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  • Brian Wolfgang

How Does Code Compliance Affect Innovation?

The development and commercialization of new products and systems in homebuilding is critical to the advancement of the industry. However, builders that choose to implement new innovations are likely to encounter barriers along the way, especially during the code compliance process.


While building codes can be motivational to the homebuilding industry on a broad level by ultimately requiring more stringent levels of performance in a home, the code development and adoption process is often a slow and delayed process in many areas. This reality frequently leads to the innovation process outpacing the code development and adoption process in most jurisdictions. It simply takes time for new products and systems to be addressed in the published code, either through specific language or by referencing new standards.

 

The International Residential Code (IRC) does include a “catch-all” provision for designs or components that fall outside of the written code. Using the 2021 IRC as an example, section R104.11 (Alternative Materials, Design and Methods of Construction and Equipment) grants code officials the authority to approve a design or method of construction not specifically prescribed by the code. This provision, however, relies on code officials – and ultimately the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – to be open to innovation. At the end of the day, new products and systems are best served by specific code language, referenced standards, and code evaluation reports.

 

So, what should an innovation-minded builder or design professional do if the product or system they would like to deploy has outpaced the code process? Here are three key recommendations:

1.       Work directly with code officials and the AHJ to understand the innovative product or system that is intended for use on a project. Help them to understand the innovation itself as well as the intended use of the innovation.

2.       Communicate with the product or system developer/manufacturer to understand context, case studies, and any data that might be helpful to demonstrate implementation of the innovation. This will help the project team as well as the AHJ to minimize risk.

3.       Get involved with the code adoption process in the local jurisdiction. If you have an interest in seeing new technologies directly addressed in the code, use your voice as a member of the public to influence decision makers.

 

Code compliance is often riddled with ambiguity and gray areas, leaving substantial room for interpretation. Homebuilding is not always open to innovation and risk at every level, but open communication, education, and detailed planning can help to smooth out the process.

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