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November 30, 2010 | When I was a carpenter and a builder, I never joined an industry association. I didn’t see what was in it for me. That was taking the short view. I didn’t realize that associations lobby on industry-wide issues such as codes. In fact, I didn’t know how codes were written. If I had thought about it, I’d have guessed that some think tank of structural engineers sat around developing minimum standards based on a reasonable expectation of building performance.

Well, it turns out that’s not quite right. Code writing is a political process as much as a technical one. Code changes can be suggested by anyone, from individuals to corporations. My crazy Uncle Lou could suggest a code change. Properly submitted code proposals are vetted by a committee. The survivors are voted up or down at the International Code Council’s annual meetings. The only people who get to vote on whether changes make it into the IRC are governmental members of the ICC — mostly code officials.

The people most affected by the code — you — don’t get a vote. Anyone can comment on proposed changes before the final vote, but what deck builder has the time to keep abreast of proposed changes to the code and to write a letter or comment at the annual ICC meeting? I never did. Nor did I realize I could. Even so, considering the commenter could be Uncle Lou, the view of one individual probably shouldn’t carry a lot of weight. But associations? If I were a voting ICC member, I’d give more time and credence to associations than to the concerns of an individual.

The 2009 IRC is 50 percent larger than the 2006 IRC and contains several new deck-specific requirements. In my view, the new ledger-bolting table is overdue. But the lateral-attachment section? I have yet to speak to a deck builder who thinks it’s a good idea as written. Code officials I’ve spoken with admit they don’t fully understand it. If that seems troubling, consider this scuttlebutt: Folks are talking about a future requirement that wood decks be built with fire sprinklers. I’m not sure, but I’d bet your competitors in the hardscaping industry aren’t opposing that idea.

What to do? Well, deck builders do have an association — the North American Deck and Railing Association, for which PDB is the official magazine. NADRA comments on code changes, and its volunteers lobby the ICC in support of deck codes that make sense. Yes, I said volunteers. These folks are deck builders who take time away from their own businesses to work on behalf of the entire deck-building industry, including those of you who don’t belong to NADRA. It’s likely NADRA’s voice would be louder and more authoritative if it had more members and more money to get its message out. And isn’t their message your message?

Here’s the point. If I were a full-time deck builder, I’d be worried about the direction the IRC is going. Knowing that individuals have a limited voice, I’d seriously consider joining NADRA to give my voice a greater chance of being heard. So should you.

Andy Engel