Alternate Materials

Suppose you are planning a new project and the customer has requested that you install a new material you have never used before. How do you determine if this product is suitable for the application intended? How do you figure out how to install it? And, how do you know that the building inspector will approve it once you have it installed? You could take your chances, install it the way you install the old product that you are familiar with, and hope for the best. Or, you could call the manufacture or his local representative for installation instructions and code compliance information. But, you still have no assurance the building inspector will approve the new material and its installation. That’s why the ICC-ES was formed and is in the business of evaluating building products compliance with the code.

The International Residen-tial Code (IRC) is a prescriptive code, and in many cases it has tables that indicate the method of installation, spacing, load carrying capabilities and structural capabilities of several different materials. It does not, however, list all materials available to do a certain job. The code is not intended to prevent the installation of any material or to prohibit any design or method of construction not specifically prescribed by the code, provided that such an alternative has been approved. Compliance with the specific performance-based provisions of the International Codes in lieu of specific requirements of the code shall also be permitted as an alternate.

Whenever there is insufficient evidence of compliance with the provisions of the IRC or evidence that a material or method does not conform to the requirements of the IRC, or in order to substantiate claims for alternative materials or methods, the building official shall have the authority to require tests as evidence of compliance to be made at no expense to the jurisdiction. Test methods shall be as specified in the IRC or by other recognized test standards. In the absence of recognized and accepted test methods, the building official shall approve the testing procedures. Tests shall be performed by an approved agency. Reports of such tests shall be retained by the building official for the period required for retention of public records.

As a practical matter, building officials across the country do not have the time, staff or budget to review and evaluate nonspecified materials and methods. Several years ago several building product evaluation services existed. In 2003 America’s four “legacy” evaluation services came together to form the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES). The ICC-ES is the U.S. leader in evaluating building products compliance with the code. It is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation that does technical evaluations of building products, components, methods and materials. The evaluation process culminates with the issuance of technical reports that, because they directly address the issue of code compliance, are extremely useful to regulatory agencies, building product manufacturers and contractors who will potentially use the product or method. Agencies use evaluation reports to help determine code compliance and enforce building regulations; manufacturers use reports as evidence that their products (and this is especially important if their products are new and innovative) meet code requirements and warrant regulatory approval; and contractors should use the reports to determine how to use the product or method in a way that meets the requirements of the code. ICC-ES evaluation reports are public documents, available free of charge on the World Wide Web, not only to building regulators and manufacturers, but also to contractors, specifiers, architects, engineers and anyone else with an interest in the building industry. All of these people look to ICC-ES evaluation reports for evidence that products and systems are code compliant.

ICC-ES reports can be found at the ICC-ES Web site: Reports can be found on the Web site by product name, manufacturer or type of product.

The contractor and the lead carpenter are the people responsible for constructing a remodeling project. When alternative materials and/or methods that are not code approved are used, they must be familiar with the ICC-ES technical report for the material or method to ensure that it is used properly.

Also, a copy of the technical report must be on-site in the building plan file for review by the building inspector during inspections. An example of the ICC-ES evaluation report for Royal Crown Limited Deck Loc Decking and Stair tread can be found online with the NARI Recertification test that accompanies this article.

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