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

July 3rd, 2019

By: Glenn Mathewson

To finish a marathon, you’ve got to push through the last mile.  Such is the same with developing a new edition of the International Residential Code.  Thousands of people are currently running a marathon toward the 2021 IRC, and though they are halfway through, there’s no telling who (or who’s proposals) will make it to the finish line.  While it’s too soon to start cheering, it’s not to soon to feel confident and strong, and that’s how the NADRA and Deck Code Coalition proposals are looking.

With the publishing of the final report from the Committee Action Hearings, the public can not only see the results of the hearing, but also a summary of the comments made by the committee.  There are three result categories, but since those aren’t “final” results, the comments should be the focus.  The committee comments could be looked at as spectators cheering on or booing the runners.  They provide direction, encouragement, and suggestions, much like “you got this! Keep going! You’re so close”.  Unfortunately, sometimes the comments can feel more like “you’re never going to make it! Give up now!  You look so tired!”

The race is not over until you pass the finish line, and sometimes people get a second wind.  That’s what the next phase of the code modification process can offer—a second chance.  Regardless of the committee result, every proposal can receive a public comment modification, and if received, the proposal will be heard again at the final hearings, where a final vote will be made…but not really.  The final vote is actually made online a few weeks after the hearing.  In this vote, only governmental ICC members can cast the final thumbs up or thumbs down.   These members could vote down a proposal approved by the committee, and likewise, the members could turn around a proposal disapproved by the committee.

Public comments to the committee results are due July 24th and these will be the catalyst for the next step in the process.  A proposal that does not receive a public comment is almost certain to be finalized as-is in the “bulk vote” where the governmental members vote for the entire package of proposals.  Having not received any disagreement from the public, the assumption is that the committee opinion is good to go.  Here is the part to pay close attention to:

If the committee result for a proposal is not challenged by July 24th, consider it done.  If there is something you don’t like, silence is equivalent to support.

So let me put it this way…  “Speak now or forever hold your peace”.

Okay…that’s not exactly true, but you would have to hold it until the 2024 IRC code development hearings where everything is on the table again.

Thanks to select NADRA members that have financially supported NADRA representation in the code modification process, I am working alongside other professionals in the Deck Code Coaltion and we are preparing public comments.  We are running this marathon until the end.  I hope you are on the sidelines cheering us on.  Here are the results and comments from the Committee Action Hearings that have us in a runner’s high.  You can view all the Group B ICC documents and the live video from the Group B hearing at this link:  https://www.iccsafe.org/products-and-services/i-codes/code-development/

RB184: Disapproved

Committee Reason:  There were multiple corrections expressed in a modification that the committee felt was too extensive. The wording in Section 507.4 is confusing. The committee urges that the corrections should be brought forward in a public comment. The collaborative effort, and inclusion of engineers in the effort, was a positive aspect for this proposal. (Vote: 10-1)

RB185: Approved As Modified

Committee Reason: The modification to Section R507.10.1.2 removed ‘approved’ because this adjective cannot be applied to manufacture’s instructions. The modification to Section to R507.10.2 reworded the two sentences for clarity. The modification to Section R507.10.4 removes ‘approved’ because this would be confusing to the homeowner. The proposal provided good general prescriptive language for guards that will reduce the need for engineering of guards. The committee had several suggestions for better wording that should come forward in a public comment: Add ‘also’ to Section R312.1.4; ‘design’ instead of ‘construction’ in Section 507.10; revise ‘prevent’ to ‘limit’ in Section R507.10.1.1; joists are part of the deck framing, so the language in Section R507.10.1 is confusing. (Vote: 9-2)

RB186: Approved As Modified

Committee Reason: The modification restores rivets and puts in the term ‘glulam’ to be consistent with the term used in ASTM F1667. Adding the Class D is appropriate for this product. (Vote: 11-0)

RB187: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The committee felt that the overall proposal is a good reorganization that add clarity to the code requirements. Item 3 in Section R507.3.3 is an alternative means that is currently allowed in Chapter 1. (Vote: 11-0)

RB188: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: This revision will clarify the engineering option for deck beams where fastened together. (Vote: 11-0)

RB189: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: This change clarifies the cantilever limitations. (Vote: 11-0)

RB190: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The proposed footnote allows for a design that does not use the full cantilever, which will allow for a more efficient design. If you do not use this option, the table is more conservative. The commentary should include an example. (Vote: 11-0)

RB191: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The revisions add clarification to the code and allows for better design practice for wood decking. (Vote 11-0)


NADRA Code Update

May 8th, 2019

Notes from NADRA’s Code Committee Chair, Mark Guthrie:

Building codes are always going to play a critical part in the safety, growth and public perception of our industry.  NADRA recognizes this and has been dedicating an increasing amount of time and resources to better understanding and shaping the codes that we all must build to and live by.   A big part of this is our preparation and attendance at the ICC Code Hearings.

Last week, I attended the hearings along with our Technical Advisor Glenn Mathewson.  We spoke on behalf of NADRA, both “for” and “against” code proposals that have the potential to impact our future. In most cases, we were able to gain the support of the voting committee on the codes that we felt best represented the position of NADRA – safer decks built to reasonable, fact-based standards of construction.  

Other than the individual code items that we spoke to, the biggest win in my mind was that NADRA came away from this meeting as a more recognized and respected voice in a room full of the most influential and credentialed building industry professionals.  Glenn was well prepared to state our case supported by facts and passion on our behalf and it was recognized.

What follows are Glenn’s notes on the meetings.  It’s a great rundown of what we can look forward to in future codes and how to shape it with your help.  It’s well worth the read.

Update from Glenn Mathewson:

Last week, I had the honor of attending and speaking on behalf of NADRA at the International Code Council Committee Action Hearing for the creation of the 2021 International Residential Code.  

These hearings ran from 8am to 7pm, with every code topic imaginable being scrutinized, debated and voted on throughout the week.  Deck-specific proposals were scattered between more general ones. Keep in mind that many features inside a home, like stairs for instance, are also an important part of decks.  However, many proponents of change don’t necessarily realize how their proposals may impact our industry. I was there to consider and react to these, ready to defend the interests of our membership while still focusing on the deck related changes we had prepared for.

The code hearing process can be a little confusing but worth a quick explanation.  A volunteer committee of varied professionals at this stage considered testimony for and against the more than 300 modification proposals.   Their majority vote for approval or disapproval then set in motion the next phase where the public can submit changes to these proposals. All proposals that receive a public comment for modification will be deliberated again in the Final Action Hearings in October like last week’s meeting.  However, this time the final vote will be made by governmental ICC members made up mostly of local code officials from around the country.

There is still more work that needs to be done whether you agreed or disagreed with the votes taken last week.  A modification to a proposal that was approved by the committee only now requires a majority vote to become 2021 code.  To turn over a committee disapproval takes a 2/3rd majority. So, if you don’t agree with the committees vote this time, you better submit a public comment to help sway sentiment at the final hearings.  

Here is a rundown of the more significant deck-related proposals and what the committee felt about them:

RB46 & RB47 were the work of many in trying to separate guards and handrails into their own rows in the minimum live load table, and to better identify the loading direction that must be resisted.  Currently both must resist loads in all possible directions. Argument was delivered that a guard is for fall protection off an elevated floor surface and thus should not be required to be designed to support the same loads pulling back in toward the deck as those pushing out over the edge.  The committee disagreed and this one was a half win. Handrails and guards were split on the table, but the loading direction was unchanged. This is still a good first step that will allow future work to better identify the loads they must each resist.

RB50 was a serious proposal suggesting that all decks be built to a minimum 60 psf live load, rather than the current 40 psf.  However, to achieve this, the proposal required a using the 70 psf snow load tables in a different proposal by NADRA and the Deck Code Coalition (DCC).  Luckily, after much deliberation, the committee decided this was not appropriate and the proposal was disapproved. After the decision, I reached out to the proponent and invited them to discuss their concerns in deck live loads with us.  There are many with ideas and experience in decks and they cannot be dismissed. NADRA stands by collaboration as the only way to appropriately develop the future codes of our industry.

RB106 suggested a strict method of constructing stairs, including stringer cuts, spans and spacing, securing to a concrete landing, and details for connecting the stairs at the top.  The proposal is not a surprise, as the absence structural code provisions for how to build stairs is well known. However, the suggestions in RB106 just didn’t represent very much flexibility and needed more work.  We spoke against this proposal and it was disapproved.

There were many other proposals with minor impacts that we spoke to in support and opposition, and in nearly all cases the committee voted in the manner we had hoped.  On the last full day of testimony, the proposals that NADRA and the DCC have spent months developing were heard.

RB184 was our largest proposal and offered new design tables for sizing deck structural members.  The new tables expanded the current 40 psf live load to 50, 60 and 70 psf snow loads options.  This would allow many more regions to use the prescriptive design method in the IRC. This proposal also included critical alterations to the footing table, such as reducing the minimum 14-inch diameter pier currently in the IRC to as small as 8-inch diameter for small decks and stair landings.  It also expanded the post-sizing table to include the actual area of the deck supported and various wood species. Unfortunately, some last minute engineering tweaks had to be made to the table that was submitted and the committee didn’t feel they had sufficient time to review them. They disapproved it.  Luckily, there were no negative statements made in committee discussions and no opposition testimony. The committee encouraged us to submit the revisions as public comment so they can be thoroughly reviewed. Other attendees at the hearing, not affiliated with the DCC, stood and spoke in favor of our proposal.  There is still hope for a strong vote of approval in the Final Action Hearings.

RB185 was the most collaborated proposal of all from the DCC, as it was related to guard post installation.  Working with the many parties in the DCC, there have always been very differing opinions about how specific guard construction should be detailed in the IRC.  After much argument, disagreement, and sharing of knowledge, the members of the DCC were able to respect each other and all agree on a minimum proposal to make a step forward in safer guard construction.  We agreed to prohibit the notching of 4×4 posts and to include code language requiring a post to be secured into the adjacent framing of the deck, not just the single rim board. However, no specific hardware was specified, keeping the code generic and flexible.  The committee congratulated us a number of times for the professional manner in which we worked together. The proposal was approved.

RB187 was a pretty simple proposal to make better sense of various deck foundation types, minimum depths, and frost depth exceptions.  With the committee approval of this proposal, the code will be better presented. One clarification made was that decks attached to non-frost-protected structures, such as detached garages or sheds, will not have to themselves be frost protected.

RB190 is a proposal that makes beam design for decks much more flexible.  The current table in the IRC for sizing beams is based on the span of the joist supported by the beam, but it assumes those joists are at their maximum allowable cantilever beyond the beam.  For decks with flush beams and no cantilevered joists, the maximum beam span is incredibly conservative. We proposed a footnote modification method that will allow the table to be more flexible and alter the values based on the lesser amount of cantilever.  The example used in the proposal showed how a beam without cantilevered joists was still being limited to a maximum 7 foot 4 inches, but with our new footnote modification would actually be able to span 9 feet. The committee agreed that this was a much-needed flexibility to the table and approved our proposal.

RB 191 is a proposal based in truth, though it may not be something deck builders will be thrilled about.  None-the-less, our reputation as contributors to the code development process must remain grounded in what is most appropriate for the industry.  The maximum joists spacing of different thicknesses of wood decking is derived from an analysis method that assumes each board is spanning at least two joist bays, bearing on three joists.  This is not currently explained in the code. The provisions we proposed maintained the maximum joists spacing for decking supported on at least three joists, but reduced the maximum spacing for decking supported by only two joists.  For these short lengths, the maximum joist spacing will be approximately half. Revealing this oversight in the code maintains a high level of professionalism in our industry, yet also allowed us to craft the code in a manner that provides more assurance for sound construction, while also allowing for design freedom..

RB302 was our final proposal and it was related to the guard design collaboration.  To address concerns of building departments that have no way to approve simple, basic guard designs while not hindering the professional builders from unique guard designs, a new appendix chapter was proposed.  IRC appendix chapters must be adopted individually by a jurisdiction and are not automatically part of the mandatory code. Where not adopted, they can still be referenced as an approved manner for construction.  The proposal included specific methods for attaching guard posts that have been engineered to support the 200 lb. required design load. Assuming the committee would agree that guards don’t need to support a 200 lb. inward load, that load was not specifically addressed.  Unfortunately, that assumption was incorrect, and the committee did not approve the appendix proposal.

Overall, the contributions of NADRA and the DCC were an overwhelming success.  Our voice was heard, respected, and made a difference. It’s a voice that we can’t allow to ever go silent.  The IRC will be modified every three years, as will the IBC and the swimming pool and spa code (ISPSC), both of which have implications on decks.  There will always be a need for the deck industry to stand and speak. We have made a great impression, but there is still much work to be done to complete the 2021 IRC.

Congratulations to us all on this success,

Glenn Mathewson, MCP – NADRA Technical Advisor.

NADRA Code Update

ICC Committee Action Hearings, Group B Codes – Albuquerque, 2019:

May 2nd, 2019 Update – By: Glenn Mathewson

Deep into the IRC Committee Action Hearings. So far the deck industry has been well represented by The North American Deck and Railing Association and our friends in the Deck Code Coalition.

Preview of our accomplishments as the voice for our industry:

  • Guard and handrail load requirements were approved to be split into two columns which sets the stag to better evaluate the unique job they each do.
  • Raising the minimum design live load for decks from 40 psf to 60 psf was disapproved.

This is just the beginning of the process though, as public comments and the Final Action hearing can still change everything, MUCH work is still to be done. Please consider making a pledge today to help NADRA continue to have representation at these critical hearings. Learn more about our fundraising initiative HERE.

Today will be another long 11-hour day of testimony, but I’m proud to be here speaking on behalf of NADRA and for all those that work in decks and rails!

NADRA Code Challenge

April 11th, 2019: By Judy Verblaauw

The Challenge is on! Let’s Go NADRA Members!!! 

During the last Southeast regional meeting, Glenn Mathewson spoke about the code changes that have been proposed and what it could mean for our industry.  At the Northeast regional meeting, Bruce Verblaauw discussed the same things.  After these meetings, Decks by Kiefer, a NADRA Builder member from New Jersey, decided to challenge all other members to meet or beat his contribution of $500 to the code initiative

All contributors will receive the official 2019 NADRA “Power of One” Ambassador logo for their marketing use & will receive a shoutout on the official fundraising page.

Special thank you to the following NADRA members for contributing: 

  • NADRA Builder Member, Southeastern Underdeck Systems, LLC
  • NADRA Builder Member, C. Verblaauw & Sons, LLC
  • NADRA Builder Member, Deck and Basement Company
  • NADRA Builder Member, O’Keefe Built, Inc. 
  • NADRA Builder Member, Titan Building Products
  • NADRA Builder Member, Back to Nature Decks
  • NADRA Builder Member, Casey Fence and Deck
  • NADRA Distributor Member, Excelsior Lumber
  • NADRA Manufacturer Member, HDG Engineered Products
  • NADRA Manufacturer Member, TREX
  • NADRA Builder Member, Decks by Kiefer
  • NADRA Builder Member, DeckRemodelers.com

Stand up and help support NADRA’s efforts.  Click here to learn more and add your “2 cents” to this great cause. On this page, you will also see links for all official code updates from Glenn Mathewson.

The proposals for the creation of the 2021 IRC have been released for review and can be viewed HERE

NADRA Code Update

March, 2019

The Deck Future in the Making, By Glenn Mathewson

Professionals are now planning and strategizing their proponent and opponent testimonies for delivery at the Committee Action Hearing in Albuquerque the first week of May.  NADRA will be proudly supporting nine proposals that came together through the effort and contribution of many professionals and organizations from a variety of backgrounds, and are thus the kind of ideas that NADRA was proud to cosponsor.  For a building code to honestly and respectfully represent a civilization, the whole civilization should be invited to their creation.

NADRA invites all those with interest in deck codes to share and contribute together with us and those we work with. We strongly believe that is path to the most appropriate, minimum standard.

Here are your 2021 IRC deck-related code proposals and a simple summary:

RB50-19: Increase minimum design load for decks from 40 psf to 60 psf.  This is the proposal the decking industry must pay the greatest attention to.  It raises the minimum required design load from 40 psf, as it has been for all of time, to 60 psf.  Whether you agree with this or not, the proposal did not include any new prescriptive design tables to accommodate the increase.  Rather, they added a footnote that the 70 PSF SNOW LOAD table must be used. Ironically…this table does not yet exist. It only exists in the DCC/NADRA proposal that offers expanded design tables for regions with greater snow loads, such as 50, 60 & 70 psf.

Our proposal was intended to allow the IRC to be used for design in the few pockets of the country with large snow loads.  RB50-19 takes the largest of those snow loads AND APPLIES IT TO THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.  Florida would be building decks as they are built in the Rocky Mountains.  Denver would be building decks equivalent to the live load combined with the snow load.  When is the last time you had people shoulder to shoulder on a deck with multiple feet of snow?

The second proposal that appears to have the greatest impact on the decking industry is RB106-19.  This proposals offers new prescriptive requirements for deck stair construction, including the minimum remaining cut of stringers, number of stringers, securing and bearing area, and maximum span of stringers.  The remaining proposals certainly need our review and I believe can certainly use our contribution, whether in support or in opposition—with included constructive criticism.

These remaining proposals have some effect on the decking industry, and should be reviewed by the industry.  I will be providing my recommendations to NADRA, but now is the time for YOU to speak up. Do you support these proposals? …Do you not?  Are you going to do anything with that opinion?…Or will you not?

RB20-19:  New definition for a “porch” including specifics regarding its separation from the dwelling and conditioning of the space.

RB59-19:  Requirement to extend the fire-resistance rated wall that separates townhomes to a height of 8 feet above a rooftop deck.

RB97-19:  New limitations and requirements for emergency escape and rescue opening covers.

  • Could prohibit extension and termination of window wells up to deck levels
  • Requires cover to remain open upon opening
  • Limits weight of cover to 25 lb.

RB99-19: Requires the minimum 36-inch high path under a deck from an escape opening to now also be a minimum of 36 inches wide.

RB105-19 & 106-19:  Clarifies that only stairs and ramps connected to a building, porch, or deck must comply with code.

RB112-19: Reduces the maximum stair rise from 7 ¾ inches to 7 inches and increases the minimum tread depth from 10 inches to 11 inches.

RB113-19:  Allows an exterior stair landing that is also critical to water drainage to slope up to 1:48 from the previous ¼:48 limit.

RB114-19:  Allows a continuous handrail to be interrupted or offset by up to 6 inches and still be considered continuous.

RB116-19: Removes all provisions regarding stairway geometry and references an NFPA document for the requirements.

RB118-19: Removes reference to “walking surfaces” for required guards and replaces with the term “floors”

RB119-19: Requires ALL guards to be a minimum of 36 inches high.  Currently only “required” guards must be this high.

RB136-19: Removes the provision that requires the building official to determine if local experience demonstrates a need for decay resistances of deck framing and replaces it with a direct requirement for decay resistance where the deck is not protected from the weather.

RB192-19: Expands the allowable band joist material for ledger connections from specific species to any code-compliant engineered wood rim board.

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 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.

2. 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.

The proposals for the creation of the 2021 IRC have been released for review and can be viewed HERE.

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. 

NADRA Code Update

Here’s a run down of proposals likely to be submitted Jan. 7th with the combined support of nearly all the contributors of the Deck Code Coalition.  I am proud of NADRA for being a part of this support.

By Glenn Mathewson

At the annual meeting in October, it was announced that I was prepared to work for NADRA and the decking industry to represent them in the development of the 2021 International Residential Code.  I know it’s hard for most to wrap their heads around the idea of changing the 2018 code already, considering it doesn’t even have widespread adoption yet. That’s why you’ve hired me, and I’ve already gotten to work.  The best place to begin that work was to contribute to the Deck Code Coalition, an unofficial coalition of the most powerful interests in deck code. Organizations such as the NAHB, SMA and AWC are involved. Code officials from multiple ICC chapters, product manufacturers, engineering firms, and many other professionals from various backgrounds are also there.  Where is there? It’s an imaginary campfire with all interests sitting around together, sharing, talking, contributing, arguing at times, but yet no one has been thrown in the fire. This is how code should be developed, with the overall interest being the people…the end user. I believe the efforts thus far, thanks to those members that have financially contributed, have been more successful than I expected.  

Here’s a run down of proposals likely to be submitted Jan. 7th with the combined support of nearly all the contributors of the Deck Code Coalition.  I am proud of NADRA for being a part of this support.

Are you shocked by the new minimum14-inch diameter footing/pier required in the 2018 IRC?  If you haven’t heard, even the four footings under that small stair landing must be 14 inch.  We expressed our concerns of this to the DCC and the American Wood Council (AWC) agreed and re-engineered new minimum footing diameters for the table.   How does a minimum 8-inch diameter sound for those little landing? Well, that’s what is being proposed and supported by the DCC. Had NADRA not expressed our concerns, no one was going to address it.  The AWC deserves a big thank you for their engineering work.

The new beam, joist and post sizing tables first included in the 2015 IRC only handled regions with up to a 40 psf snow load.  Through significant effort from the AWC, new larger tables have been engineered to handle snow loads of 50, 60 , and 70 psf. This new code, if included in the IRC, won’t help out for all regions, but for the snowier regions that were left with nothing but job-specific engineering, this provides a much more affordable design option.

Poorly written code is hard to understand, makes the industry it addresses look ignorant, and lends itself to inconsistent interpretation.  Changes to the exceptions for footing sizes and frost protection were left pretty messy in the 2018 IRC. A proposal that reorganizes those provisions will make the code much easier to read and understand.  While this may not seem like a big deal to many, rest assured, it’s worthwhile work.

Guards and handrails are like peanut butter and jelly, they are completely different, but often end up in the same sandwich.  Guards along stairs may include a handrail feature at the top, or they may support a handrail at the side, but serve a different function and must resist different loads and load directions.  The IRC has always lumped these two features together in the load table that specifies the load and load directions they must resist. With recent testing and validation for guard strength, manufacturers and others have published many details for how to build guards.  NADRA has long stood that before work is done to design guards to resist the code-specified minimum loads, those loads should be re-evaluated. In my research of minimum guard loading over the last 5 decades, it’s clear to see that the target loads have been a “best guess”.  After attending a meeting with the American Society of Civil Engineers (the authority on design loads) and supporting efforts by the NAHB, we are proud that a proposal to separate guards and handrails in the load table and address the direction of loading for guards more specifically will be submitted by the DCC in January.

On the same subject of guard loading, we have worked diligently to help other interests in deck code understand what we understand about guard design.  It’s creative and unique and that’s what “the people” want. Reputable professionals have a strong motivation to see a specific guard post connection detail illustration with proprietary hardware devices in the pages of the IRC.  The intent is good natured and understandable. Inspectors have long had nothing but a push on guards as their measure of code compliance (safety), and that can leave anyone with that responsibility a little uneasy. They too see the news of the failing decks across our country.  This is respectable and understandable. However, builders are equally uneasy about another “picture” being put in the code that appears to universally require proprietary hardware and a specific method for post attachment. Remember the lateral load anchor? How can you forget? It’s false flag and illusion of a complete lateral load design have forever changed the industry, and still today, 10 years later, it’s only “permitted” not “required”.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and for many inspectors there’s no need to read the permissive words if the seemingly required picture is there. We can’t see this happen to guards the same way it happened to ledgers.

The will to address poorly built deck guards in the IRC is strong and has made two attempts at guard structural design code in the last two editions.  To do this work respectably, no one should have everything their way. While NADRA has incredible experience with boots on the ground, we don’t know it all.  If we appreciate the experience from other professionals when we agree, then we must also respect their experiences when we disagree. With this humble philosophy comes respectable code.  Code that was carried to the hearings in many loving arms is far greater than code pushed in with singular, selfish power. Compromise has to be made by all, so NADRA took the first step. To respect the concerns of others and hope they return it with respect for ours, we entertained new code language to prohibit some of the notoriously insufficient guard designs.  Minimum 4×4 posts for guards will eliminate some shoddy 2×4 posts that can be found. Notching of 4×4 posts in guard construction has been done for all of time, and though it works in some rare cases, it generally does not. Research has been done on this subject, and the proof is pretty clear. To help show our willingness to address this common mode of guard failure, NADRA has thus far agreed to support a prohibition of notching 4×4 guard posts.  Other proposed code language includes clear instruction that the guard posts must be secured to adjacent joists and transfer the loads into the whole deck, not just the rim joist. We were careful this language didn’t specify “blocking” that could interfere with deck drainage systems. We also made sure to exclude any mention of proprietary hardware.

It was our hope that by taking the first step to compromise and draft code language to address guard safety we would encourage others of the same teamwork and they would withdrawal their proposal for a “picture”.  Unfortunately…we were unsuccessful. Though the DCC was able to agree on 6 proposals, including the one we compromised in, select members have announced they will still propose the “picture” and we must battle it out at the hearings.  To say I’m disappointed is an understatement, and to say I didn’t lose a little respect for those professionals would be a lie. The code must represent all professional experiences and be the best mix of them all. Period. The professionals contributing to the DCC bring enough experience and spent enough time sharing it together, that any proposal that could not be agreed upon by all, is a proposal unfit for the hearing and for the code.  Period. No exceptions. In bringing the voice of the decking industry to the code development process, we must do it with as much respect and understanding as possible, and we can only hope to receive it in return. Alas, NADRA will need to take that message to the hearing and be sure the attendance knows that the guard picture proposed next year is lacking the support of many professionals.

Now for the bad news… Helping with these 6 proposals is only a slice of the work to be done.  They are simply the proposals we could contribute to before the hearings. On January 7th of next year, thousands of pages of proposals will be submitted and they will likely contain many deck-related proposals we have yet to know anything about.  NADRA must be prepared to comb through these proposals when they are published in March. I’ve heard some rumors of two proposals to expect. One to require the same additional load on deck boards that stair treads must resist.  Notice how with most plastic composite lumber you can’t span as far on stair treads as you can for deck boards? A max 16-inch span for decking is often reduced to 12 inches on stairs, but not if that proposal wins. Of course every single max span you have come to know could change with this next one.  A proposal from a powerful proponent is likely to be submitted, one that would raise the minimum design live load of 40 psf to 60 psf, but just for decks. Not the floor inside the house.

Did you hear those last two?  Ready to change all your design norms?  Ready to retest all your manufactured decking?  Are you ready for singular powers that don’t manufacture, sell, or build decks to tell you how to do it? When was the last time you had a deck built to 40 psf collapse under load? Not due to some construction flaw.

These last few months of 2018 have proven the necessity for NADRA to have funding to represent the industry in code, but the work has hardly begun. Much is still needed of the membership if NADRA is to continue contributing to this work. Your help is needed.

To support NADRA’s important Code initiative, please visit and share our code fundraising page and consider contributing today. 

Thank you for your support! 

NADRA attends American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) Live and Dead Load Subcommittee meeting

By Glenn Mathewson

Another public comment was also presented, one that could have a major impact on decking.

How to build guards has never been provided for in the code, and even the loads that guards must resist have been pretty fuzzy throughout code history.  Those target loads have come into some pretty serious question now that so much testing is being conducted to assure guard posts will meet a 500 lb or greater load.  The current code requires the top of a guard and handrail to resist a 200 lb. load in any direction. Any direction means upward and inward, two directions that have nothing to do with a guard’s purpose, fall protection from an elevated surface.  They do relate to a handrail’s purpose, to brace a fall in any direction and to assist in ascending or descending stairs or ramps.

The ASTM testing standards for composite rails and the ICC Evaluation Services acceptance criteria for other manufactured guards don’t exactly match the code, and the loads are questioned in all.  This problem is well understood, yet meanwhile, proponents have been only narrowly defeated in the last two code modification cycles in their attempts to have prescriptive ands specific guard post connection details included in the IRC.  It is the opinion of many others that the target loading and the direction of loading needs to be reevaluated and set more appropriately, before methods to meet the loads are solidified in code. That was the reason I, taking NADRA’s voice, attended the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) Live and Dead Load Subcommittee meeting on November 7th, 2018.

The ASCE 7 standard is the nation’s go-to for establishing the minimum design loads for structures of all sorts.  It’s generally the basis for the loads in the I-codes. So rather than attempt this change for guard loading at the ICC level, we went one level further in.  The ASCE meeting was to review proposals and ideas for the next 2022 version of the ASCE 7 and proposals they are planning for the 2021 IBC development next year.  The National Home Builders’ Association (NAHB), a friend to NADRA, led the charge with public comment proposals to the ASCE committee requesting guards and handrails be separated and their minimum loads and load directions be individually determined.  While a handrail does need to resist a load in any direction, a guard does not. I spoke at the meeting in favor of the NAHB public comment and provided history of guard and handrails loads going back to the 1970. Over those years, guard and handrail minimum design loads were quite varied.  On the west coast, under the Uniform Building Code, only a 20 lb. horizontal load applied 90 degrees to the guard, but on the east coast, under the Standard Building Code, it was 200 lb. in any direction. From the 70’s to 2000 IRC, guards underwent a lot of changes regarding design load, but still at that time guards weren’t tested by any more than a push from the inspector.  Guards and handrail loads were combined, then separated, but then in later years combined again.

The history and the companion testimony at the meeting helped show the ASCE committee that indeed today’s design loads in the code and the ASCE standard are due for reevaluation.  Before building the house of new deck codes, let’s make sure we have a good foundation. Alongside NADRA and the NAHB, the Stair Manufacturers’ Association and the Composite Lumber Manufacturers’ Association also provided insight into this much-needed reevaluation.  The ASCE Committee agreed and affirmed a motion to work with the NAHB further on this issue. This was a great step in the right direction.

Though we attended the meeting for the guard discussion, there was more to learn.  Code and standard proposals and recommendations can come from anyone. Being present and available to learn of those other proposals and to quickly respond is a very important part of representing an industry in code.

Another public comment was also presented, one that could have a major impact on decking.  Stair treads are required to resist the familiar 40 psf live load that a deck surface must resist, but they also must resist a concentrated load of 300 lb. over a 4-square-inch area.  This has to do with the impact from the balls of your feet while rapidly descending stairs. It has been in the codes for all stair treads since 1979. You may be familiar with composite decking stair tread span limitations.  Due to this additional concentrated load, most composite decking has reduced allowable spans when used as stair treads. 16-inch on center joists for the deck, often have to be reduced to 12 inch or less on the stairs. A surprise proposal we were not expecting was to require the same stair tread concentrated load throughout the deck.  Changing the minimum loading requirements, means re-proving that decking can meet the new loads, including the lumber decking spans brought into the code in 2015. If these changes were made, they would need to be with good justification and industry-wide evaluation.

The proponent argument for this proposal was in response to impact from stepping off ladders and known cases of deck board failure.   What wasn’t shared is how many instances? How old was the decking? What was the condition? These were all questions posed by others in the room, as it is becoming well known that well-intended reactions to anecdotal instances have shaped a lot of recent codes.  The very quick question I, we, NADRA, asked was why decks are being singled out and not all floor systems? If this is a human impact load on a floor surface, then what distinguishes the hazard between the floor inside the house and the deck? Why would the decking industry be singled out?  Do we not use ladders inside the home? There was no solid answer to these questions and an affirmative motion to shelf the proposal and request more information and reason statements from the proponent.

Our efforts at this meeting have helped already to steer the future, but the winds are strong and the journey long. We need your support to stay involved in this critical work.