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How ICC Codes Affect Vinyl - Part I

Feb 2013

The International Code Council (ICC) is a consensus code development organization established in 1994 as a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes. The founders of ICC are Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI), which were the three non-profit organizations that developed separate and different sets of model codes used throughout the US. BOCA developed codes that were used in the Northeast (including the National Building Code); SBCCI developed codes used in the Southeast (including the Standard Building Code) and ICBO developed codes used in the states west of the Mississippi (including the Uniform Building Code). These codes were neither “national” nor “uniform”.  In 1994 the code organizations chose to combine all regional code development, resulting in the International Codes. Regional code development bodies stopped issuing new codes in the 1990s, and then disappeared, but some jurisdictions may still be using these old codes.

ICC develops model codes used in the design, building and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. The I-codes (or ICC codes) are intended to provide a minimum level of safety and property protection. The I-codes are a complete set of comprehensive and coordinated codes that can be used throughout the US rather than regionally. They become regulation if they are adopted by a local or state regulatory agency (either as is or with some amendments). The full set of I-codes includes the following:

International Building Code                                       International Green Construction Code

International Residential Code                                  ICC Performance Code International Fire Code                                              

International Fuel Gas Code                                      International Mechanical Code                                  

International Property Maintenance Code                  International Plumbing Code                                      

International Zoning Code                                         International Energy Conservation Code                    

International Private Sewage Disposal Code                International Existing Building Code                            

International Swimming Pool and Spa Code                International Wildland Urban Interface Code

ICC is a non-profit company, with a CEO and an elected Board of Directors composed of local or state government officials. The Board of Directors includes a president, vice-president, secretary/treasurer and several directors. The ICC mission is to “provide the highest quality codes, standards, products and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment.”

All fifty US states and the District of Columbia (as well as Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and some global markets) have adopted one or more of the I-codes at the state or jurisdictional level. Federal agencies including the Architect of the Capitol, General Services Administration, National Park Service, Department of State, US Forest Service and the Veterans Administration also enforce the I-codes. The Department of Defense references the International Building Code (IBC) for constructing military facilities, including those that house U.S. troops around the world and at home. The latest published editions of all codes are dated 2012 and the 2015 editions of all codes (except for the International Green Construction Code) are now complete, though not yet published.

In an earlier article we explained that in the US safety requirements are based on an assortment of regulations from government bodies as well as codes and standards from private organizations; they are not uniform throughout the country. ICC, like all organizations developing codes or standards, has special rules and it is possible to operate within them to get things done or to prevent things that may be unwelcome for a stakeholder.

The International Building Code (IBC) applies to the “construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, maintenance, removal and demolition of every building or structure or any appurtenances connected or attached to such buildings or structures.”  However, the IBC does not apply to “detached one- and two-family dwellings and multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses) not more than three stories above grade plane in height with a separate means of egress and their accessory structures”, to which the International IRC applies. There are 4 key chapters that are particularly relevant to vinyl. They are: # 8 (regulating wall, ceiling and floor coverings), # 14 (regulating exterior wall coverings and siding), # 26 (regulating all sorts of plastics) and # 4 (regulating kiosks, signs and children’s playgrounds). That means that the IBC regulates what type of vinyl or competitive wall/ceiling coverings, vinyl tiles, resilient flooring and floor coves, vinyl, polypropylene and other combustible siding and materials used for signs and other displays. Until the 2012 codes the IBC was silent on decking but in the 2015 edition plastic composite decking (which includes PVC decks) is specifically permitted and regulated, in Chapter 26 as the result of work between Marcelo Hirschler and the wood-plastic composites industry.

The IRC regulates the same products as the IBC but for the smaller houses and townhouses. It also regulates all of the same products as the mechanical and plumbing codes for dwellings (see below). Once more, the 2015 edition contains a new specific section on plastic composite decking (which includes PVC decks). Thus, the IRC regulates virtually every vinyl product that is being produced for the residential construction market.

The International Fire Code (IFC) establishes regulations affecting or relating to structures, processes, premises and safeguards regarding the hazard of fire and explosion due to storage, handling or use of structures, materials or devices and fire hazards in the structure or on the premises from occupancy or operations. It applies to structures, facilities and conditions that arise after the building has been constructed and is being occupied. The IFC looks at the hazard in the building and, therefore, its requirements are often retroactive, if conditions exist which, in the opinion of the fire code official, constitute a distinct hazard to life or property. That means that the IFC regulates what type of vinyl or competitive materials are used in the same products as in the IBC but also all contents introduced after the building is occupied. These include upholstered furniture (e.g. with vinyl covers), mattresses, decorations, curtains and drapes and decorative vegetation (including artificial Christmas trees).

The International Mechanical Code (IMC) regulates design, installation, maintenance, alteration and inspection of mechanical systems permanently installed and used to provide control of environmental conditions in buildings.  It does not regulate the installation of fuel gas distribution piping and equipment, fuel gas-fired appliances and fuel gas-fired appliance venting systems (that is the International Fuel Gas Code, IFGC).  Also, mechanical systems in detached small dwellings and townhouses are regulated by the IRC.  Other exclusions are historical buildings and existing buildings. The key provisions covered by this code are those for materials in ducts and plenums and for piping systems.  Plenums are enclosed portions of the building structure that cannot be used for human occupancy and that have been designed to allow air movement and serve as part of an air distribution system.  These concealed spaces can move air and smoke easily between building compartments without the occupants being aware. Therefore, fairly severe requirements govern all materials permitted in plenums and many of those can be vinyl products.  The only combustible materials permitted all need to meet specific severe fire and smoke tests including: wires and cables that meet the fire test criteria (plenum cables) or run–of-the-mill cables that are enclosed in non-combustible raceways, pneumatic tubing, sprinkler pipes (often made of CPVC), conduit/raceway systems, combustible electrical equipment, plastic piping, foam plastic pipe and duct insulation and foam plastic wall and ceiling insulation (usually covered by a thermal barrier or a steel skin).  The IMC also covers the construction, installation, alteration and repair of hydronic piping systems, which means pipes that are part of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, outside of ducts and plenums. Such piping systems shall include steam, hot water, chilled water, steam condensate and ground source heat pump loop systems, but not potable cold and hot water distribution systems, which are covered by the International Plumbing Code (IPC). Again, this often involves PVC pipes.

The IPC covers the installation, alteration, repairs, relocation, replacement or maintenance of plumbing systems. That includes non-flammable medical systems but not fuel gas distribution systems, covered by the IFGC. It also excludes systems in small dwellings, covered by the IRC. Of course, this is where most PVC piping and associated parts are covered.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is really a set of two codes, one with provisions for commercial buildings and one with provisions for low-rise residential buildings. Each set of provisions in the code are separately applied to buildings within their respective scopes and are treated separately. The IECC is a code that contains minimum regulations for energy efficiency requirements applicable to buildings within their scope. It includes both prescriptive and performance-related provisions and is intended to “make possible the use of new materials and new energy efficient designs”. The code is fully compatible with all of the I-codes.

Part 2 of this discussion addresses the remaining ICC codes and the process by which ICC codes are revised and updated.