NAHB Policy Supports Truss Construction, Why are They Testifying Against It?

Editor's Note: At the April 2016 ICC Committee Action Hearings, Sam Francis of the AWC testified he was involved in crafting the original IRC R501.3 code language. This confirms the coalition of interest groups led by AWC and NAHB. Steve Orlowski, a member of NAHB staff at the time, described NAHB's motivations in an email he sent to a member in Iowa, “The decision to cosponsor this code change was not an easy decision for CC&S members, as we knew it would increase the cost of construction. However by co-sponsoring the proposed change, NAHB was able to accomplish three important items, 1) we were able to limit the application of under floor protection to only the specific products that were a concern of the fire service, 2) we were able to place several exceptions in the provisions to limit the application of the provisions, and 3) we were able to take the argument away from the fire service that sprinklers needed to be mandated to protect the fire service.”

The videos included in this article are part of the public record. They are taken from public testimony at the April 2016 ICC Committee Action Hearings in Louisville, Kentucky.

The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) has established many policies and resolutions to, in their words, help guide staff and provide direction for their advocacy work. One such policy, Restrictions and Bans on Wood Trusses and I-Joists, provides a crystal clear statement on opposing any restriction on the use of such products:

NAHB's Board of Directors works cooperatively with the American Forest and Paper Association, the Wood Truss Council of America, the Wood I-Joist Manufacturers Association, the Engineered Wood Products Association and other concerned parties to oppose the restriction or banning of wood trusses, I-joists and engineered wood products designed, manufactured and used in accordance with nationally recognized codes and standards.

This resolution was originally adopted in May 1999, and was reaffirmed in May 2003, June 2007 and again in May 2011. However, NAHB’s support of the American Wood Council (AWC), with respect to 2012 IRC R501.3 (new section in the 2015 IRC R302.13), is directly opposed to this policy. This provision was a compromise crafted by AWC and NAHB to offer to the fire service as an alternative to mandatory sprinklers.

SBCA urges building officials to overturn the IRC committee and vote in favor
of SBCA’s RB69 proposal to improve firefighter safety, and life safety overall.

At a code development hearing in May 2016, testimony by Mr. Dan Booke of NAHB and Mr. John Sekonick, an NAHB member homebuilder, revealed a concerning disregard for their own policy, not to mention firefighter and life safety. Larry Wainwright of SBCA staff presented the case for RB69 and its value by asking the committee members, “what is the minimum level of protection you want for firefighter safety in the code?”

Faced with this question in the video below, NAHB’s response was that standardized test protocol put too much stress on the floor system compared to “typical loading” and therefore, “should not be considered relevant for this comparison.” It’s important to note this claim is directly refuted by Mr. Sean DeCrane, a co-author of the original proposal, who points out that ASTM E119 requires 100% design load (the video of his testimony can be found at the bottom of the page):

As can be seen, Mr. Booke argues that all independent data generated from standardized ASTM E119 tests conducted by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and NGC Testing Services (NGC) should be disregarded because the tests are conducted at 100% design load, stating, “that’s beyond even the maximum load that’s required for floor loads in the IRC.” Mr. Booke further argued, “surveys from actual day to day load ratios have indicated that, on average, commercial floor assemblies are typically loaded to less than 50% of full design load and residential floor assemblies are loaded to even lower levels.”

After Dan Booke concluded his testimony, John Sekonick, an independent builder in southeastern Pennsylvania, spoke on his own behalf. While arguing in opposition to SBCA’s proposal, many of his remarks in the video below strengthened SBCA’s position:

He began by stating, “the problem I see with this is it removes the ability for us as a builder to have options of products in which we can use.” However, from a cost perspective, the current code provision severely limits the choices homebuilders have with regard to the products they can choose. By removing exception four, homebuilders can again have the freedom to choose any product they want to frame the floor systems since the gypsum requirement would apply to all floor systems.

He then brings up a very important point, “there’s no timer that begins when a fire starts, so how does the fire marshal know when he gets there how long the fire’s been burning?” This is exactly the argument SBCA is trying to make. It does not make sense to treat different floor framing products so differently in the market when their time to failure varies by only a few minutes:

Mr. Sekonick next raises concerns over the NGC ASTM E119 tests conducted (listed in the table above), pointing out tests were conducted with trusses spaced 24” on center and I-joists spaced 19.2” on center. In his market joists are spaced 16” on center.  As can be seen in the test results, the 2x10s were spaced 16” on center. The other framing systems were spaced farther apart to ensure they represented actual field installation practice.

Mr. Sekonick concludes his remarks by criticizing the performance of 2x10s, again reinforcing SBCA’s position that requiring the application of gypsum on all floor assemblies will improve firefighter safety, while restoring homebuilder’s ability to choose the products that works best for them.

In rebuttal, Mr. DeCrane stated the fire service’s position, “we would love to protect every single floor because the research at UL is showing us poor performance. As Sam [Francis of AWC] pointed out, we had the expectation of the performance of older wood [...] this new age wood is just not performing as well as it did historically.”

He notes that homebuilders are struggling with the issue of equivalency, a concept raised in exception four that includes “approved floor assemblies demonstrating equivalent fire performance.” Mr. Sekonick's testimony pointed out homebuilders like him are turning to products like No-Burn and Flak Jacket®, which are marketed as equivalent. Mr. DeCrane’s testimony suggests there are times when product testing says there is a given level of performance but the products do not perform as expected or implied.

SBCA urges building officials at the upcoming ICC code hearings in Kansas City, Missouri later this month to OVERTURN THE IRC COMMITTEE and vote in favor of SBCA’s RB69 proposal to improve firefighter safety, and life safety overall.

For more information on the fire performance of floor systems, click here.

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