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BOB HEIDENREICH: Understanding Building Codes Pays Off

If you want to grow your sales while ensuring that customers leave your store with everything they need to build a safe deck, understanding your state’s building codes is a great place to start. Doing so can help solidify you as the expert in your market and will allow for you to earn more customers, and to increase your return on the decking supplies you stock. Let’s face it; sometimes the people using decking materials aren’t the experts. These builders and weekend DIYers need expert guidance to build a safe, lasting structure. They need you to be the expert, and to have sound reasoning behind your product recommendations.

This year we had one of the biggest code changes that we’ve ever gone through, in the International Residential Code 2012 (adopted by states as 2015). While the code is international, different states and municipalities have adopted specific versions of the code. In Minnesota, where I operate The Deck Store, the code has been adopted as the Minnesota Residential Code 2015. The state codebook contains the international code with adjustments because of our Minnesota climate. Parts of the code are printed verbatim, word for word from the international code. When the code has been changed, it is identified in the margins of the codebook with the letters MN. Other states use their own state abbreviations to signify any adjustments to the international code.

The new changes to the previous code will have a dark line next to them in the codebook. With the line marking only the new updates, once you understand and know the code, you don’t have to worry about missing out on updates as long as you read carefully where there is a dark line on the margin of the codebook signifying that there has been an update to that particular code.

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This year’s codebook has seen significant updates for deck builders. Decks were rarely mentioned in previous codebooks. Section 507 has some of the biggest changes with regards to decks. Section 507 discusses a deck’s attachment to the house. This most recent codebook reduces the number of lag bolts to attach a deck from two every 16″ to one every 11″ to 15″, depending on how long your joists are.

The most recent update also added a table to the codebook and created a pattern as to how your lag bolts need to be installed. Previously, some cities would make deck installers install lag bolts above and below each other. Other cities would make us stagger them. It was different in varying situations. Now the code defines more clearly how and where to apply lag bolts.

The update to the most recent codebook also addresses the topic of lateral load connections. There are a number of products on the market, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, and some that are just a few dollars, and they all basically do the same thing. The initial documents that came out with one particular brand had some errors in them—they weren’t shown being used correctly. That has since been updated in the technical data in the company’s website, but a lot of building inspectors don’t all have that information. When a lot of the municipal inspectors created their handouts for deck builders, they’re still referring to the old data, and you just can’t install them the way that is shown. So, the only way to keep current is to understand the codes.

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This also gives you the opportunity to make more money. For example, the [glossary]507.2.3[/glossary] rule—even though it seems like an awkward code—provides the opportunity to sell an additional $40 or $50 worth of high-margin products. When you understand how changing building codes alter the material needs of your customers’ projects, they end up with the supplies they need to build to code. And you’re compensated for your expertise with additional sales.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note at

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