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.
The International Code Council (ICC) was formed in 1994 with the purpose of developing a set of
comprehensive national building codes. 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.
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.
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.