Building Code Tips and Trends for Architectural Railing Projects

Wagner experts address common code compliance questions

When it comes to life safety, there are no shortcuts. The following Q & A advice comes from Wagner’s team of building code experts for architectural railing projects.

Glass Railing

Question:  What are the 2018 building code trends? 

Answer:  The codes are updated on a three-year cycle based upon a review of proposed/suggested changes submitted by local code enforcement officials, industry representatives, design professionals, and other interested parties from within the respective industry sectors. The new 2018 International Building Code (IBC) establishes minimum guidelines for building systems related to the use of new materials and new building designs. This is carried out in such a way that ensures a reasonable level of safety, public health and general welfare through prescriptive and performance-related guidelines. In regards to railing safety, the codes are gradually transitioning to incorporate the latest material and processing developments as well as improved performance.

Question:  What are the top code considerations to keep in mind for any railing project?

Answer:  By far the most important first step is to establish a relationship with the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). In doing so, you will quickly ascertain which version of Building Code you need to meet and therefore how best to plan on how to select the most appropriate products to ensure compliance. As noted, although the new 2018 IBC code is already posted, not all states have adopted it. Many states are still using the 2015 codes, with some using the 2012 and a few still relying on the 2009 edition. Each version has its own nuances and requirements so be sure to check with your local AHJ before installing a system. Finding out after the fact can only mean one thing. Cost.

Question:  Are there any misconceptions about building codes?

Answer:  The IBC and IRC are “model” codes. Most local jurisdictions do not have the human resources to create their own building code. Instead, they “adopt” codes and will use the IBC and IRC as the basis for their codes. Furthermore,  jurisdictions will adopt the codes as-is but some will choose to make them more restrictive or more lenient. It is critical that you always check with your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to confirm what is being applied for your application.

When you consider railings specifically, people still misinterpret the Miami Dade requirement. The code only relates to three counties, although people think it covers the whole state of Florida. Florida Building Code is still relatively stringent and its requirements are still such that due consideration needs to be given to both the installation location, the performance required and how the local AHJ interprets the code. Additionally, people misinterpret the Miami Dade code and how it relates to railing installations. The code requires the façade, windows, curtain wall, doors and roof of a building to be robust enough to withstand hurricane force winds and to protect the building occupants against both large and small missile impact. With that, people still question if the railing considered part of the façade of the building? The opinion of the code officials is ‘yes’ from a performance perspective. Specifiers, therefore, specify accordingly. This is an ongoing debate.  With the incidents of adverse weather events increasing, the drive may be to demand higher performance.

Another common question is that specifiers are unsure whether a Wagner (or any manufacturer) product test equates to code approval. The fact is, it doesn’t. It just proves that under a fixed set of conditions the product meets the requirements as laid out by ASTM. For a specific project, the purchaser needs to take our details and then have an engineer review the whole project for compliance. Many still believe a manufacturer’s test report answers this question.

Question:  Do people misinterpret codes? If so, why?

Answer:  Yes, some states are still working on older code revisions, even though all 50 states have adopted the 2015 IBC codes. There are 2018 codes specifically for dry glazed systems that have changed again and placed the responsibility on the manufacturer to support the system rather than the installer. The code has also taken away the requirement for a top rail on laminated glass installations, whereas previously, you needed a code official exemption. The bottom line is that there is a lot of confusion, so please contact us to help clarify your code compliance needs!

 Question:  How does Wagner help customers with code compliance?

Answer:  We offer anyone (whether you’re a client or not) unbiased advice on how to interpret and stay aware of the relevant code changes. Whenever possible, we participate on standards committees, attend industry code events and present as “Subject Matter Experts.”

Question:  Is there anything else you want customers to know about building codes as they relate to architectural railings?  

Answer:  Remember railings are life safety products. Providing products of sufficient quality and strength should be the norm and not something to be aspired to. It’s important to consider that the product you install could make a difference in saving lives.

More About Building Codes and Code Compliance

This is a topic that we’ve written about extensively. To find more on this subject, search the Wagner archive on our website. See also Glass Magazine, “A Practical Guide to Selecting the Right Code for Glass Railing Installations”


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