports as their form of certification. Organizations pull from a variety of acceptance criteria (AC) and building codes when writing the reports.
Photos courtesy Intertek

by Michael Beaton, PE
Making choices with an impact on business processes can be complicated—particularly for manufacturers of building products continuously developing and introducing new materials to the market. To be approved for use in building construction, products need to be tested and evaluated to the requirements of building codes by appropriate third-party entities. In the rapidly evolving market for building materials, a manufacturer’s ability to demonstrate its products are code-compliant is critical to gaining approval for use in the thousands of jurisdictions across the nation. This code evaluation process can be time-consuming, and can impact timelines for introduction of products into the market.

This author, a director with Intertek (an assurance, testing, inspection, and certification provider to manufacturers), recently released a revised and updated white paper, “The Evolving Code Evaluation Process.” Its purpose is to help organizations understand how code evaluation processes are evolving to become more streamlined and efficient.

Provisions of code compliance
International Building Code (IBC) Section 104, “Duties and Powers of a Building Official,” directs officials to enforce the provisions of the code. Section 104.11, “Alternative Materials, Design, and Methods of Construction and Equipment,” specifically states such materials, designs, and methods:

shall be approved where the building official finds that the proposed design is satisfactory and complies with the intent of the provisions of this code, and that the material, method, or work offered is, for the purpose intended, at least the equivalent of that prescribed in this code in quality, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability, and safety.

The code requires manufacturers to provide the building official with a research report from an approved agency. Research reports are also used to consolidate complicated information related to code compliance into a single technical document.

Door locks and hardware also go through testing and certification to help ensure safety and reliability.

A paradigm shift
For business and the economy to advance, the processes by which products are introduced into the market must constantly improve, making it easier for manufacturers to innovate and sell their products while maintaining public safety expectations. As the use of sustainable materials in building design is accelerating, it has become more challenging for building officials to be fully informed about all aspects of building materials and their performance.

Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) are moving away from believing manufacturers have to go first to a testing body and then to a coding body such as the International Code Council (ICC) as part of their overall evaluation process. When multiple entities are involved, this process can be very slow, impacting building officials who need to keep projects moving forward. Even code bodies have now recognized this shortcoming, and are aligning with laboratories with a focus on streamlining processes, as demonstrated in the image below.

While the process for producing research reports on complicated or alternative building materials has traditionally involved front-end testing and inspection from certification organizations, as well as back-end product evaluation from code bodies, many manufacturers are now looking to single agencies to provide all necessary evaluation functions.

Some certification agencies have developed the expertise to understand and apply code requirements in a way that is integrated with testing and certification functions. This paradigm shift can offer many benefits to those seeking a code evaluation, the most important of which is a shared goal of building safety. Time and efficiency are other advantages of this method. Each provider has its own unique strengths and expertise, and now manufacturers can choose which is right for their businesses.

One common standard test method uses a Steiner Tunnel to assess the flame-spread characteristics of a building product. This photo provides a look inside the tunnel.

The unifying element between certification bodies and code bodies, which are now competing for manufacturers’ business, is accreditation. Both manufacturers and AHJs can rely on accreditation as a means of ensuring agencies conducting code evaluations satisfy international standards for the operation of a certification program, and are evaluated on a level playing field. The fact the International Accreditation Service (IAS), a subsidiary of ICC and a sister company to its Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), accredits several code evaluation services is evidence even code bodies acknowledge the qualifications and competence of noncode agencies.

Eliminating redundant functions is the key to changing methods previously considered standard. Doing so conveys recognition expertise in the code does not reside solely with code bodies. It also shows international standards of accreditation, rather than the reputation of a single organization, are being used to provide guidelines for proper operations. The result is a better process with no less emphasis on public safety, providing manufacturers with more choices. This is a case of fair competition satisfying the public good.

Michael Beaton, PE, joined Intertek in 2013 and is the company’s senior director of product evaluations. As the leader of Intertek’s code evaluation services, he is responsible for outreach to industry associations and to the code community. Beaton is also responsible for further developing Intertek’s technical services for new sectors of the building products industry, in addition to his role as a technical reviewer of the company’s research reports. He has more than 25 years of experience in the building industry, working with manufacturers and industries to address issues of code compliance. Beaton can be reached via e-mail at michael.beaton@intertek.com.

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