Code debate continues,
decisions expected in coming months
By Jennifer G. Prokopy
No code issue in recent history has been more hotly debated than the
issue of perimeter joint testing. Manufacturers, engineers, building
officials, independent consultants - everyone has an opinion, and not
many can find room to agree. At issue is the development and
promulgation of a new testing method to be adopted into the
International Building Code. It's one that some argue is unnecessary,
and others believe is essential to safe construction. Still others seek
a happy medium: a new test with allowances for a variety of
This complicated issue has potentially far- reaching implications. As a
result, many industry organizations, including the Metal Construction
Association (MCA), are surveying members, developing positions and
preparing proposals that could affect the final decision of the ruling
code organization. In January 2002 the MCA enlisted the services of
Jessie Beitel, a senior scientist with Hughes Associates, Inc., a fire
engineering, research and consulting firm headquartered in Baltimore. He
presented a detailed summary of the issues related to the perimeter
joint fire testing and codes at the MCA's Semi-annual Meeting in
Cleveland last August. Dan McGee, MCA's code consultant has also been
involved in this issue. Both have prepared papers for review by the
Evolution of perimeter joint testing
Familiarity with the
building industry's test development, promulgation, and code acceptance
process is essential to understanding the complexities of the perimeter
joint testing issue.
A number of organizations develop tests for building materials and
submit them to code organizations for adoption. The most common are the
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and Underwriters
Laboratories Inc. (UL). In some cases, tests are created when
manufacturers bring products to UL for performance evaluation. ASTM does
not perform product evaluation, but disseminates tests by which products
can be evaluated by various testing organizations. The key difference
between the two organizations is that UL develops standards at the
behest of manufacturers during development and examination of their
products, while ASTM requires manufacturers to submit fully developed
products for testing. It is common for both organizations, and sometimes
the National Fire Protection Association, to be developing similar
According to Jesse Beitel, joint testing has been under close
examination for a number of years. Two key joint tests that were
developed at approximately the same time, UL 2079 and ASTM E-1966,
examine the fire resistance of materials in joint systems by measuring
the performance of fire-stopping material in a variety of joints.
In previous fire-safing material tests, the safing material was
typically lodged between two concrete slabs. Countless materials have
been tested in this way. In the late 1990s, UL decided to reorganize its
Fire Resistance Directory into different applications. (This UL guide
lists its certified fire-resistive products.)
The change meant that firesafing would no longer be tested on its own.
Instead, it would be examined and classified in terms of end
use-including perimeter joints, the area where a vertical curtain wall
meets a horizontal floor.
Thus, says Beitel, the current controversy surrounding perimeter joints
was born. The IBC Section 712.4 requires that such a joint be filled
with fire-resistive material, and that the fire-safing must maintain the
same fire rating as the floor material. But, explains Beitel, as UL
began to separate and classify different kinds of fire-safing material
applications, questions arose regarding the variety of curtain wall fire
ratings: what would happen, for instance, when instead of monolithic
concrete, the curtain wall was made of glass or aluminum? Testing showed
that with some types of curtain walls, during a fire situation,
fire-safing might stay in place, but the wall would warp, melt, or
Some fire-safing manufacturers say this problem can be solved by
attaching vertical insulation on the back face of the wall system, both
above and below the floor line, creating a barrier referred to as
"aspandrel panel" in IBC section 704.9. These manufacturers began
working with UL to develop standards for consideration as perimeter
At the same time, ASTM began to develop its own perimeter joint test,
which is still in development. UL and other laboratories used their own
test method, based on the unpromulgated ASTM test, to evaluate and
certify manufacturers' systems as perimeter joints.
The end result: while neither organization's perimeter joint tests have
been accepted into the IBC, UL now lists certified perimeter joints in
its Fire Resistance Directory. Manufacturers, in turn, promote their
certified systems as an improvement over the codespecified fire-safing
standards. The outcome is higher costs. "The price has gone up-in terms
of both material and labor, " says Beitel. When architects specify the
perimeter joint systems, costs are higher than if they had followed the
fire-safing dictated by code.
As things stand now, there is a real possibility
that one or both of the perimeter joint tests will be promulgated, and
therefore used to measure the performance of not only fire-safing in
perimeter joints, but of the adjoining walls. For a large number of wall
panel manufacturers, this would necessitate tens of thousands of dollars
in re-testing for each wall system they manufacture to ensure UL or
other laboratory certification. For most companies, it is an unavoidable
cost, and for some it could climb well into six digits.
We spoke with several manufacturers and industry experts, some of whom
believe this would be an acceptable evolution of the code. After all,
they argue, traditional fire testing has shown that in some cases wall
systems are inadequate. Others say they can accept the idea of a
perimeter joint test- as long as it accommodates a wide variety of
applications and the metal construction industry has a voice in
developing those tolerances. Finally, there are those who argue that
traditional test methods were sufficient, and that no test should be
promulgated and accepted into code.
The Metal Construction Association is examining the issue extensively as
it prepares its formal position on the issue. At the MCA Annual Meeting
in January, Dan McGee presented recommendations that call for MCA to
defend the current requirement and encourage other associations to work
with MCA in opposing the inclusion of the new test into the building
code. It was also noted at the meeting that the IBC code is not
currently enforceable because there is no ASTM test to enforce it. The
Association plans to have its position on code proposals ready for the
ICC by the March 2003 deadline.
Beitel feels that MCA's stance is a key in this issue. "If the tests are
accepted, MCA has to play a very significant role in terms of how those
tests are used in the code," he says.
Paul "Kit" Emert, Jr., president of MCA and general manager of the
Architectural Systems Business Unit of Fabral, sums up the Association's
position. "Anything that affects the potential installation and
application of metal wall panels is a serious issue. For the well-being
of our members' customers, we will work to make sure that metal is
treated fairly as we know their customers value the benefits of our
members' products. We are confident that when used in proper
applications, metal wall panels will meet or exceed the fire-safing
requirements, and we will make sure that metal is put in the best light
in terms of potential applications. We're doing everything we can to
protect the membership of the Association and its customers."
Code organizations: a
U.S. building codes are designed to protect public health, safety, and
welfare, and to minimize property damage and destruction through the
establishment of minimum construction requirements.
For many years, three code organizations worked separately to create
regional building codes: Building Officials and Code Administrators
International, Inc. (BOCA), Southern Building Code Congress
International, Inc. (SBCCI), and International Conference of Building
Officials (ICBO). In 1994, representatives of these groups formed the
International Code Council (ICC), with the goal of creating a national
code without regional limitations.
In 2000, officials took an important step toward that goal with the
creation of the International Building Code (IBC). Finally, in January
2003, the three organizations formally merged into the ICC. Model codes
created by the ICC form the basis for all local codes, which individual
states may choose to mandate.
Contractor educates officials
about steel framing
When it comes to steel-framed homes, Duane Sieb, head of Residential
Steel Construction Services (RSCS), Highland, Ind., is one of the
industry's most vocal enthusiasts- and not just about building them.
Sieb has made it his mission to spread the word about code requirements,
safety issues, and construction techniques related to steelframed homes.
And he does it all for free.
"I think it's so important to get the word out about steel," he says.
Since founding RSCS with his sons Kent and Scott in 1997, Sieb has
dedicated a large portion of his time to presenting his seminars to
building inspectors, fire officials, vocational teachers, homeowners,
and others. He has reached about 1,000 people in the last six years.
The issue of codes is always up for discussion when Sieb meets with
building officials. At several of the Indiana Association of Building
Officials' annual conventions he has given a "full-dress" seminar with
demonstrations and a steel-framed building. Although he doesn't feel his
work has affected how codes are accepted or created, Sieb thinks it has
helped officials better understand and enforce the codes. This makes for
a friendlier climate for builders using steel, he says.
For building officials he provides copies of the prescriptive method
standards published by the American Iron and Steel Institute, a tool
Sieb feels ensures a thorough understanding of code requirements. "It
really simplifies the process and helps building officials understand
what they're looking for when they go out to make an inspection. Prior
to this, they have been in the dark. Even now, I get calls from building
officials who say, 'I've got a steel building to inspect and I don't
know where to start. Can you give me a hand?' And I'll go walk the
building inspector through it, showing him what to look for."
"I think this has really helped building officials. I give them the key
points to look for. Then they have more confidence going out on the job.
Let's face it-some builders will try to buffalo an inspector, and if the
inspector doesn't know what's going on in the industry, he's easy to
buffalo. It's also for the good of the community. The consumer isn't
aware of what's going on. It's got to start with the building
For fire officials and firefighters, he says, the focus is clear: "They
need to know what some of their options are if they have to break
through a wall or try to escape from a burning house." Using a
slideshow, Sieb shows firefighters what they can expect in a
steel-framed home. He also reviews fire test research published by the
North American Steel Framing Alliance and the National Association of
Home Builders and distributes supporting materials to firefighters and
officials. Sieb thinks it helps them understand the structures for
application to emergency situations.
With vocational teachers Sieb takes a different approach. He often
brings tools and construction materials to give them hands-on experience
in framing a house. Sieb says he will continue to teach wherever he is
needed: "I'm trying to promote steel framing in every possible way I
can. It's one of the things I enjoy doing, and I'll go talk about it any
place people want me."
For more information on Residential Steel Construction Services, visit
its website at www.residentialsteel.com.
duane sieb built a custom home for me, steel framed stick framing, he gave me plans calling for floor joists 16" o.c. 12" deep and when the flooring contractor arrived to finish the floor and inspected the joists prior to his work he reported the joists were spaced 24" o.c. 10" deep with no blocking on 13' & 14' (foot) spans. I wouldnot recommend him (Sieb) for any technical reference. Additionally the joists began to roll and after consulting engineers at Dietrich I bore the expense of installing blocking.
By herman wallace