2015 Building Code Proposals
The 2015 building code proposals are worth understanding.
That's because they may well affect you personally whether you are a home owner or a building professional.
Every few years many new building methods are considered for inclusion or simply as alternative options to the code.
One of the problems that can emerge from these regular talks is that
certain groups, like manufacturers, can try to push a new regulation
that forces you to use their products because it is mandated in the
While there is nothing wrong with new products and innovation - in
fact that is fantastic - it is another thing entirely to lobby the
authors of the building code to essentially exclude all other perfectly
acceptable and proven earlier methods of building. But this can
happen... and it is a bad thing.
It's bad for consumers and bad for builders because there is less choice.
Areas Of Decks Proposed To Be Changed
There are a lot of subjects covered so I will only discuss the most important ones:
Guard Rail Deflection
Among the 2015 building code proposals, there is a suggestion to
reduce the amount of post deflection in a railing from 3" maximum to
1.5" plus reducing downward deflection over an 8' rail span to 1"
simultaneously. A guard rail system already has to meet very stringent
guidelines and any alternative building product used has certain defined
engineering tests it has to meet.
So what this proposal does is force an inspector to somehow conduct
these engineering tests on site for every deck built. If a known
connector is used and it has test reports behind it and it has been
installed properly than there is no problem.
But what about all the more common traditional wood guard rails that
have been built for decades properly and have never failed? This
proposal could effectively prevent them from being built and severely
limit architectural freedom of homeowners and builders.
If an inspector pushes on a rail on site and feels it is suspect
they can request tests be done or extra work or blocking or hardware be
added. So this proposal if accepted stands to help out a couple big
manufacturers who offer products they have tested and prevent every
other single kind of guard from being built.
A bit much I would say.
Fortunately it does not sound like this one will be accepted.
Measuring The Height Of A Deck
Believe it or not when measuring the actual height of a deck to
determine what the elevation drop is and if railings should be installed
- which they must when 30" the deck is 30" or more - the measurement is
based on the elevation drop from a point 36" horizontally out from the
edge of the deck.
The proposed building code change for 2015 is to make that measurement from the edge of the deck.
Not sure how I feel about this one. If you fall from a deck you are
likely to fall further forward and away from the deck. The ultimate drop
is going to be higher if the ground is sloped away from the deck.
So it stands to reason that measuring the drop from 36" away from
the deck takes this into account. This proposal is not really very
contentious but I imagine most people will argue to keep the safer
Measuring Railing Height
A while back they made changes to the code that said if you have
bench seating acting as a railing you must add the railing height of
36" lets say, above the level of the seat. So this resulted in benches
with 36" high backs.
Pretty ugly and is it really necessary? It certainly removed a lot
of design freedom for homeowners in residential environments. Maybe this makes more sense in a
Anyway there is a proposal in the 2015 building code talks to remove
this and go back to the old way of measuring the height of railing from
the deck surface.
Using Joist Hangers On A Larger Beam
You may not have known that some groups feel it is a bad idea to use
joist hangers for say a 2x6 located on the bottom 6" of a 2x12 beam. The
theory is that the 2x12 just can not take the load and will split
This is despite no rash of reports of 2x12 beams breaking apart and deck
platforms crashing to the ground. The 2015 IRC code proposal to prevent
this practise is not likely to be accepted but it is part of the
Lateral Loads On A Ledger
Here is an interesting situation. If a lot of people are on a deck at
one time and moving around and shifting weight, what kind of forces are
exerted on the ledger connection?
Its a good question and one that should be further investigated. But
research is just beginning and with all the new methods of securing
ledger boards to band boards and the heightened awareness among builders
and inspectors it seems way too soon to start mandating further
products or techniques.
Ledger connections today are already over kill in the minds of many
experienced builders. But its certainly good to be safe so most people accept
The proposals would mean making it mandatory to use certian hold
down tension devices made by one manufacturer in particular. If
something is mandated so that is excludes other methods which are known
to be proven and acceptable it benefits only the manufacturer.
This is a very contentious proposal. There will be lots of debate
over this one. I don't think it will pass given the language is vague
and the testing is only in its infancy. But, stay tuned.
Swimming Pools And Spa Code Proposals
Lots of deck builders build decks around pools and hot tubs. There are a number of proposed changes which would affect builders. The problem most of the proposals have are vagueness.
Here is what's on deck for discussion:
All walking surfaces such as deck boards and stair treads are
proposed to have a radius or tapered edge, or somehow designed to eliminate sharp corners.
The question becomes what exactly are they looking for? Does each
corner have to be sanded? Is that enough? It's a bit vague.
There is a 2015 code proposal that calls for gaps to be provided between decking using wood and wood plastic boards. This would eliminate tongue and groove decking. Lots of composite
decking is T&G so presumably that will not be allowed on a pool
deck or any deck that a hot tub sits on.
This is probably one of the most vague proposals. It says that the
deck surface must be sloped so that standing water is no deeper than
1/8" measured 20 minutes after water has stopped being added to the
deck. It also adds in a minimum slope of 1/8" and a maximum slope of
So here we have the element of time and then a measurement to be made in addition to specific slopes. Its just not very clear.
Also there is a problem that arises if low level single platform
decks have a hot tub on them. Are they infringing because they are flat?
Hopefully not. But this is what can happen without reading these
Lastly there is a proposal that all pool decks, ramps, coping
surfaces be slip resistant and cleanable. Something that is slip
resistant can be treated or constructed to that it significantly reduces
the chance of someone slipping. But the surface can not be an abrasive hazard. So forget grip tape and the like.
There is a slip resistant test method set out in ASTM D 7032 which
explains exactly what instruments to use to do the test. The problem is
it does not say what results or empirical readings amount to being "slip
resistant" as referred to in this proposal.
All in all, very troubling language that is bound to cause more confusion than clarity.
Conclusions On 2015 Building Code Proposals
Good intensions can be misguided unless there is careful thought.
The take away from all of the 2015 building code proposals is that there are some good suggestions and some bad ones.
You get a good idea of how easy it can be to really ruin the code
and cause more confusion for builders and less design freedom for
It can also create unwarranted monopolies for manufacturers,
effectively prohibiting other great products and solutions which may
themselves already be patented and proven very useful.
This is how lobbying can be a double edged sword. Both sides have to
be represented and a healthy transparent debate needs to take place. The
need for safety and design choice and freedom for the market must be
first and foremost.
Manufacturers are then free to compete with their products and let the market play out.
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