Do They Meet Building Codes?
Do alternative materials meet building codes? Most of them do but not necessarily! What does that mean? Not all new products have the track record required for acceptance by building code departments, and some products are accepted by building departments in some areas and not in others. That's why it's important when researching alternative products to request information from the manufacturer on the product's physical and mechanical properties. They should have a report on product testing by an independent, nationally recognized, certified testing corporation. In some cases, this documentation will be enough to get the product accepted.
Better yet, check to see if the product has been evaluated and listed with the National Evaluation Service, Inc. (NES). If so, they'll have an evaluation report that you could provide as evidence of code compliance to your local building department. Don't assume that the building department in your area knows of the product you plan to use. When you approach them, it may actually be the first they've heard of this product. If this is the case, the flags will go up immediately. Be prepared to show some type of documentation or an evaluation report on the product. The National Evaluation Service Secretariat is located at:
Local building departments follow their own adopted codes or one of the three widely-accepted model building codes:
National Building Code
Uniform Building Code
Standard Building Code
Each of these organizations supports an evaluation service. If the manufacturer plans to market the product on a national level, they'll submit the product to NES. But if they plan to market only in their own geographic area, they may go to their model code evaluation service to have the product evaluated at a certified testing laboratory and quality agency.
The evaluation reports are available to the member building department jurisdictions and other users. Some organizations may charge for this report, but others will send it to you automatically through a subscription service. If you want to use a product in an area that's not under the model code where the evaluation took place, get an evaluation report for the building official in your area. Of course, it doesn't guarantee the product will be accepted, but it may meet local codes.
Here are the numbers for the evaluation services of the three model code agencies:
You'll get along better with inspectors if they know beforehand what you plan to do. In other words, don't pull any surprises on the inspector in the field. Get your materials or method of construction approved before you start work. The building department staff knows that new products hit the market every day. They do have some latitude and can help you both comply with the codes and satisfy your customer. It's in your best interests to keep an open mind, work with the departments involved, be willing to compromise, and encourage your customer to do the same.
Here's the bottom line. Work with the building department. And, of course, know the products you want to use. Do your homework and get the proper documentation supplied by the manufacturer or the evaluation report supplied by the model code agency's evaluation service.
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