If you want to know what's coming down the supply channel in the next few Iyears, a good place to start might be the 2003 International Building Code (IBC), the latest iteration of the so-called I-codes that will, in some form, ideally end up in the hands of every building official nationwide.
Though far from an illustrated catalog, the IBC is a bellwether of new product development, awareness, and acceptance among manufacturers, design professionals, and contractors. A product or application not covered in the I-codes typically has a short shelf life, while those that satisfy code changes and tougher performance standards are destined for popular use—and supply chain profitability.
And the pendulum swings both ways. As much influence as the codes have on building products and their use, the reverse is also true. “Sometimes the code drives [product development], such as energy code requirements, that manufacturers must meet [with a product solution],” says Julie Ruth, P.E., of JRuth Code Consulting in New Lenox, Ill. However, “Sometimes a product comes on the market that the codes must adjust to. One does not lead the other all the time.”
The give-and-take relationship between codes and products intensified when the I-codes (actually, a set of code books for various industry segments, including residential construction) consolidated a trio of regional building code entities—each with their own code change process and code book publishing schedule—in 2000. “Instead of maybe gaining or leveraging code approval in one or more of the regional codes, product manufacturers have far fewer chances [to get into the I-codes],” says Ruth. “It's an all-or-nothing proposition now.”
That scenario translates to a more sophisticated and dedicated effort by manufacturers to propose or oppose code changes that will influence the promotion and industry acceptance of their existing and new product offerings. Further down the supply stream, the I-codes offer dealers an opportunity to partner with manufacturers and develop an expertise in building code interpretation for their pro customers, including architects and specifiers, that fosters loyalty, higher margins, and sustainable profits. “Our main suppliers tell us about code changes and how to adjust what we carry,” says Lonnie Cooper, manager and buyer for Hughes Lumber & Building Supply, a single-location, $5 million dealer in Charleston, S.C. “Bottom line, builders want to do it right the first time,” instead of risking an inspector's red tag for non-compliance, even if there's a slight cost premium attached.
Code-Changing Causes Developing reliable radar for recognizing code changes that may impact your product inventory requires at least a basic understanding of how and why code changes occur.
On a national level, the I-codes are published on a three-year schedule, with two code change hearings during the interim. The next edition of the IBC (as well as the residential code book) is scheduled for release in 2006, with the second of two code change hearings held later this year. The first round of hearings lasted 12 days and featured more than 2,200 code change proposals.
But while an increasing number of jurisdictions in nearly every state accept and enforce the I-codes (with more expected as the pre-2000 regional code books become truly obsolete), both state and local code-enforcement entities have the power to pick and choose—and even add or alter—which standards to impose on their builders and contractors.
That ability results in a code-change process that impacts local building and product usage perhaps even more than at the national level. “Working at the state level to get an amendment to the I-codes is more intense now,” says Ruth, noting that the International Code Council (ICC), the governing body over the I-codes, also is working to include language and standards that address local conditions and special circumstances.
In addition to subtle and necessary code changes that occur through product evolutions (such as new grading standards for structural lumber that impact allowable spans), both the I-codes and state and local variations of them are particularly sensitive to accommodating dramatic natural events in the building code, especially after a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire causes substantial property damage and loss. “Whenever there's a significant [natural] event, it's a reality check [for the codes],” says Ed Sutton, staff vice president for NAHB's Construction Codes & Standards department.