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Why Dealers Need to Understand Building Codes

In recent columns I have discussed building code changes and the need to be up-to-date on the latest International Building Code regulations, as well as understanding how your individual state or municipality has interpreted these rules for builders. If you want to be a smart decking products retailer, you need to be just as smart, or smarter, than your builder customers.

Another major change is code 507.3. “Wood/Plastic composites used in exterior deck boards, stair tread, handrails and guardrail systems shall bear a label indicating the required performance levels and demonstrating compliance with the provisions of [glossary]ASTM D 7032[/glossary].” This is important because if you don’t have a code-approved composite, you can’t build with it. Historically, an inspector may have required that a composite have a CCRR (Code Compliance Research Report) or an ESR (Evaluation Service Report). So make sure that the decking you have now is compliant with the International Residential Code (IRC) update. It’s worth double-checking how your city or state codes address the IRC update.

Code 507.3.1 also has to do with wood/plastic composites. The code says that wooden composites must be installed per the manufacturer’s published instructions. Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that the code says that you can do your joists at 16 inches on center to make a span, but the decking manufacturer says that you need the joist span to be no greater than 12 inches. In this case, you need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Even if a 16″ structure will support other decking materials, it may not support that particular decking product. In this case, the manufacturer knows best—not necessarily the inspector or whoever wrote the code.

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The ESR and CCRR reports require that you must use specific types of fasteners, along with other really important information. There is normally a paragraph that says something to the effect of, “When the manufacturer’s published installation instructions differ from this report, this report governs.” This is extremely important. If you do not follow these instructions, you are violating not only the building code, but the manufacturer’s published instructions as well. If there were ever a deck failure, you might get the opportunity to participate in the reimbursement or the lawsuit that goes along with any issues.

Building codes, even if they are sometimes difficult to understand, are important for a decking retailer or someone active in the deck building market to know and follow. I often recommend that retailers attend some classes, or go out with some of their better contractors through the permitting process to understand what’s needed, and to have those solutions at hand.

Another recommendation is to find a retired, knowledgeable contractor or deck builder who would be willing to meet with you and your sales staff for training. These people can help you become that go-to deck expert. In house for us at The Deck Store, I have some retired deck builders who are absolute experts, but physically are no longer interested in building decks (including myself). Because we’ve done it in the past and are immersed in it every day, we understand the codes and the rules. These retired deck builders love to talk decks.

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