NADRA Code Update: What Happens in Vegas…

By Glenn Mathewson, NADRA Technical Advisor

…doesn’t stay in Vegas, at least not when it’s about deck code!  Here’s a recap of what to expect in your 2021 International Residential Code from the ICC Public Comment Hearing that occurred in Las Vegas last week.  This information is as fresh as it gets, because NADRA members don’t chase behind future codes, they are part of their creation.

Proposals that did not receive any public comment disputing the committee decision at the first hearing in May are lumped together in a “consensus vote” and these are as good as done.  Here are the proposals the committee approved and will be in the 2021 code.

  • RB187-19:  The organization of footing depth and frost protection provisions have been modified for better comprehension.  Frost protection for decks, previously in the foundation chapter, are now located alongside other deck provisions in the deck section 507.  An added bonus for the free market is a new method for frost protection: “Other approved method of frost protection”.  This will help new innovations that provide protection equivalent to digging a deep hole to have a better chance of being evaluated and approved for use.
  • RB188-19:  A minor change in wording makes it clear that a multi-ply beam must be fastened “together”.
  • RB189-19:  A minor change in wording clarifies that allowable beam cantilevers beyond an end post are based on the actual adjacent span of the beam, not the allowable span.
  • RB190-19:  Many don’t realize that the maximum allowable beam spans, based on the joist spans they carry, are actually sized assuming the joists are cantilevered beyond the beam by their maximum allowable distance.  When not cantilevering joists past a beam, this left beams significantly oversized.  A new modification footnote is now added to the beam span table to allow adjustments based on various percentages of joist cantilever and zero cantilever.  No longer will a beam span be limited based on loads that don’t exist.  This is a huge win for prescriptive deck designs to be closer to the actual design and not a “one-size-fits-all approach”.
  • RB191-19:  With the increase of deck designs and patterns in the industry, many decks are built with decking supported by only two joists and having only one span.  However, decking is not tested or evaluated for performance in this manner, manufactured or wood.  Technically speaking, they are not allowed to be installed in that manner without alternative approval, such as from an engineer.  To support decking designs with validated spans for “single span decking” the maximum joist spacing for wood decking table has been expanded.  5/4-inch wood decking is now provided single span limits of 12 inches for perpendicular installations and 8 inches for diagonal.  Those may appear as new limitations in deck construction, but they are actually new allowances.  What has been being done was never actually supported by the code.  Now it is.  It’s important to note that for manufactured decking, this change can’t be done in the IRC.  The testing standard must be changed.

Three of our proposals were turned down at the committee hearing, and we wrote public comments to give them a second chance.  Another one that was approved received an outside comment and thus needed reconsideration.  The results from the membership vote at the final hearings last week are not the final votes.  Governmental members will still have time after the hearings to make an online vote.  This can change the outcome, but here’s how those proposals currently stand.

  • RB46-19:  Guards and handrails are like peanut butter and jelly.  Just because they can be in the same sandwich, doesn’t mean they are the same thing.  Both are required to resist a 200 lb. concentrated load in “any direction”.  While handrails are meant for someone to purposefully brace themselves while ascending or descending obstacles, like stairs and ramps, guards are only meant to barricade an accidental fall over the edge of the deck.  This proposal changed the loading direction for guards to be only outward and downward and argued that guards don’t need to resist an inward or upward load of that magnitude.  The committee turned this down at the last hearing and said it was the decision of the American Society of Civil Engineers.  The ICC membership at the hearing last week disagreed, and through their professional experience in analyzing guards in backyards across this county, decided to make the decision.  The IRC has now broken away from the singular power of the ASCE to allow a wider diversity of professionals to develop residential codes.  There is value here far beyond this one proposal.  Much like rallying NADRA involvement in development of deck codes, no single group of professionals should be making any rules in our private homes.  That is the beauty of the transparent ICC development process.  Though the final vote is given only to governmental members (a single group of professionals), they are the only group free from financial interest or professional gain from the results.
  • RB184:  This was our biggest proposal and with modifications, the ICC membership voted it with a 98% approval!  That’s a great way to start the online voting and a good sign this will make it in the future code.  Here are some bullets of what this large proposal offers.
  • Design tables are increased for 50, 60, and 70 psf snow load regions, making the code more useful to more builders in the country and reducing the need for specific engineering.
    • The absolute minimum diameter footing was reduced from an excessive 14-inch diameter to as low as 8-inch diameter when supporting deck areas up to 5 square feet.  (consider a small stair landing with four footings/piers)
    • The post sizing table was expanded and based on the actual loads the post is carrying.  No longer are there single limits for post height based only on the heaviest possible loading.  Like with beams and joists cantilevers, previously mentioned, it’s no longer “one-size-fits-all”.
    • The joist span tables have been revised so that maximum cantilevers of joists are no longer based on the maximum allowable span of joists, but by their actual span.  Like other modifications, this allows design limits to be based on the actual deck design.
  • RB185-19:  This proposal was approved by the committee in the first hearing but received a public comment that fixed an oversight in the first proposal.  It was then approved by the membership.  New provisions prohibiting the notching of 4×4 guard posts at the connection point were included alongside language requiring guard post connection to tie into the overall framing of the deck, and not just a single side joist.  Without limiting guard design and construction methods and without providing any specific graphics, this proposal will support better guard construction without a loss in architectural freedom.
  • RB301-19:  Of all our proposals and all our testimony to other proposals, this was the only one that we didn’t win.  Turned down at the committee hearings, this proposal would have provided specific details for guard post connections in an appendix chapter.  An appendix chapter is optional and must be individually adopted by a government.  Though our industry fears pictures in the code (think…lateral load anchor), the compromise with others who don’t share this fear was to put them in an appendix.  The details provided engineered methods of resisting a 200 lb. load on a single post using either metal hardware or only commodity fasteners.  Through much debate and mutual compromise, the Deck Code Coalition was still unable to provide unified testimony in support of this proposal.  The membership did not approve it.

Modifications to these proposals can no longer be made in this cycle, as all that is left is the final online vote by the governmental members. 

By the end of this year, the 2021 IRC will be decided.

To help NADRA continue our work in the code arena, please consider contributing to our code fundraising initiative. Click here to learn more and to support our efforts.

NADRA Code Update: Should Decks be Built Like Stairs?

October 2019 Update

By: Glenn Mathewson

Some believe they should.  Stair treads must resist the same uniform load as decking, but with an added requirement to resist a 300 lb. concentrated load at mid span.  Consider the impact your feet place on treads as you come running down them. This extra requirement is not without consequences, as spans allowed for composite decking are often reduced when used for stair treads.  Many products require minimum 12- or 10-inch stringer spacing. This could be the future for joist spacing. Do I have your attention?

Though NADRA has been involved in the International Residential Code modification process, there are many other organizations and processes that affect the codes and standards of the decking and railing industry.  The American Society of Civil Engineers is one such organization. They develop the ASCE 7 standard, Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, which establishes the minimum design loads historically copied into the International Code Council’s (ICC) building and residential codes.  

In the ICC hearings, NADRA has supported a proposal to adjust the loading direction required of guards that was submitted to the International Residential Code (IRC) development process this year.  At the ICC hearings, the committee did not approve the change and requested it first be made in the ASCE 7 standard. We will contest this at the IRC final hearings this week, but we also turned our attention to the ASCE standard development process.  Last week, by luck, the ASCE committee was meeting in Denver, and with a short drive and NADRA support, I was able to attend.

Though I was going there for the guard proposal, another one came up, and my concerns for guards were quickly replaced with decking.  A proposal was received to require all deck boards to resist a 300 lb. concentrated load at mid span, just as is required for stair treads.  The committee discussed the reasoning, that ladders can place a concentrated load on a single deck board upwards of this magnitude. Prior to closing their discussion, they invited comment from guests. .

I shared concerns of proposals that place additional loads on decks different than inside a house, where ladders could similarly be used.  I explained how composite decking spans are reduced when used on stairs and subjected to a 300 lb. design load. I asked if they had the data on how wood and manufactured decking product maximum spans would be affected by the proposal.

It appeared this analysis was not included with the proposal, but the committee was interested.  They turned the question back to me—to NADRA… Now the ball is in our court to answer. How will this affect our industry?  Will current composite decking formulations on the market require a reduction of joist spacing to support this load? Will manufacturers “simply” change formulations and retest in order to maintain current spans?  Will joist spacing for wood decking require reduction?

We are working on some of these answers, but you should be too.

Because this could become the new rule.

NADRA Code Update – Proposals RB185-19 and RB301-19 Guard Post Connections

August 29th, 2019

By: Glenn Mathewson

The latest 2018 edition of the International Residential Code provides a complete package of prescriptive structural design tables for decks… sort of…  When we think of structural design, most people imagine the skeleton of ledgers, joists, beams, and posts. At this completion, one might be ready for a “rough frame” inspection.  Install the decking and you’ve got a system that will hold people up, but it won’t keep them up. There’s a critical structural component of elevated decks that’s missing.

Guards.

Guards are barriers required at the edges of raised floors that help keep us from falling off.  They can be rails, cables or pipes. They can be wood, metal, vinyl, or glass. They can be benches, planter boxes, outdoor kitchens, or privacy walls.  Architecturally, they can be practically anything that meets the minimum height, maximum openings, and minimum structural capacity. Indeed, guards are part of the deck structure.  Table 301.5 requires a live load resistance of 200 lbs. in any direction along the top of the guard, but stops there. There is no guidance in the code for how to achieve this.

NADRA supported a proposal with others in the Deck Code Coalition to change that.  After many meetings with discussions ranging from a complete detail of guard construction to not adding anything, compromise (which is not a negative thing) and shared perspectives led us to common ground.  The proposal would prohibit a few notorious problems and provide some general language about the load path. This would be a good start. This is proposal RB185-19, and it was approved at the IRC Committee Action Hearing this March.  Here is a brief, bulleted summary of what it includes.

  • Guard posts must be connected into the deck framing, not just the outer joist or beam, where such member can rotate under load.
  • Guard posts cannot be fastened only into the end-grain of lumber.
  • Guard posts mounted on top of the deck (surface mounted) must be done according the manufacturer installation instruction and must connect to the deck framing or blocking.
  • Wood 4×4 guard posts cannot be notched at the point of connection.

While this will reduce the most egregious guard connections and make a big impact on safety, it still doesn’t provide any assurance of any guard construction capability.  That’s what proposal RB301-19 provides.

With such variety of guard design, it’s difficult to specify one method, and it risks all other designs being considered “noncompliant”.  Something common, however, to many guards is a wood post. This second guard proposal provides a handful of engineered methods to attach a guard post to wood deck framing that will meet the loads required by the IRC.  Methods using hardware and methods using only commodity fasteners are provided for design flexibility. These details are proposed for a new appendix chapter in the IRC, so they are not misunderstood as a strict requirement.  Appendix chapters are optional unless adopted as mandatory by a government. They provide guidance, and that is exactly the intent of the appendix we have proposed. This proposal was not approved at the first hearing, but we received good feedback as to why.  NADRA and the DCC members got back together and kept at it. We submitted a public comment in hopes of earning the ICC governmental membership approval this October at the Final Action Hearings.

Please support RB185-19 and RB301-19 and help us develop quality minimum standards for safe deck design and construction, while balancing affordability and freedom.

NADRA Code Update

February 2019

By Glenn Mathewson

Thanks to the support of NADRA members we have shared our knowledge with others in the campfire discussions regarding deck code proposals for the 2021 International Residential Code.  There were 9 proposals submitted with our assistance and approval. The Deck Code Coalition is an informal group of generous professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Led by the steadfast efforts of Mr. Charles Banjai, a now retired code official and long-time contributor to code development, NADRA was able to work with these professionals toward well-developed deck codes.   While some disagreement remains and some is yet to be decided, it appears the majority of these proposals have broad support. Here is a brief rundown of what was submitted.

  1. Decking spans for single-span and two-span conditions.
  2. Ledger, joist, and beam design tables up to 50, 60 & 70 psf snow loads.
  3. Beam cantilever wording corrected.  Mostly clerical.
  4. Relocation of footing depth and frost protection provisions.  Mostly clerical, so interpretation can be more consistent and understood.
  5. Separates guards and handrails on the load table so future, more appropriate, minimum design loads can be determined for each independently.
  6. Provisions requiring guard post attachment to be secured to adjacent members in the deck framing.  Sets minimum guard post at 4×4 and with no notches permitted.
  7. Clarifies that multi-ply beams must be fastened together.
  8. An adjustment factor to allow longer beam spans when the joists do not cantilever beyond the beam and for various distances of cantilever.  This will allow more flexible use of the beam span table.
  9. Add an appendix for guard post connection details and for future provisions regarding specific deck designs.

While this milestone in the code development process is exciting, it’s just the beginning.  Anyone can submit a proposal and there are plenty of people interested in decks. Here are the next steps:

  1. On March 4th ICC will publish all of the proposed changes.  Previous years leave expectations at well over a thousand pages of proposals to review for deck-related provisions.  
  2. Once identified, the membership will need to decide. What’s good, what needs work, what is dangerous?
  3. Research and communication with others follows.  
  4. Then reaching out to the proponents of topics of concern to share and discuss, in hopes that agreement and compromise for better code can be achieved before the hearing.  
  5. Before the Albuquerque hearings this May, testimony has to be prepared in hope as the winning words for the committee.
  6. After these preparations, the hearing will commence and it will end, and the committee results will be published.  
  7. Next, all the research and networking will happen again as public comments are prepared and submitted.
  8. This is only to be followed by all the public comments being published and the review of all the surprises will begin again.
  9. Finally, all will conclude at the final hearings in October 2019.

If you are in the decking industry, we need your help.  The ideas are being discussed and the rules are being made.  You shouldn’t stand on the sidelines any longer. We need you in the game. There are two ways you can help in a big way.

1. Offer your time: To volunteer time, please email Info@NADRA.org and we will work with you and the code committee to see how we can best utilize your skills – most likely, helping to review the proposals in March.

2. Offer your monetary support: To contribute to the fundraising initiative, follow this link here to see what our goal and how the funds are being used to keep this effort moving forward. 

2015 Code Update, By Glenn Mathewson

Two weeks ago the code proposals for the creation of the 2015 IRC were posted for public review, and NADRA quickly made our industry aware.  There are a lot of them to review.  In building codes alone there were 1132 pages of proposals.

 

I have read and skimmed through all these pages and found the proposals related in some way to our industry.  These proposal numbers and a brief explanation can be read HERE

 

There’s some good stuff, some questionable stuff and some…other stuff proposed.  I will be at the hearings in Dallas at the end of April representing NADRA and our industry…so let NADRA know what you think.  Here are some highlights of what may be ready and waiting for you in the future.  I know 2015 is years away…but the decisions are being made now.

 

RB61 suggests adding various deflection limitations for guards.  This is a tough one.  Manufactured guard assemblies are already tested to these limits, so it’s generally business-as-usual.  It’s the custom built guards that take the hit.  How will the inspector verify these limits?  How will you know your standard cedar guardrail meets these limits?  Speaking of deflection, RB61 proposes to nail down a deflection limit of L/360 for decks.  Is that too much for a deck with no ceiling below?  Take a look and see what you think of the proposed deflection limits, but give a long read to RB268 as well.  Among many other requirements, take a look at how it could affect your guard design and construction.  Do these ideas work for you, or could they be refined?

 

The lateral load tension device provision that is neither required nor validated will get more involved if RB260, RB261, RB262 and RB263 are approved.  Should this flawed code provision get further complicated and accepted through new exceptions to what is not even a rule…  Should more lateral load methods, based on loads that are yet to be understood, be printed in the ever-growing IRC?  Research on lateral live loads has occurred and more sound and validated standards will be produced in the future.  Will it be a greater uphill struggle to this goal if this section is made more complicated now?

 

“Fire separation distance” is the IRC’s version of “setbacks”.  Decks have long been ignored in the IRC in regard to how close to property lines they can be built.  RB74 and RB75 would end this, and decks and stairs would simply be prohibited from being any closer than 5 feet from the lot line.  Should there be an exception for decks under a certain height?  RB66 also proposes new fire separation ideas for decks, but they’re less restrictive.  Should we interject our experiences and opinions on this topic?

 

The 2009 and 2012 IRC effectively killed built-in seating at guards with the requirement to measure the minimum 36-inch guard height from the seat.  RB145 proposes to eliminate that requirement and bring back some architectural freedom to guard design.  How does that one sound to you?  Should it get NADRA support?  What about eliminating blocking over cantilevers 2 feet or less, as described in RB247.  That might help in installing some deck drainage systems.

 

Well, there’s a start to understanding what’s on the table for the IRC, and I hope it’s caught your interest.  There are more than just those.  Proposals can be modified during the whole process, so proposals that may have flaws, can be built upon and corrected.  As the voice of the decking industry, we have a chance to help build on these proposals and take a hold of the future of our industry.

 

Please send your feedback to Info@NADRA.org