SBCA's Public Letter to ALSC, AWC, NAHB, SFPA and ICC

Originally published by: Kent Pagel, Legal Counsel of SBCASeptember 13, 2013

The following article was produced and published by the source linked to above, who is solely responsible for its content. SBC Magazine is publishing this story to raise awareness of information publicly available online and does not verify the accuracy of the author’s claims. As a consequence, SBC cannot vouch for the validity of any facts, claims or opinions made in the article.

This is a public letter from the membership of SBCA to the American Lumber Standards Committee (“ALSC”), the American Wood Council (“AWC”), the National Association of Home Builders (“NAHB”), the Southern Forest Products Association (“SFPA”) and the International Code Council (“ICC”) and their collective members.

On May 28, 2013, prior to the established effective date of the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau’s (SPIB) Supplement No. 13 to the Standard Grading Rules for Southern Pine Lumber (“Supplement No. 13”), SBCA had published the following information:

SBCA believes what it has published represents the most comprehensive and accurate information issued by any trade association to date relating to the Southern Pine (“SP”) design value changes.  To our knowledge, nowhere else has a trade association stressed the importance of the effective date of June 1, 2013 regarding SP design value changes, the need for users and specifiers to implement the new SP design values upon the effective date, and the ramifications if a user or specifier does not accomplish this change-over. This position is furthermore applicable for all lumber species that go through a design value revision process.

The SBCA position and discussion on SP design values was developed due to the following reasons:

This approach is needed for anyone using the engineering equations published within the National Design Specification® (NDS®) for Wood Construction (ANSI/AF&PA NDS);

1. If this approach is not implemented, the appropriate engineered resistance to applied loads becomes:
     a. obsolete, and
     b. non-competitive when compared to the use of the prescriptive building code, which does not use the most current SP design values and associated span tables;
2.  Most importantly, SBCA thereby meets its duty as a trade association to release or publish accurate information:
     a. to the public forthrightly;
     b. to be prudent and not negligent in its approach to this subject; and[1]
     c. to not conceal or misrepresent  the facts as they have been presented by SPIB and the lumber industry overall.

SBCA believes that other trade associations are not acting as responsibly as they should on the issues involving the SP design values referenced above.  Here are some examples of the published statements of NAHB, AWC, SFPA and ICC and our comments associated with those statements.

NAHB, for example, who charges itself with the obligation to develop codes that protect homes has stated states in a member-only section on its website:

Design values represent the material properties of a species of wood and describe how that wood will behave when used in the construction of a building. Design values are used for engineering design and in the development of prescriptive building code provisions.
These design values represent the near-minimum properties of a particular grade and species of lumber. It is likely the average piece of visually-graded lumber will be significantly stronger than the published design values.
The national model building codes, including the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC), are developed on a three-year cycle. Currently, we are in the 2012-2014 ICC Code Development Cycle (CDC). The 2012-14 CDC will produce the 2015 editions of the IBC and IRC that are scheduled to be published sometime in 2014.
Although future IBC and IRC editions may be revised to reflect new design values, they will not be mandatory until a state or local jurisdiction actually adopts the next edition (2015) of the codes. However, a state or local jurisdiction could amend its building code to reflect the new design values, independent of the CDC [EMPHASIS ADDED].
Not at this time. An emergency amendment to change the 2015 IBC and IRC to reflect the new design values was submitted to ICC, but ICC’s Codes and Standards Council recommended the request be disapproved. The ICC Board of Directors later upheld the recommendation.
The design values established under the original edition of SPIB’s 2002 Standard Grading Rules for Southern Pine Lumber would continue to be the adopted design values in that jurisdiction. However, engineers working in that jurisdiction may opt to use the new design values. As noted above, truss manufacturers, particularly those working in multiple jurisdictions, may opt to implement the new design values now [EMPHASIS ADDED].
If you have questions, you should check with your local building official.”

Why does NAHB choose not to publish the fact that SPIB recommended an effective date of June 1, 2013, which was then approved by ALSC, and has since published Supplement No. 13 that states June 1, 2013 is the effective date for implementation of the new SP design values? 

Why have they not advised their builder and framer members of:

1. the potential ramifications of failing to meet the lawful effective date?  
2. how they may become legally responsible for resulting claims of failure to comply, bodily injury or property damage? 

Under what authority can NAHB rely upon the enforcement on the part of a building inspector as being the criteria for determining whether the transition to new design values is mandatory?

Similarly, AWC and SFPA have omitted material information as it relates to potential ramifications to SP users and specifiers for not immediately implementing the SP design values. 

On its website, AWC talks about how ALSC approved the SPIB recommendations to change (primarily reduce) the SP design values and then uses the phrase “recommended effective date of June 1, 2013” when referring to the actions of ALSC, which is true, but fails to later describe how SPIB then actually implemented that date as the effective.  AWC goes further to refer to a “Maximum Span Calculator for Wood Joists and Rafters” and how a user can use this calculator to evaluate “span options” and for “comparison purposes,” but fails to clearly address that an effective date for implementation of June 1, 2013 exists and the ramifications and liabilities to users of using outdated design values. To further complicate matters, as can be seen in the image below, all values of SP can be used to calculate spans.

 

SFPA on its website likewise fails to fully inform its readers. They at least indicate:  “New design values for all sizes and grades of visually graded Southern Pine dimension lumber became effective June 1, 2013.” But the Q&A format they choose to use has readers thinking the dates in which the changes (primarily reductions) in SP design values become incorporated into the building codes, or at such time that building inspectors choose to enforce the design value changes, are the important dates. For instance:

A: Building codes reference design values certified by the ALSC Board of Review in accordance with American Softwood Lumber Standard DOC PS 20. The American  Wood Council (AWC) publishes these design values in supplement to the code referenced National Design Specification® (NDS®) for Wood Construction, titled Design  Values for Wood Construction. AWC developed addenda and other updates to use with new construction designed in accordance with its standards and design tools.
A: Prescriptive code requirements based on old design values need to be amended to reflect new design values. This includes ceiling joist, rafter and header span tables. AWC worked with the International Code Council to incorporate the new design values into span tables in the 2015 International Building Code and 2015 International Residential Code. AWC also developed recommended revisions to previous code editions.
A: Building codes are enforced by the state, regional or local jurisdiction, so exactly when enforcement begins can vary by jurisdiction. Users relying on prescriptive code requirements should use new span tables based on the new design values effective June 1, 2013.”

The ICC, after having determined to reject the request for emergency action submitted by AWC with respect to the SP design value changes (primarily reductions), finding “no immediate threat to health and safety”, published information regarding this issue by merely linking to the ALSC approval of the SPIB recommendation to change the design values, which cites the SPIB recommended effective date of June 1, 2013. However, ICC fails to indicate that in fact SPIB implemented the ALSC ruling with an effective date of June 1, 2013. ICC furthermore linked the information to the AWC website, which is lacking as we indicate above.  As with NAHB, AWC and SFPA, the ICC fails to fully and accurately disclose all the material facts and issues that buyers and users of SP should be concerned with.

The operative word for the SPIB’s implementation of the new SP design values is "effective." So what does "effective" mean? Referring to Dictionary.com, the word means: Actually in operation or in force; functioning: The law becomes effective at midnight. 

In our judgment, in order for the SP design value change to be truly “effective” on June 1, 2013, the new values have to be applied to all end use applications that resist applied loads using standards, such as the National Design Specification’s (NDS) engineering mechanics resistance equations.

These equations form the basis of engineered load resisting tables in the International Residential Code (IRC), International Building Code (IBC), AWC’s Special Design Provisions Wind and Seismic (SDPWS), the Wood Frame Construction Manual (WFCM) and so forth.

The largest challenge is that this task includes ensuring that all of the conventional framing engineered applications that use pre-June 1, 2013 span tables/design values (i.e., all IRC, IBC, WFCM, SDPWS, etc. tables) are well-known to no longer be in force or effect. This is a significant professional engineering responsibility. If this task is not accomplished, many have and will continue to fail to meet the SPIB effective date. 

So little information has been placed into the market advising of the absolute importance of the effective date, the need to implement the new SP design values by the effective date, and the ramifications if one does not accomplish the changeover.  

Are builders and framing contractors, for example, being told that if they build or construct using old design values that they are failing to meet the lawful effective date and most likely will be legally responsible for any resulting claims of failure to comply, bodily injury, or property damage? Would this not be the most responsible course of action to be taken?  

Clearly all who specify  visually-graded SP lumber (i.e., framing contractors, builders, engineers, architects and other building designers) and all who use visually-graded SP lumber (i.e., builders and framers) have to know when to implement new SP lumber designs and then be able to count on the Southern Pine design value table, which can be found at SPIB.org,  to accurately provide conventional framing resistance design that uses lumber as the resisting structural element.

To have any other engineering outcome means that the SPIB June 1, 2013 effective date means nothing, that it is only suggestive, which seems implausible, at best. We believe the only logical and prudent conclusion is that everyone involved in this issue, particularly those in the lumber industry and those who have high profile positions in the market such as the groups discussed above, take all actions necessary to prominently warn/instruct as to the potential ramifications of not immediately implementing the new design values.

[1] February 2009 Assessing a Trade Association's Tort Liability Risk ( See:  http://www.venable.com/assessing-a-trade-associations-tort-liability-risk-11-24-2008/).  This article was originally published in the Association Law & Policy journal of The Center for Association Leadership (see www.asaecenter.org).  According to its website, ASAE represents more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations.  The members of ASAE  manage leading trade associations in the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.  The law firm of Venable, the same firm representing ALSC as it oversaw the adoption of the new SP design values recommended and implemented by SPIB, makes several noteworthy points relating the duties of trade associations regarding their duties to publish information in an accurate manner and without concealement or misrepresentation of any type and in a manner that is otherwise not negligent.