What building officials want: Play a part in easing inspection-day holdups
In the hit movie “What Women Want,” Mel Gibson experiences a sudden ability to actually hear what women think. With his gift, he gains astonishing insight into how to change his actions to get what he wants from the women in his life. While we don’t have Gibson’s crystal ball to understand building officials’ innermost thoughts, we took some time to listen to what members of this vital group had to say about enhancing working relationships between representatives of the fenestration industry and those on the front line inspecting buildings from coast to coast.
Not surprisingly, building officials join others in the industry to want two keys: continuing education and improved communication. Consider the dizzying amount of information a code official encounters at each job site; then layer on code adoptions, local ordinances, permit requirements, and new testing procedures. It becomes clear that the glazing industry needs to de-mystify fenestration whenever possible.
Hurricane force wake-up calls
Hurricane Andrew provided a wake-up call in the way building codes were being enforced at the time. The destruction and devastation caused by wind-borne debris led to dramatic improvements in building practices, improved enforcement and spawned new fenestration products. Insurers began to look more closely at the way structures were built.
Last summer’s Gulf Coast hurricanes brought another lesson: The need for building codes in largely unregulated areas. Louisiana was quick to adopt a new code, and legislators in other Gulf states are working toward regulation. Great change has come, but the price has been steep.
Raising the bar
One key step toward improving building code enforcement has been the establishment of the Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule. Administered by New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office, a statistical organization that provides insurers information about risk, BCEGS rates the effectiveness of and commitment to building code enforcement across the country.
“The concept is simple,” says Ralph Dorio, technical coordinator. “Municipalities with well-enforced, up-to-date codes should demonstrate better loss experience and insurance rates can reflect that. The prospect of lessening catastrophe-related damage and ultimately lowering insurance costs provides an incentive for communities to rigorously enforce their building codes, especially the codes that relate to natural disaster mitigation.”
Insurers have embraced the program for its ability to heighten the importance of code enforcement as a profession. “We look at the building code officials as the first underwriters on the job,” says Jeff Feid, loss-mitigation coordinator at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill., and a former building official. “When a jurisdiction has received a good BCEGS rating, we have a much higher level of confidence that the code [requirements] in place at the time the buildings were built actually ended up in the finished structure.” He says the vast majority of municipal building-code departments voluntarily participate in the program because it helps them make the case for additional training and staff. “There is a great deal of pride in doing a professional job, and the building department officials work extremely hard to continually improve their ratings. BCEGS gives them credibility.” One of the benefits of having a favorable BCEGS rating: many insurers offer corresponding discounts to homeowners and building owners in areas that have good scores.
How glaziers and manufacturers help
With building-code departments continually improving, manufacturers can help by offering continuing education and better labeling of fenestration at the job site, says Mike Wood, president of the Building Code Officials of Louisiana.
Wood recently worked with Solutia Inc. of St. Louis and Simonton Windows of Parkersburg, W.Va., to provide training at the Building Officials Association of Louisiana annual meeting last March. “With impact products being new to our area, it was critical that our inspectors understand what to look for when looking at laminated glass systems.” In April, Solutia also teamed with Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, the Federal Emergency Management Agency of Washington, D.C., Oldcastle Glass of Santa Monica, Calif., YKK Corp. of America in Austell, Ga., and Weather Shield Windows & Doors of Medford, Wis., to provide training for Louisiana architects, builders, inspectors and engineers (see Glass Magazine, June, p.10). “Such training cuts travel costs and continuing education costs,” Wood says.” I would encourage other manufacturers to get involved in programs like this. Proper training can help eliminate costly mistakes in the field.”
Wood and Feid also offer specific tips on how members of the glazing industry can make the building-code inspector’s life less complicated:
1. Clearly label all fenestration products. When the inspector shows up and labeling information is not affixed to the windows or other products, it delays the job and costs everyone money.
2. Give as much information as possible on the label, especially on laminated glass products. Since laminated glass looks like ordinary glass, it can be difficult for an inspector to know if the installed product is actually what was specified.
3. Make “bugs” or information on the glass itself readable and complete. For example, Solutia requires window and door manufacturers using its KeepSafe Maximum interlayer to indicate that every piece of glass has been large missile tested.
4. Provide clear installation instructions. Inspectors need to understand if the product was properly installed. Simple pictorial diagrams work best.
Balancing codes with structural integrity
The arrival of wind-borne debris provisions in the 2002 South Carolina Residential Code highlighted the struggle to meet both energy and structural needs at the same time. “At the time, most residential window manufacturers were making single-glazed impact products for the South Florida market,” Feid recalls. “Few manufacturers offered insulating laminated products that would meet South Carolina’s energy codes along with the structural requirements for impact resistance.” The result was a moratorium on the enforcement of the wind-borne debris provisions, and that put coastal homeowners at risk for longer than necessary.
While the situation in South Carolina was resolved, it highlights the need for executives in the fenestration industry to understand that energy codes are being adopted at a faster rate than structural codes. This can lead to a patchwork of building codes that can make supplying a market difficult and expensive due to unexpected or un-planned product performance requirements in particular regions.
The next big one
Serious natural disasters have recently occurred with greater frequency, and experts already predict another threatening hurricane season. With high-risk areas becoming more populated every year, the potential for loss of human life and property will only escalate during natural disasters.
“We can’t plan for every unforeseen instance, but properly enforced building codes can dramatically cut losses,” Feid says. “The building code inspector is the first line of defense. Manufacturers who take the time to understand what building officials want will help their own businesses and contribute to life safety.”