Feature

Building Codes, Building Relationships

From BCMC 2012 Educational Session:
“Changing Codes & Planning Ahead”

educational sessions for building officialsRoger Axel wants to make one thing crystal clear, “The building official isn’t the bad guy.” Axel, one of the presenters in the “Changing Codes and Planning Ahead” educational session at BCMC 2012, is a building official and Executive Officer and Past-President of the Association of Minnesota Building Officials. From that vantage point, Axel makes an intriguing argument to support his claim, “It’s our job to know the building code and to help manufacturers and builders understand the threshold they must meet through the design and construction of a building.”

In other words, building officials are a very valuable resource.

“We all have the goal of constructing a safe, sturdy and reliable building,” said Axel. “For building officials, it’s a matter of public safety, but for the manufacturer it means avoiding the headaches of repairs and construction defect lawsuits, and for the builder it means happy customers and a good reputation.” One way to help ensure buildings are designed and constructed the right way from the beginning is through a strong working relationship between all three parties.

Building Relationships

It is always a good time to start fostering a closer relationship with the building officials in the markets you serve. Offer to speak at one of the upcoming meetings of their local trade association. Invite them into your plant for a tour. Better yet, host a luncheon and give a presentation on a topic you know well—proper installation and use of your products—then follow it up with a truss plant tour.

By making yourself available to your local building officials, you have the opportunity to become the “go-to” person for SBC industry knowledge on how to install and use structural components properly. “As a building official, it’s great when you know where to go to get solid information and answers to questions,” said Axel. “When building officials are inspecting buildings and looking at the plans, it helps if they know where to look to find the information they need.”

Whether it’s details on roof-to-wall connections, the location of hold-downs or roof truss load capacities, building officials sometime struggle to interpret the layouts provided on the jobsite. Axel added, “Having a component manufacturer I know I can call to answer my questions helps avoid potential problems, delays and additional trips to the jobsite.”

Building Codes

That relationship is a two-way street that can provide mutual benefit. “One aspect of our job is being a problem solver,” said Axel. “We understand the minimum requirements of the code so we can help answer the question of whether a particular application will work, or can be done under the code.”

In addition to helping your designers, they can also help your sales team. If a building official has a strong working relationship with you, and through that relationship has a regularly smooth time inspecting buildings constructed with your products, the builder is going to notice. If you can add that additional time savings to the already long list of advantages components have in framing a building, you’ll make it that much easier to land a sale.

“We can also help you prepare for future design work as changes are made to the code, and avoid potential mistakes when producing products for different states or jurisdictions,” said Axel. He points to the energy code as a prime example. “The new energy codes are a big moving target, but building officials can help in understanding how local amendments may change what the code requires,” explained Axel.

Building Awareness

“I think that BCSI and the Jobsite Packages your industry creates and provides for every job are very valuable and should be beneficial to installers,” said Axel. “The problem is that on so many jobsites I go to those instructions are not taken seriously.” This is an area where you and your building officials can work together to help educate framers on how it is in their best interest to install and brace the trusses properly, both from an efficiency and a personal safety perspective.

So many of the issues building inspectors see on the jobsite can be attributed to component damage caused either through improper storage and/or handling during installation, or alterations made by other building trades. “That is why builders also need to be included in this relationship building,” said Axel. “They need to see why the good information you provide at the time of delivery is so important to read and understand before they handle your product.”

Building Construction Innovation

Professional building officials also can be vital proponents of building construction innovation. For example, Section 104.11 of the building code provides the foundation for implementing alternative materials, design and methods of construction. It points out that code provisions are not intended to prevent the installation of any material, or to prohibit any design or method of construction, as long as the alternative is approved by the building official (who is the source of all approvals).

Further, the code states that an alternative material, design or method of construction shall be approved when the building official finds that the proposed design is satisfactory and complies with the intent of the provisions of the code, and that the material, method or work offered is, for the purpose intended, at least the equivalent of that prescribed in the code in quality, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability and safety.

The SBC Research Institute, through its Technical Evaluation Report (TER) program, is committed to helping component manufacturers and the entire building construction industry provide clear and concise language to building officials on how a new product and its design properties fit within the requirements of the code. “Your industry is providing a great approval support service for all building officials through the TER program,” said Axel. “It is clear that the goal of the TER is to be an asset for all building officials to help us effectively evaluate proposed design and product innovation.”  

Ultimately, it’s about constructing a building the right way the first time. Believe it or not, the best way to ensure it is designed right from the beginning, your products are installed right on the jobsite, and you avoid costly delays and repairs, is through a close working relationship with your building official.

“Changing Codes and Planning Ahead” will be delivered again as an SBCA Annual Workshop session next spring, welcoming back speakers Roger Axel, CBO, and Paul G Johnson, P.E., UFP San Antonio.