The Building Code

Oh boy. This is a page that is very important and needs to be done asap. But at the same time it's like playing with fire or letting a pack of wolverines out of a cage. 

Folks, we're stuck in the middle of one of the biggest lobbying scams in history. We all have to conform to some insanity all because someone wanted to force-sell some hardware. And you and me are too small to do anything about it.

But we're going to talk about it so at least no one can say they didn't know they weren't the boss of their own lives! You may pay for the deck, and keep it at your house, but YOU are not in control of the deck you have to pay for. Neither am I. You have to have your deck be built how some non-builder was told by a fastener company to make you have it.

We'll get into when I have some time.
And then I'm sure they'll use their power to try to shut me up by revoking my licenses and refusing me permits. But that will just make my mouth talk louder!

Put your seatbelt on!

Ok. Here we go.....

Most municipalities in Arkansas don't make you get a permit to build a deck and therefore don't go by any specific "codes". This is great for folks like us at Custom Deckworks where we know what we're doing and always do better than what "code" would be anyway. But it also lets sketchy guys take your money and build you whatever it is they think is good enough to get your final check and get out of there. 

So it's a double-edged sword.

But for the cities that insist on going by "code", here's what we're up against........

There is a section concerning Decks in the International residential code (IRC) book from the International Code Council (ICC).  And it has stayed pretty much unchanged over many years. It's clear and I like what it says. We've been building to this code or better for the entire history of this company, whether we were building in a location where we had to have a permit or not. 

But then the lobbying happened.

A group called the American Wood Council (AWC) created a booklet called the Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, called DCA 6 for some reason. They refer to it as a guide book (as opposed to a code book or code section), but say it is based on the IRC. As of this writing (Jan 2024) their own website only has the the 2012 version even though there are several more current versions. 

This is the first thing that speaks to the fact that they didn't write it because they care about decks not collapsing. It's a PDF on a wordpress website; they could easily upload the most current version if they cared to.

So what's so wrong with this Guide Book, you ask?

Well, it has things in it that contradict the actual sections in the IRC concerning decks. Remember, this "guide" is just based on the IRC.

The short of it is this: 
They changed things so that we have to build things in a more difficult and more costly way. Both of those result in YOU paying more for your deck. And some of these requirements leave you with a deck that is hideous and over-built.

One issue is that they want you to have 6x6 posts supporting the deck up against the house. Well, I've got decks that are 35 years old that are bolted to the house (no posts at house) and they are still standing. Huge, 2nd and 3rd story decks! What about houses that have nearly solid windows and doors below the deck? Are we supposed to block those windows & doors with huge timbers? Are we supposed to make it so that you couldn't use one of those windows to escape a fire if you needed to? Or make it so that you couldn't fix or even paint the siding if you had to? Is that what you want to see right up against your window, posts and a long girder beam blocking your view? Have you ever seen a post or beam in front of a window on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous or on Cribs?

No you haven't. And you have to ask yourself why WE have to adhere to something that rich people don't. The answer is because this book is a scam and a con and written to force us to buy certain hardware. If it were truly for safety then everyone would have to follow it.

It's such a joke that when the first version came out I found several places where the guide book contradicted its own self. I stood at the LR Planning Dept talking to the Building Code Manager (top boss) at the time showing him the contradictions. For instance, I'd show him where on one page it would say (& show) you had to attach a handrail in a certain way, and on the very next page it would tell you (& show you) that you had to do another part of the rail in a way that would prevent you from adhering to the first requirement. It was impossible to do both, yet both were required.
I showed him all of the other instances of contradictions and all he could do was stand there looking at it and say, "Yeah, you're right. Hmmm."

Since he had other real work to get to, he ended up just telling me that since we've been building for decades and always do right, to just keep doing what we were doing. And for the first few years it was glorious and as it should be - where the inspector would come out, see that we didn't follow the silly guide book, we say what Mr. Manager told us, and the inspector would say "Very well then. Looks great. Carry on."

But then the AWC must've had someone point out the contradictions to them and they started changing the guide book. It took several more years for them to finally get all the problems out of it. Which, again, says to me that having it be real and for the sake of safety wasn't really their priority. Not being found out as a joke so they could keep up their real motive was the priority.

    So who IS the AWC and why would they write a Guide Book that seems to force you to use some hardware that the real IRC doesn't force you to use?    

Well, in short, the American Wood Council is a company that was made up just for the purposes of this "guide book" and it was made up by the Simpson Strong Tie company.

The Simpson Strong Tie company makes those ugly metal joist hangars and tons of other hideous metal hardware. There are old school ways to connect beams, posts and timbers that have worked for centuries, but this company invented some ugly, unnecessary crap and wants eveyone to think they have to use it. 

Some people did/do use it. Many contractors apparently aren't capable of critical thinking, and they see something like a joist hanger, read the little marketing propaganda on the package, and think they are the better, easier way to build.  And in some respects this hardware may be quicker, but it doesn't necessarily produce a better end result. And in many cases (around pools, the ocean, other situations) it can rust or corrode away much faster than wood or traditional fasteners. I've got pictures and video of these failing fasteners - pics where decks have collapsed simply because the hangers failed but the wood was still decent.

But they weren't selling enough to satisfy their greed. So they created a fake "wood council", wrote a "guide book" that said all this hardware was required, said it was based on the IRC, and then sent smooth talkers around to all the major municipalities to convince building code staff that this guide book was THE thing they needed to use to keep decks from collapsing in their towns. They made it seem like they were from the actual ICC and that this "guide" was a legit publication from the ICC. Slick talkers can do this w/o even telling a real lie.

And a little guy like me can't convince these municipalities that they were bamboozled. If nothing else, they think the guide book is a cheat sheet so they don't have to argue with deck contractors over codes that the contractor may not be aware of because the actual code book costs thousands of dollars. The "guide Book" is just a handful of pages and printed out on printers at the local planning dept. And it is given away for free to all contractors. 

They simply tell deck builders to take a free booklet when they get a permit for a deck. Then the inspector only has to look for these few certian things when he's looking at the deck - he doesn't have to know actual code anymore or do any critical thinking of his own to determine if a deck is built safely.

And when this "guide book" is adopted by the major municipalities in a state, at some point the smaller towns will also just start doing what big brother is doing because they want to be big and important too. Like an untested vaccine - no one questions it, they just all fall in line and want it too because everyone else is doing it.

And if I failed to mention.... this booklet is filled with "requirements" that we have to use every kind of hardware that the Simpson Strong Tie company has ever invented. They even invented new stuff just for this little deck book. There are things in it that can't be bought locally or anywhere in this state. They have to be special ordered and they are incredibly expensive. Many of the things they are forcing on us are things that can't even be implemented...... you are supposed to connect them to a deck joist and let them go through the band of the house and connect in the joist cavity of the house floor joists. Well if you have a finished downstairs or basement then that means we have to come in to your home and remove the sheetrock ceiling of the lower floor of your home, connect these ignorant fasteners, and then patch your ceiling. All to keep the deck from being pulled away from the house.

We have over 30 years worth of decks without these fasteners and none have ever pulled away from the house. The reason NONE of our decks have pulled away from a house (even w/o posts up against the house) is because REAL carpenters know all the ways to accomplish things that don't require a company to invent something. These ways include building techniques that have been proven for centuries and various design aspects. There are some simple ways to design a deck that will keep it against the house. Now, be advised: No matter what techniques or hardware you use, when the tornado comes the deck AND house are going to be detached from each other scattered around the county.

So, we've determined that this "guide book" is not official code (though your city will say that if they implement a Dr. Seuss book then it's official). 
And we've determined that the booklet exists as a way to get local governments to force-sell hardware for the company that makes the hardware. What better way to sell your products than to get a goverment to mandate the use of them. You no longer have to have a marketing budget or worry about any competition. Just pass the booklets out to regulators across the country (doesn't matter if the book makes any sense or not), make your products, and watch civil servants sell them for you. Heck, you don't even have to print them and pass them out actually. You just email them a PDF and tell each local building dept to print them out themselves.  

Sure, since I initially discovered all of this the AWC has created a much more comprehensive website and inserted itself into the wood industry as a power player. And they have taken steps that appear to distance them from the Simpson company so the connections can't be made as easily as I made them years ago. And they can get the current "deck guide" PDF into the hands of every city, but not manage to get it on their own website?  And they've since made more "guides" to other wood-related trades, which conveniently sell more hardware.

And now that we know this and our eyes are open, what do we do?


We're too small. 

As I mentioned at the top of this page, when any of them find out that I've opened my mouth about this and spoke the truth to the public, they will start revoking my licenses and refusing me permits - even if I follow this ridiculous "guide book", they will cancel me.

But in the meantime, just know that if we get a building permit in any city that has bought into this scam, they will force us to build you a hideous deck that costs you WAY more money than it should. And... they could even force us to tear out the ceiling in your downstairs. 

Per our contracts, building permits are up to you and are your responsibility. If you want one, we are happy to get it for you. The city allows the homeowner to get it, but prefers the contractor get it (half of the reasons why are actually good reasons). There will be a fee for the permit and it will cause a redesign of your deck (due to the ridculous way they'll make us build it) which will cost more than the time tested way we've always built things, so better to tell us UP FRONT if you will insist we get a permit.
*We are NOT saying here that we ever do jobs in city limits without a permit. We are simply saying that YOU, the homeowner, need to bring the subject up to ensure the issue is not overlooked.

But if you DO want a permit, let me tell you what ELSE they've done!

In the city of Little Rock (others may or may not eventually follow this) we have to submit a SURVEY of the property. Well, many people don't have one. But even when the homeowner does have one, it can't be more than 5 years old! So that means that just to have a deck built, which could just be a 4x4 landing and a couple of steps that only costs $400-$600, YOU have to pay to have a survey done and that could cost you anywhere from $450 to $1,000!

They say this is because someone could have a survey, then get a pool house built, then later use that same survey to get their deck rebuilt and that same survey doesn't show the pool house - so the planning dept approves the deck application not knowing how close it will be to the pool house (because the pool house isn't shown).

One flaw with this is that 5 years is an arbitrary number. The homeowner could have gotten the pool house 2 years ago and now be looking to redo the deck. And a 4 or 5 year old survey wouldn't catch this! This is why bureaucrats need to ask contractors to help them implement new policies instead of just making crap up as they go along w/o thinking it through.

Well, I hate to always be telling people a better way to do their job (better meaning that it's FOR the citizens instead of against them), but.....
Instead of costing EVERYONE more money (many times people that don't have money for surveys but will spend grocery money to get the landing replaced so they can get out their door again or so their insurance won't cancel them for not being able to get out the door in case of fire), just have a place on the building permit where they are swearing under penalty of law that there are no other structures on the site that the survey they are presenting doesn't show. And if there are then have a requirement that it be handrawn on the existing survey, to scale, so the planning dept knows what they're working with.

But governments don't think like that. Thay aren't in the business of actually looking out for the citizens in their community. 

So per our contracts and per the current requirements of places like little Rock, if you don't have a survey 5 years old or less, or won't get one, then we CAN'T get a permit. I mean, we physically can't. They literally won't let us. That is why our contracts mention that building permits are up to YOU.

This is a catch-22. You NEED a new deck or someone is going to get hurt, but then you can't afford the thing government is mandating you have before you get a new deck. And if you just don't get the deck, someone will get hurt or your insurance could cancel you.

This is not fair to YOU.

And if I refuse to build your deck because you don't have a survey and therefore we can't get a permit, then you'll find some crusty alleged "deck builder" that doesn't have a contractors license anyway (not to mention Bonds with the cities or any insurances) and he'll happily do it without a permit.

And that is not fair to US, and again to YOU because you will get a crap deck that is likely still dangerous.

Think too much "government" isn't a problem for you?
If you live in certain city limits, it looks like I have to disagree with you.
I'm not anti-government. I'm anti-ridiculous regulations. And I'm anti-scam and anti-con and think we should be going by the REAL IRC builing code.

Holler if you want to know more !