------------------------------------ July 15, 2016
Making an Informed Choice
you agree that we live in a litigious society? Without any consideration to the
merits of any particular "lawsuit", would you not agree that the
possibilities of being sued are ever present? This is true individually but more
so if you manage a business or have some responsibility in choosing what
products are used.
building a new structure or upgrading an existing one, Building Codes have been
created for the purpose of protecting occupants and users of the structure. When
an incident occurs, one of the first things considered is the applicable
Building Code(s) to determine if any violations exist, which may have
contributed to the incident. Is just meeting
a particular code enough? It is a devastating fact that often, the goal is not
to improve safety, but to find basis for litigation.
are several authorities that have contributed to creating a National Building
Code. This is a positive development. Architects, Contractors and Manufacturers
must be familiar with the codes in each market where they operate, design or
sell their products. Many
manufacturers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with certified testing
facilities to show their products meet and / or surpass code requirements. Many
require a safety factor several times code. While this article is not a
technical guide on building codes or couldn't possibly address every product
that could be used, it is intended to promote questions that could apply to most
products. Simply put - is claiming to be "Code Compliant" enough? We
will focus on one building product that is often overlooked, however this could
apply to almost any product or material.
your safety is concerned, or that of your occupants, the astute specifier or
owner will not skimp on research. One
of the most liability-prone products is the railing used on the ramps, walkways,
porches, balconies, roof top perimeters, boardwalks, and stairs. Railing
is so familiar and commonly needed, it is often given little attention.
Unfortunately, this approach may mean missing the technological advances and
updated products available in the railing industry. More
attention needs to be focused on the factors needed to insure that a railing
system will continue to meet the design code or strength once installed.
the system retain sufficient margins of safety once the influence of use,
abuse, the environment and weather take their toll? Keep in mind that
testing is done in a controlled environment.
do you insure that proper installation and fastening will maintain the same
are various types of materials used to manufacture railing. Depending on the
intended use, railing is made from wood, steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, etc.
and a variation or combination of these. Not all are appropriate for every type
of structure. With the internet, there is a wealth of easily available
information on the pros and cons of each. Speaking to your local distributor or
manufacturer can help, but may not be sufficient.
your source handle or make just one or two types of railing?
they attempt to steer you to their own, even when a system more appropriate
may be available?
all rail is created equal. As with most products, there is often a good,
better, or best grade in each category. Is your source knowledgeably
concerning the benefits of various paints, power coatings, metals, plastics,
gauges and qualities of both metals and thermoplastics? What experience do
they have with each?
the answers are incumbent on making the most appropriate decisions.
look at some questions which should be asked. Many are common to each. For
example, most railing systems are made in a residential and commercial grade.
Quality is always important and must be balanced between need, value and cost.
You would not want to use a residential strength system on a high rise or
multi-story building or a heavily used area subject to large crowds or abuse.
Beyond certified testing showing code compliance, here are some important
questions to ask;
What gauge? Welded or mechanical? Painted or Powder Coated? What
pre-treatment is used to insure adhesion of the finish? Can this material
withstand the effects of a coastal salt laden environment? Is the system a
boxed program, designed to be field trimmed and fabricated, or is it made to
fit my building? What danger is there that if not properly field assembled,
the system will maintain its strength and therefore, code compliance?
Plastics are "recipes" or formulas. What type of plastic? Is it
PVC, ASA, HDPE? Can I use the same PVC residential deck railing on a
commercial structure? Is the railing reinforced for strength? Do the issues
common to some plastics, that of fading, brittleness, lack of colors, etc.,
apply to all type of plastics? Why would one use a "plastic"
system in a highly corrosive of abusive application?
What grade and gauge of steel? What about the finish and potential for rust?
Is the system welded or mechanical?
aforementioned are but a few of the generic/basic questions. Each project will
have its own idiosyncrasies. Also important to know; is the manufacturer
confident enough in his product to offer a warranty? As with all warranties, the
devil is in the details, so be sure to read the fine print.
course, having a uniform building code is important and beneficial. While
knowing the details is not guaranteed against potential lawsuits, it can
mitigate the risk. For this reason and your own satisfaction, it is necessary to
consider these factors before, during, and even after a product is chosen and
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