Code Compliance for Railings

There is a considerable amount of confusion regarding the building codes and the use of vinyl 

composite railings on decks and porches. Not having a clear understanding of the local  

 

requirements can result in a significant loss of time and money. This article discusses

 

the basics of the building code regarding issues related to vinyl and composite railings,

 

and how to determine if a particular railing system meets the local code requirements. 

 

The International Code Council (ICC) was formed in 1994 with the purpose of developing a set of 

comprehensive national building codes. At that time there were three national code organizations 

with model codes. Having one national building code has many advantages to builders,

 

building officials, architects, and manufacturers because of the increased efficiency and consistency. 

The ICC now has 14 model codes that cover every aspect of construction including electrical  

safety,  plumbing, energy efficiency, as well as residential construction, which is our focus. The

model codes are adopted in full or with modifications by state governments. As of this writing 

 44 states and Washington, D.C. were using the International Residential Code. 

 

 

The International Residential Code® (IRC) covers all aspects of home construction including     

requirements for guardrails and handrails. There are two major areas of regulations pertaining 

to railings. The first applies to railings no matter what type of materials used in their construction. 

These regulations are concerned with the design of the railings such as the minimum height, 

 

spacing between balusters, and when a railing or handrail is required. The second area is 

 

concerned with the minimum load requirements that the components must meet. 

 

 

For "traditional" materials such as most woods and metals, the physical properties of the        

materials are well known and standardized engineering calculations can be performed to 

 

determine if the structure meets the code loading requirements. This is not the case for 

 

"alternative" materials such as polyvinylchloride (PVC or vinyl) and composite materials. Many 

of these materials are relatively new and vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. The ICC has

developed standards for evaluating these alternative materials so that they can be used safely in 

residential and other types of construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2003 the ICC set up a subsidiary, ICC Evaluation Service, Inc., (ICC-ES) to do technical

 

evaluations of building products, components, materials, and methods. After the successful 

 

 completion of an evaluation the ICC-ES issues a report on the code compliance of the product. 

These evaluation reports are made available for free through the organization's web site. 

 

( www.icc-es.org ) The original report is valid for one year and may be renewed for a one or 

 

two year period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Railings and other building materials that were approved under one of the three model

 

building codes used prior to the IRC, may still be valid as a "Legacy Report". Currently

 

manufacturers are allowed to renew reports that were approved before ICC-ES was created. 

It is the local building official's option to accept these reports. Most are expected to continue to 

allow the use of products covered by Legacy Reports for the next several years to allow the

 

manufacturers to have time to convert to ICC requirements. 

 

 

 

 

A report from the ICC-ES provides a manufacturer with solid evidence that the covered products     

or systems meet the requirements of the IRC building code. In a growing number of jurisdictions

this report is required before the building department will allow the use of the alternative

 

material. Other building departments will allow the builder to provide evidence that the material

meets the code requirements either through an ICC-ES report or other acceptable engineering data. 

The ICC-ES approval is for an entire railing system as submitted by the manufacturer. This       

means that in order to be compliant the builder must install the railing exactly as described 

 

in the report and that all of the components used must be as defined in the report. Substituting 

another brand of baluster for example would result in a failure of the railing to be covered by 

 

report even if the replacement balusters are approved under a separate report. 

 

 

The only sure way to know what the local requirements are is to ask the city or county   

 

building official. Using a railing that has an approved ICC-ES report is almost certain to be 

 

acceptable, however local seismic or weather conditions may have resulted in modifications 

of the code or the state may not use the ICC as the model code source. As stated above, 

 

the building official may not require that a report be approved. The manufacturer stating that 

 

 the railing system meets the code requirements is sufficient. 

 

 

 

 

Vinyl Fences Inc. identifies the code status of all of our railings systems using the following categories:

CODE APPROVED means that there is an ICC-ES report issued for the railing system. 

TESTED TO MEET CODE indicates that the manufacturer has had the railing system    

by an approved independent lab and that the system meets or exceeds the IRC or IBC 

requirements. The railing system's report may be in process by the ICC-ES (which can take 

several months) or the manufacturer may have decided not to submit the report for ICC-ES

approval. Many building departments will accept these reports as evidence that the railing 

system meets the code requirements. 

COMPONENTS TESTED TO MEET CODE are railings fabricated by Vinyl Fences Inc. using   

components from Veka Outdoor Living Products.  There are no approvals or test reports 

available, however, the components are identical to the Railing Kits that are code approved.

They are believed to exceed code requirements. Every railing panel VFI fabricates includes

top and bottom aluminum reinforcement, and all components are made in the USA.

These railings are recommended for construction where a permit is not required or when the 

local building department does not require written proof that the railing meets IRC OR 

 IBC requirements. All of our Custom Rails are in this category.

NOT TESTED means that neither the railing system or its components have been tested or     

that a test report is not available. These railings may be produced from foreign produced vinyl 

with an unknown composition or the system has been modified in some way such as deleting 

the aluminum reinforcement from either or both of the rails. We do not currently have any railings in this category and do not recommend them for anything other than for decorative purposes.

 

IF YOU ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE A BUILDING PERMIT FOR YOUR RAILING    

PROJECT, WE STRONGLY URGE YOU TO CHECK WITH YOUR BUILDING OFFICIAL 

TO FIND OUT THE LOCAL REQUIREMENTS BEFORE PURCHASING ANY

RAILING SYSTEM. ADDITIONALLY ANY RAILING SYSTEM, NO MATTER

THE MATERIAL, MUST BE INSTALLED IN FULL ACCORDANCE WITH THE 

MANUFACTURER'S INSTRUCTIONS TO BE SAFE.