A local building department reviews a plan submittal. The plan is eventually approved and construction can begin. Does compliance with a building code mean a guaranteed level of quality during construction?
To see why, it is helpful to understand that a code is a minimum set of construction requirements primarily designed to address life/safety, accessibility, energy efficiency and other concerns the public sees as necessary for their collective well-being. To use the example of a roof, codes only specify it protect a building (structure) from water. This is a performance requirement. They do not specify on how this is to be accomplished. In contrast is an issue directly affecting life/safety, let’s say the roof’s sheathings, which must satisfy more stringent minimum requirements for sheathing material, nailing, spacing, etc. So while a leaky roof may eventually violate code performance requirements, it has not violated any prescriptive requirements (since there are none). The task remains, to provide a set of specific standards detailing how a roof membrane is to be constructed.
Those procedures and standards can be summed into three groups:
- certification reports
- industry group standards
- individual manufacturer’s recommendations
The first is sometimes used in conjunction with permit drawings, to explain alternate methods of complying with code regulations. Most common are U/L certifications, ICC reports, and other independent testing laboratory agencies and evaluations. The second would include trade groups such as the SMA (Stucco Manufacturer’s Association), APA (The Engineered Woods Association) or the MFMA (Metal Framing Manufacturer’s Association). The third are installation and maintenance procedures a manufacturer (say USG) publishes that best insure a building product will perform as claimed. Within the last two groups, reports can account for regional differences requiring modifications to a more general protocol.
Again some of the above are part of an approval process and are tied to a section of code mandating a performance or as substitute for a prescriptive qualification – but many are not. For those, construction documents prepared by a skilled designer, fill many of the gaps between a performance mandated by code and the long term viability of a construction.
In conjunction with the knowledge and workmanship of the general contractor, these standards can go beyond requirements of a building code, to make a more trouble free building, a reality.
By Ernie Moore, AIA