Here Comes the 2021! A Look at the Latest Deck Codes

It’s not even printed yet! Find out first with NADRA. 

Here is the 2021 residential deck and railing codes summary by Glenn Mathewson

The 2021 edition of the International Residential Code is officially complete and ready for printing.  Through member contributions, NADRA was able to participate in the code development process last year and work with others to further develop minimum standards and basic prescriptive design methods for common, residential deck construction.  

On the NADRA blog, we provided updates throughout the process, with specific details and discussions about the technical merits of each of our proposals.  (You can click HERE to view all of the code updates from 2019 and 2020). We also shared our concerns of proposals by others.  That work has closed now for this new edition, so here’s the final, approved story of what’s coming in the next IRC…summarized, just for you..  

Though many building authorities are only now adopting the 2018 as the local standard, the new 2021 prescriptive design provisions are a well-proven alternative that can be approved by building authorities and utilized as soon as published.

Table Updates: 

The pre-engineered design tables have been completely overhauled in a number of ways:

  • All the structural components can now be prescriptively sized for more than just a 40 psf live load, with the addition of 50, 60, and 70 psf snow loads in the design tables.
  • Previously, the smallest tributary area of deck to size a footing from was 20 square feet, leaving something as small as a stair landing at a minimum 14-inch diameter for each corner post.  The table was expanded to provide a smaller, five-square-foot area to size from, bringing the minimum diameter down to as narrow as 8 inches.
  • The post sizing table was greatly expanded.  Where previously inflexible and without recognition of any load or post species, a 4×4 post was limited to an ultimate 8-foot height.  Now allowing for variables such as snow load, species, and tributary area of deck supported, the table can much more accurately size support posts.  The common 4×4 post can now, under certain circumstances, extend as high as 14 feet.
  • The beam design table was modified to include single ply beams in all of the species in the table, including redwood and cedar.  Single ply beams are useful for lighter loads and shorter spans, but also eliminate the decay potential from water trapped between two or more beam plies.  
  • The joist span table was reorganized completely to better present the variables of joist span and joist cantilever.  
  • The one-fourth-the-backspan rule for joist cantilevers has been replaced with a maximum allowable cantilever for each common joist span length.  This change provides for much better flexibility in design and more accuracy in the minimum sizes and spans.

Guards: 

For decades, guards and handrails have been combined together in the specifications for minimum load resistance, though each one supports people in different ways.  The minimum live load table now separates these features, primarily so the loading direction of guards could be independently evaluated.  While handrails, the graspable rail beside stairs, are meant to support us and must resist forces in all directions; guards that wrap around our deck are only meant to keep us from falling outward, off the edge.  Currently, they both must resist loads “in all directions”, and with the focus on testing guards to a 500 lb load resulting in some robust connections, it was fair to expect that such connections wouldn’t be necessary for an inward load.  Guards should not be expected to resist this large force pulling inward or upward, and under the 2021 they will no longer.  However, guard construction should also see some bad practices eliminated under a few other new provisions.

The new IRC will be the first I-code to provide any guidance on guard construction other than the load target and the geometry.  Though guards function foremost as a safety feature, they are regarded daily as an architectural feature.  The market for deck guard design is enormous and the American consumer is trained to demand the variety.  This makes prescriptive guard design a very difficult and controversial subject to address.  However, notched 4×4 guard posts have been notoriously attached to rim joists or beams with anything from lag screws to nails and with little validity in their performance beyond a small shove soon after construction.  Time and tragedy has taught us that these guards don’t work, so the first step was prohibiting the notching of 4×4 guard posts at the connection point.  The connection is also required to extend back into the framing in some manner to eliminate the issue of guards that pull a rim joist off the ends of the joists or a guard that rotates a single side joist.  A handful of new sections read a little more like guidance than definitive code requirements, but this was purposeful.  Any new restrictions or limitations on guard design must be done carefully and with broad consideration.  A proposal for a new appendix chapter (an optional part of the code that can be adopted as mandatory or used simply for guidance) with specific details for wood guard post connection was not approved;even this subtlety in an appendix is too concerning to put in a regulatory document.

The other NADRA-supported proposals that were approved at the first hearing last year can be read about in detail at the NADRA blog, as well as various proposals from others that were not approved.  While this process is now closed, it has already begun again.  The 2021 IBC, ISPSC, and IWUIC that were finalized last year and are already ready to be modified again.  These codes address decks at commercial buildings, swimming pools, and wildland fire locations and proposals for their continued development are due on January 11, 2021.  Got an opinion about those codes as they relate to decks?  We’d like to hear it.

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.


When the Building Department Closes

By: Glenn Mathewson

Let’s avoid the discussion about “why” building departments are closing, reducing services, or not doing certain inspections.  For virus advice, please head to the CDC or your local health department. In this article, let’s use our First Amendment right and discuss ideas for deck builders that need and choose to keep working, but don’t know how.  These ideas are not for normal times. They are for times when out-of-the-box thinking is required, and norms must be challenged.

Our nation’s building authorities do so much to protect our communities, but if you consider humanity’s timeline of acquiring, maintaining, and improving “shelter”, a building department is a modern convenience.  There were owners, designers, tradespeople, contractors, suppliers, and even utility service providers involved with construction long before there were permits and inspectors. Do you still stop at a red light even when officers are not around?  Most of us do. Can you still comply with code even when the inspector is not around? Yes, but it’s probably going to take more effort. There will be greater risk in absence of their help. Like a red-light traffic camera, if you don’t follow the rules now, you will have to address it later.  So how do you fill in temporarily for the building department, if any hope of their assistance is gone?

Inspections

Government inspections need no justification of their importance.  They keep professionals honest, they reveal the nuances of the local construction standards, and they offer a sense of protection to the general public.  A temporary delay of inspections creates a time gap where mistakes can go uncorrected. Inspection delays happen when unusual events occur and create more work than can be handled, such as roof inspections after a major hailstorm.  At these times, 3rd party, private inspectors are often approved by the jurisdiction at the cost of the contractor. Many building departments already are providing guidance for using 3rd party inspectors and more are likely to follow.  Engineers, architects, and home inspectors could all provide this service, IF they are knowledgeable and experienced in current codes. Larger urban areas likely have code consulting firms able to offer inspections. The problem may be the same though, as you have to get them to leave their home.  If deck builders are left to fend for themselves, they will have to get creative.

  • The Self Inspection:  When it’s time for an inspection, come back the next morning or after lunch with a different hat on.  Go through the whole deck like you’ve never seen it before and write a correction list. Don’t fix anything until you’re done playing inspector.  Have everyone on the crew do this and compare your inspection reports.
  • The Crew Inspection:  For builders with multiple crews, consider having the leads of different crews inspect each other’s work.  It may be hard to get subcontractors to play nice together, but that was so 2019.
  • The Competitor Inspection:  Have you been friendly in your industry?  Maybe made friends with other NADRA members?  Nothing sounds crazy anymore, so maybe exchange a game of “play inspector” with them. 

Code Compliance

A lack of code education is the single greatest cause of code violations and not even inspectors are immune.  The catch is that even if you know the IRC cover to cover, you still aren’t ready to play inspector. You’ve got to know the locally adopted and likely amended code.  Those that continue to build, have a greater duty than ever to build correctly…but that’s not defined in the IRC, it’s defined by each authority. The plan review process usually reveals any local requirements and it allows mistakes to be corrected easily and on paper.  If the chaos continues and you’ve got to start a new project, you still need to do a plan review. Using the same advice provided for inspections, create the best, most detailed set of plans you can, and have someone else do a plan review.  Here are some suggestions if you find yourself in that situation.

  • Review similar past projects and any red lines on plans or revision letters.  Look over the inspection reports from the same jurisdiction.
  • Go online to the building department website and look at their code adoptions and amendments.  Review any guides or handouts they have provided. You may not realize how much assistance has been there all along to help you succeed.
  • Look at the planning and zoning requirements for setbacks, maximum and minimum required areas, and even material types that may be regulated in ordinances and can differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Common conditions that trigger unique rules include decks close to property lines, visible from public ways, built with unique materials, at multi-family buildings, or serving a front door.
  • Unusual designs and alternative products and materials may be something to avoid right now, as they get more inconsistent approval amongst building authorities.  Now is a good time to stick to what is easy, proven, and has been successful in the past.
  • Have an engineer review your structural plans and seal them.  This will be incredible valuable to you, but remember it only covers the structural aspects.

Record keeping

Another service of the building authority is record keeping.  Rest assured, they will update records from work during this period, and you would be very wise to make that job very easy for them.  The records you keep as a business are not the ones the building department wants. When your “creative” inspections or reviews are performed, record the date, who did it, and what assumptions were made.  What code is it under? What zoning is it in? What setbacks are required? Write down the details, even if you don’t know what details you should write. Write them all. Take photos and video—of everything.  The more due diligence you do now, the easier it will be to work with the building authority later. If they know you took their absence seriously and acted as professionally as possible, they are more apt to work with you on any resolutions.

This article isn’t suggesting you do work without a government permit, plan review, or inspection, but if you are going to anyway, find someone to perform their function, even if it’s you.  Whatever risk you choose to take in absence of the building department, keep the owner of the property well in the loop and involved. You must have them as an ally and a witness. Finally, you must have your head in the right place.  If you have a negative attitude about the role permits, plan review, and inspection have in your work, you really should just stay home. You’re not ready to be a substitute. Now is a time to realize that the building department was helping your success all along.  If you are going to do their job, you’ve first got to respect it.

Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The North American Deck and Railing Association. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of  their opinion, and are not intended to malign any club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

Question & Answer with NADRA.org

An on-going series of inquiries from consumers & industry professionals sent to Info@NADRA.org.

Question #1:

“I am planning a deck on the back of my home. I am wondering if I am missing something. 

I want to use 6×6 post and notch them for my beam and rim joist as one, then just carry it up to be my hand rail posts also. Other than maybe cost and the extra work of dealing with the heavier pieces this seems like the way to go but I don’t see anyone doing it. Am I missing something as a non professional as to why this would not work?

Other details: Deck height on one end will reach 36 inches. Total deck size will be about 24 feet along the house and a max of 12 feet out away from the house.”

Answer provided by Glenn Mathewson, NADRA Technical Advisor:

Thank you for reaching out to us for assistance.  The NADRA membership supports the organization to offer commentary to those seeking a better understanding of the deck and railing industry.  The International Residential Code (IRC) is a model code developed by the International Code Council.  Government authorities very often reference this document for the regulation of single family homes, but they often make amendments to change the rules.  The guidance herein is only in regard to the unamended model code, as we are unaware of your locally adopted building code.  The subject of guards may or may not be amended.  have reached out to our advisors to provide you assistance.

What you are proposing is not unusual in anyway and can produce a very sound and beautiful deck and guard.  Being a technical subject, it is important we clarify that you are referring to “guards” and not “handrails”.  Handrails are only the graspable rail found beside stairs and ramps to assist in ascending and descending.  A guard is a feature at the edge of an elevated walking surface meant reduce the likelihood of a fall off the edge.  Presuming you are speaking of a guard, we will continue.

According to the 2018 IRC, guards must be designed to resist a 200 lb load placed at the top of the guard, currently in any direction.  To achieve this design load through testing, an ultimate strength of no less than 2.5 x the load must be resisted.  This is a 500 lb test load.  Research has been done on this load for guard post connections and found that a 4×4 post could not be notched at the point of connection.  No testing occurred on a 6×6.  In the development of the next edition of the IRC, the 2021, much discussion was made by industry professionals on the subject of notched guard posts.  A proposal was submitted and approved for this code, based on the research and engineering analysis, that prohibits the notching of 4×4 posts.  In the discussion for this proposal, 6×6 posts were brought up.  When notched to retain at least 3.5 inches of material in the “flange” it was agreed that notching a 6×6 should not be prohibited by code at this time and without further research.  No code provisions were approved with relation to 6×6 posts.

In the absence of prescriptive design methods or provisions provided by the code, a design professional is necessary to validate structural performance. Therefore, we cannot provide you any definitive answer, as there is not yet an established accepted and generic practice to notching 6×6 guard posts. We can tell you that it can be achieved sufficiently, and is a design seen in the industry.  Here are some things to consider as you make your decision:

  • 1) Determine if there are local design standards required by your local building department.
  • 2) Discuss the design with your local building department.
  • 3) The design of your guard assembly as a whole can have an impact on the load resistance the post to beam connection must resist.  Evaluate this.
  • 4) Notching of material must be done with consideration to any knots, wane, or damage to the member near and at the notch location.
  • 5) Do not overcut your notches with a circular saw, as this equates to a deeper notch.
  • 6) If it is preservative treated lumber, you need to field treat the inside of the notch.  If cedar, you do not.
  • 7) At a minimum, do not leave less than 3.5 inches of material remaining in the untouched portion.

We hope this information will be helpful to you in your project.

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.