The Building Code Ostrich Syndrome

Pole Barn Guru Blog

I have a very dear friend who tends to avoid possibly challenging situations, by pretending they didn’t occur. This is known as the ‘Ostrich Syndrome’.

Post-frame, as an industry, sometimes suffers from some of the same ailment.

I present, for your entertainment pleasure, International Building Code (IBC) Section 1807.3.1, which may very well be both the most important and most ignored standard for post-frame construction which is spelled out by the building code.

The American Wood Preservers AssociaBuilding Code Ostrich Syndrometion (AWPA) addresses in Section UC4 wood which is pressure preservative treated for “Ground Contact”. The “UC” is short for “Use Class”.

UC4A is designated for “General Use”. This is “Wood and wood-based materials used in contact with the ground, fresh water, or other situations favorable to deterioration.” Examples are fence posts, deck posts, guardrail posts, structural lumber, timbers and utility posts located in regions of low natural potential for wood decay and insect attack.

UC4B is for “Heavy Duty”. This is “Wood and wood-based material used in contact with the ground either in severe environments, such as horticultural sites, in climates with a high potential for deterioration, in critically important components such as utility poles, building poles and permanent wood foundations, and wood used in salt water splash zones.”

Neither of these clearly identifies which degree of pressure treating should be utilized for structural in ground use – to support a post frame (pole) building. I’ve gone so far as to call the AWPA and asked specifically what treatment levels should be used in post-frame building columns. At best, I’ve been unable to get a straight answer, from those who should be the experts.

When the first IBC (International Building Code) was published in 2000, Section 1805.7.1.2 stated, “Wood poles shall be treated in accordance with AWPA C2 or C4.” This language remained the same in the 2003 IBC.

The AWPA C2 and C4 standards have since been withdrawn, therefore are no longer applicable or referenced standards in later editions of the Building Code.

In the 2006 IBC, however, things changed. Section 1805.7.1 states, “Wood poles shall be treated in accordance with AWPA U1 for sawn timber posts (Commodity Specification A, Use Category 4B)” In the 2009 IBC (and repeated for the 2012 edition), the language remained the same. However, the referenced section of the Code is now 1807.3.

Post-frame buildings are widely constructed in every state in the United States. Due to this prevalence, it shouldn’t be any problem to walk into any local lumber yard or Big Box store in American and have properly treated posts available.

Sadly, this is not the case. My employer purchases treated lumber all across the country. In too many areas – especially in the South where wood should be highly treated, UC4B treated timbers are available by special order only!

The lumberyards’ typical response to having only UC4A treated timbers is something like, “This is what all of the pole barn builders use”. Many of the Building Officials in these areas do not have a better response – they just don’t know any different.

And this is not a problem limited to pressure treaters, lumberyards and Building Officials.

Today in writing this article, I visited the website of a well-known post-frame building company. This firm is not only an NFBA member, but is also an accredited post-frame builder. One of the company executives recently served on the NFBA Board of Directors. On their website, “.40 CCA treatment is standard, .60 CCA treatment are optional.”

For those who are not in the know, .40 CCA happens to be UC4A and does not meet the requirements of the building code.

One of the major concerns of potential purchasers of post-frame buildings is, “How long are the posts going to last?” There is a proliferation of concern as to the longevity of pressure preservative treated timbers, which may be very well founded.

Our own industry reinforces this fear with a variety of options to either isolate the columns from the encasement (think products like Plasti-Sleeves and Post Protectors) or to keep the columns entirely out of the ground (like Permacolumns).

An end can and should be put to our industry’s Ostrich Syndrome, and here are some of the steps:

Communicate with potential post-frame building purchasers. An educated purchaser is a good purchaser. Post longevity is something customers can sink their teeth into. Whether providing a DIY kit package or constructing a turnkey project, sell UC4B columns and explain why.

Post-frame builders – besides educating consumers, educate lumber suppliers. Not only refuse to use non-Code conforming columns, but demand your supplier inventory materials which actually meet Code requirements.

Competitors very possibly have no understanding of the differences in treating or what meets Code. Educate them – by bringing them up to your level. The playing surface gets levelled and the post-frame purchasing public gets a better end product, no matter whom they order from. I personally don’t like to say ill about anyone else in our industry. But if the competitor won’t step up and do it right, don’t be afraid to call them out.

Lumberyards and Big Boxes – our industry wants to do the job as it should be. Put away the attitude of, “They’ll buy what we inventory so why should we change?”. Spend the few extra dollars to buy and inventory treated timbers which meet the actual end use. Twist the arms of the wholesalers and pressure treaters who are your suppliers, be demanding – you are the customer and it is up to them to supply what you want and need.

Afraid to be the first to upgrade?

Don’t be. Get the word out and post frame builders and DIYers will beat a path to your door. The competition will either upgrade or lose customers.

Pressure Treaters, here is another case of Ostrich Syndrome. For any pressure treater who is treating timbers to a UC-4A level and actually believes they are being used for landscaping – I have a fabulous deal on a bridge. Pull your heads out and go to treating a minimum of UC-4B for any timber which could be used for post-frame construction.

Post-frame construction is a growing industry we should all be proud to be members of. The more we show the purchasing public we care about what we provide, the better light we and our buildings will be viewed in.

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