Keys to Successfully Obtaining a Code Evaluation Report

Keys to Successfully Obtaining a Code Evaluation Report

(c) Jeff R. Filler, Pell City, Alabama

October 2021

A code evaluation report is a report published by an evaluation agency stating that (and how) a building product (or building method or assembly of building products) `meets the building code’. The report is generally required in cases where the building code does not address, or does not address completely, the product, method, or assembly of products, for the use intended. The report is based on evidence provided by the manufacturer or sponsor of the product, method or assembly. The evaluating agency reviews the evidence provided and writes the report of compliance. The cost of the evaluation is covered by the manufacturer or sponsor, and includes cost of the evaluation itself (evaluation service fee), as well as costs necessary to obtain information needed for the evaluation (such as laboratory tests). The cost to the manufacturer or sponsor is defrayed by the broad acceptance of the published evaluation report by jurisdictions (building departments) functioning under the building code under which the report is written. The evaluation report is simply submitted to the building department along with other project documents (construction documents, plans, specifications, etc.) and alleviates the need for submitting detailed evidence to every jurisdiction in which the product is planned for use. The evaluation process can be costly, and takes time, especially when product testing is required. The keys that follow are intended to assist manufacturers and sponsors of new products seeking product evaluations, so as to be able to obtain code evaluation reports as quickly, smoothly, and cost-effectively as possible.

1. Engage the Evaluation Agency. As early as possible, and with as much information as possible, engage the evaluation agency. This particular article is focused on obtaining a code evaluation report from the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), and the resulting report is called an Evaluation Service Report (ESR). Code evaluation reports are scoped around specific uses of products, with respect to compliance with specific sections of the governing code. It is important to engage the evaluation agency with as much information as possible, and get as much feedback from the agency as possible, as early as possible, so as to quickly be able to obtain an agreed-upon evaluation plan. The `acceptance criteria’ for the evaluation must be determined, which will outline performance requirements (based on testing) for the product uses intended, as well as quality control requirements. From a clear understanding of the intended product uses, and the necessary performance and quality control requirements (acceptance criteria), a detailed test and evaluation plan can be developed.

2. Execute Necessary Administrative Details. The product evaluation will be conducted through a business contract that will involve scope of work, fees, agreement of information confidentiality, and so forth.

3. Arrive at a Mutually-Agreed-Upon Test and Evaluation Plan. It is very important that both parties (manufacturer/sponsor and evaluation agency) work together to arrive at a detailed and mutually-agreed-upon test and evaluation plan (Test Plan) as early in the process as possible. The Test Plan must cover the intended use(s) of the product, what is to be evaluated (product properties, performance characteristics, etc.), and how the code compliance is to be substantiated (submission of test data, calculations, third-party opinions, etc.). Product evaluations generally rely on laboratory (and sometimes field) testing of the products to verify product properties and/or compliance to the relevant portions of the building code. Testing is conducted by accredited (typically third-party) agencies or laboratories. Test results must be analyzed, and in some cases third-party opinions or conclusions must be obtained and submitted to the evaluation agency. Product testing and professional analyses and opinions on results are typically costly and may result in seemingly long evaluation time frames to accommodate the workflows of the parties involved. A detailed test and evaluation plan, detailing what testing must be conducted, with what analyses, and possible third-party opinions where required, and by whom, will help avoid unnecessary and unanticipated costs and protraction of the evaluation.

4. Obtain Professional Expertise and Assistance. Demonstration that a product, method, or system, meets the requirements of the building code may be a highly technical and complicated endeavor. As such, the product manufacturer or sponsor may need to acquire outside professional assistance to organize, analyze and interpret test results. Supporting calculations of an engineering nature typically require submittal under the seal of a licensed professional engineer. Professional assistance may also be necessary in overall Test Plan development and the final submission test results, analyses, conclusions to the evaluation agency.

5 Acceptance Criteria. ICC-ES Evaluation Reports are generally evaluated under ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria. ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria are product- or product-type specific and are intended for use only in the evaluation process of ICC-ES Evaluation Reports. An entirely new product or product type may require the development of a new Acceptance Criteria. Other products or new variants of existing products may be suitably covered by existing Acceptance Criteria or through revision of existing Criteria. Acceptance Criteria are developed and/or revised by ICC-ES staff in cooperation with the manufacturer or sponsor of the evaluation report. Acceptance Criteria include test and performance requirements, quality control requirements, and outline conditions of use for the final Evaluation Report. The Criteria draw upon available nationally-accepted standards, or sections of standards. ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria are approved by the ICC-ES Evaluation Committee in a public forum either by public hearings conducted three times a year, or through the Alternative Criteria Development Process where criteria are posted every other month for public comment and/or Committee ballot. The time required for development, hearing, and approval of new criteria or criteria revisions, where new or revised criteria is necessary, must be considered in the evaluation process planning.

6. Provide a Complete and Well-Organized Final Submittal Package. Evaluation agency staff, as with all of us, are busy people, and are often juggling multiple evaluations simultaneously, many of which may be paused due to product testing or other third-party involvement. The manufacturer/sponsor)for a code evaluation report must ultimately assemble the documentation required (by the Test Plan) for submittal to the evaluation agency. A single, well-organized, complete submittal package is critical. The submittal must `prove the case’ for product acceptance to the ICC-ES staff evaluator. Information submitted piecemeal to the evaluation agency may not find its proper place or context in the process, and should only be submitted piecemeal if requested piecemeal by the evaluator. A complete code evaluation report submittal should include the following.

1) Introduction – basic description of product and proposed uses

2) Product Description – complete product description, manufacturing process/background of technology, conditions of uses, installation and use details

3) Evaluation Summary – summary of testing required, analysis, opinions, particularly for submittals with extensive testing

4) Product Testing – describes the tests and results; actual test reports and data may be placed in the submittal body, or appendix/appendices

5) Results of Testing, Calculations, Discussion of Results, Third-Party Conclusions

6) Final Conclusion(s)

7) Proposed Evaluation Report

Appendices

A. Supporting documentation, literature, studies, etc.

B. Test Report #1, Test Report #2, etc.

C. Accreditation Documentation and Credentials (of testing agencies, third-party professionals, etc.)

D. Test Plan Copy

6. Confidentiality. All information submitted by the applicant (manufacturer or sponsor) for the product evaluation is considered confidential. Only the final published Evaluation Report, the content of which is agreed upon by manufacturer/sponsor and evaluation agency, is made public.

7. Conclusion. The Evaluation Report states the conclusions of the evaluation performed by the evaluation agency, and includes the requirements and conditions of use for the product, while keeping proprietary information `secret’, and alleviating the need for the manufacturer or sponsor to submit voluminous and/or proprietary evidence for individual projects to individual building departments. The evaluation is made by the agency in review of the evidence submitted by the manufacturer or sponsor through the submittal package described above. The submittal package provides the information described (`promised’) in the Test Plan, and the Test Plan is derived from the Acceptance Criteria. The submittal package `proves the case’ for product approval to the evaluation agency. Evaluations for code compliance range from simple and swift to complex and protracted, and may take from several months to over a year to complete. particularly if new acceptance criteria, or significant revisions to existing Criteria are needed. Successful evaluations depend on a clear and mutually-accepted test and evaluation plan, and a well-organized and complete final submittal of documents supporting approval. Consideration of the above keys enables manufacturer or sponsor, and the evaluation agency, to complete the evaluation and publish the evaluation report in the fastest reasonable time frame, and with minimal unnecessary expense.

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