CertainTeed's Neil Sexton has been involved with the Vinyl Siding Institute’s (VSI) regulatory code groups for 20 years – almost as long as he's been with CertainTeed. During this time, he has seen the vinyl siding industry make a world of progress in code development and product certification.
"I remember when we were constantly under attack from someone trying to regulate us. We were always on the defensive," said Sexton, who chairs VSI’s Code Development Work Group (CDWG).
Over time, VSI was able to “flip the script” by taking a scientific approach that spoke truth to the industry’s products, how they perform and how they comply with the codes of life safety, energy-related aspects like insulation and air and water infiltration, and structural aspects (particularly wind resistance).
“Codes and regulation should be based on how we can improve buildings,” Sexton said. “So, we took the high road by following the science and not bashing our competitors. We saw code development and product certification as an opportunity to partner with regulators, code officials, specifiers, contractors and installers.”
According to Matt Dobson, VSI’s Vice President (who has been involved with VSI’s code and regulatory work since 2004), emphasizing the science has become a powerful marketing tool for VSI members’ products.
“Our industry had the foresight to be involved with the development of the codes, both in the U.S. and Canada, to ensure that our products were thoroughly and properly represented,” Dobson said.
“We believe that using correct standards emphasizes benefits and complies with the code. We know that a better code helps everyone, and this ‘good-faith’ approach has empowered us to provide guidance to more users.”
This foresight, according to Sexton, was what led to the formation of the CDWG to be a more concentrated group focused on codes development.
“We needed ‘code geeks’ like me whose core responsibility with their employers was codes,” Sexton said, who serves as CertainTeed’s Compliance and Technical Services Manager. “We do the heavy lifting on the code in seeing how we can improve it. We work with VSI’s technical group with regard to standards and testing, and a lot of us are on the same committees.”
This success of VSI’s long journey in code and certification development is best evidenced by the three milestones they achieved this past year:
- The relaunch of the VSI’s Product Certification Program, helping to solidify it as an independent third-party product certification program with an online directory and new code compliance report options.
“Products that appear in the VSI Product Certification Program’s online directory have met or exceeded all the requirements of ASTM D3679 for vinyl siding, ASTM D7793 for insulated siding or ASTM D7254 for polypropylene siding,” said Sara Krompholz, VSI’s Director, Technical, and Product Certification. “The directory is updated when changes occur to provide the most complete and current listing of products that have been certified to meet or exceed ASTM standards through VSI's Program. (You can see the tie-in in the code references above to the ASTM standards).”
Krompholz added that certifications of additional material properties, ratings and code compliance that were beyond the scope of the former VSI certification are now part of the new program. “We offer two options for reporting through a Product Certification Listing (PCL) or Product Evaluation Report (PER). In addition to the foundational ASTM product standards, the upgraded program recognizes standards such as ASTM E84, ASTM E119 and NFPA 268.”
- The release of VSI’s new Polymeric Cladding Building Code Reference Guide, a user-friendly publication that helps stakeholders across the value chain understand the different building codes, performance indicators and regional installation requirements for vinyl, polypropylene and insulated exterior cladding products. It is organized by cladding type as well as by the relevant building codes, including the International Residential Code (IRC), International Building Code (IBC) and the Florida codes.
“The guide helps with advocacy by educating professionals on how our products must be used, installed and specified in relation to the code,” said Sexton. “Part of our work is follow-up investigations on big wind events and looking at the after-effects. In almost every case, it comes down to product specification or improper installation.”
After years of investigating all of these wind events and their after-effects, VSI decided to develop a building code reference guide that was easy-to-read, graphically pleasing and helped create a common language and understanding about the fine details of codes and how vinyl siding aligns with the codes’ intent and desired outcomes.
“If installers and specifiers know how to properly install the product, we can avoid these failures,” said Sexton. “You can’t bash a product if you don’t install it properly and don’t review the wide range of products to see what’s most appropriate for your climate, region and respective specifications. We want it installed right and inspected correctly.”
As an architect who worked for two different firms over 12-years before joining CertainTeed, Sexton is amazed at the number of calls he still receives from different professionals across all sectors of the process that don’t always know or take the time to really understand the codes and specifications. With VSI’s new building code resource guide, Sexton believes that these pros will be able to answer their own questions.
“I get that speed-to-market factors can limit the time they have to really learn codes and specs, but I tell my customers that a judge is not going to buy this as an excuse if the building fails,” Sexton said. “This resource guide should make their jobs easier. It is arranged by polymeric cladding categories and by the different codes, and it is written in a language that everyone in the process can understand. I can see an installer using this guide to show an inspector how they properly installed the product in compliance with the codes.”
- The ability of the vinyl siding industry to adapt to challenging code deadlines. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made a tremendous impact on the government’s ability to meet traditional timetables, and the late publication of the 2021 Code is a prime example. The codes typically are published six months before an ensuing year, and there is a January deadline every three years
“This means that the new code has not been fully understood or used in the workplace, and yet we’re changing it again,” Sexton explained. “This year’s (2021) cycle for us related to fire safety, and then the IBC which handles multi-family and commercial (buildings). Any proposals related to IRC itself and the structural aspects of IBC will happen in 2022. Some of these proposals we work on have to be split up because they fall into two different camps with separate focuses. It’s a bit of a game we have to figure out by the first week of January when these proposals are due, but Matt (Dobson) has the bulk of the work, and he’s done an amazing job in helping us pivot and deliver great results under such a short timetable.”
The CDWG has 20 proposals ready for submission in January 2022, and Sexton sees this extra work as an opportunity to address fire issues and unwarranted restrictions on polypropylene, as well as ensure proper product representation within the various codes.
And it’s really paying off for the industry.
“Thanks to VSI’s code development efforts combined with their advocacy program, people now see vinyl siding as a great fit for so many project types and beneficial to the overall goal of the project,” Sexton said. “Eyes are opening around the country and this can best be assessed by the spikes in competitors’ product promotions in response to the growing recognition of our products’ value and how nicely they tie in with codes and specifications. It’s great to see such positive movement since we started 20 years ago.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.