Knowing the code implications and installation details about the products you sell is a critical step to building trust with your customers.
In the past decade, decks have gotten serious recognition in the International Residential Code. While many may regard this as bad news: “more regulation of decks,” it’s quite the contrary. Codes standardize the baseline value of construction. They strike a balance between safety and affordability, while offering maximum design freedom. In the historical absence of model deck codes, government authorities across the country had to develop their own… and “freedom” is not always the first thing on the government’s agenda. This localization of standards drives a distrust from the public, when in one location a product or practice is permitted, but in another they are not.
The majority of new deck codes have provided pre-engineered design tables and methods of construction. Referred to as “prescriptive design,” they eliminate the need for a design professional (engineer or architect). However, the deck industry is dominated by proprietary products that the IRC is not designed to address directly. Installation requirements for these products don’t come from the code, they come from the manufacturer, and are validated by testing or engineering. This is where material suppliers come into play. The materials you sell will perform only as well as they are installed. Like a lawsuit, where anyone associated often gets named for liability, such is the human nature when a product fails to perform. The product, the supplier, the builder, even the inspector… all are bruised.
Help us all avoid that. Material suppliers are the link in the chain between the product and the installer. To provide only the product without vehemently providing the installation instructions and testing validation is as ineffective and potentially dangerous as selling a homemade car to an unlicensed driver. Research the testing, instructions, and implications of code related to all the products you offer and then encourage the same of your customers. Don’t wait until asked. You don’t have to be a sales expert to know that it’s much easier to close the deal when your buyer trusts you. The most direct route to trust is demonstrating your understanding of the products you sell by knowing (and sharing) the code implications, as they are indeed the legal implications. Know your products, and know your buyers, and earn their trust by providing more than just storage and transportation of the physical matter you sell.
Okay, those are broad lessons, so let’s zoom into a couple examples.
Metal connectors: Standard metal connectors are only coated to G90 weight of galvanization and do not provide sufficient thickness of protection in an exterior, wet environment, regardless of whether the lumber is preservative-treated or not (read that last part again). When determining where a connector is permitted, many have turned to new preservative treated lumber providers for guidance and have been notoriously told, “You can use G90 connectors with our lumber.” Wrong. The IRC requires the connector manufacturer to specify the appropriate protection, not the lumber provider. In my research, G90 protection is never permitted in an outdoor, wet environment with untreated wood. In absence of manufacturer guidance, the IRC specifies G185 galvanizing or stainless steel.
Design: A trend for many suppliers is to offer design and material take-off assistance. In the deck industry, everything you have come to know about design methods of spans and sizing members over the last decade is changing. If the new deck design tables haven’t been adopted in your region yet, it’s only a matter of time. Joists, beams, and posts can now all be sized from pre-engineered design tables. However, structural design for decks is not simple to pre-engineer due to the variety of shapes decks are built in. These shapes create unique load paths, many of which can be provided for prescriptively, but others still require a design professional. If offering design assistance, know the limits of prescriptive code design.
So, where do you begin? You already have. Now seek out the information. If you need more help or guidance on how to do that, reach out to me and I’ll try to help.
Glenn Mathewson has served as technical advisor to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) since 2011. An experienced tradesman, contractor, consultant and building inspector, Glenn is the founder of BuildingCodeCollege.com, an ICC-approved online school that dives into the “intent and purpose” of code provisions and addresses the realities of applying them in the field. Learn more at BuildingCodeCollege.com or email Glenn@BuildingCodeCollege.com.