International Code Council Evaluation Service: A Powerful Tool for Code Officials

By Robert Neale

While most fire code officials are familiar with the International Code Council’s (ICC) model construction and safety publications, the ICC offers a variety of additional services that make the code officials’ job easier while helping designers and product manufacturers make safety-focused decisions.

One of these services is the subsidiary ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), which reviews and certifies products, components, methods, and materials to assure they meet requirements of the International Building Code, International Fire Code, and the other model codes promulgated by the ICC and other organizations.  These certifications are similar to product listings often referenced by fire code officials, but more detailed in the information they provide.

Based in Brea, California, ICC-ES provides worldwide certification support to anyone interested in the safety and reliability of materials and assemblies used in construction of today’s complex buildings.  ICC-ES reports are referenced by the National Building Code of Canada and several specialty codes such as the California and Florida building codes, California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen), the Uniform Plumbing Code, Uniform Mechanical Code and National Plumbing Code of Canada.

Compared to other nationally recognized testing entities such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or FM Global, ICC-ES provides two key services related to construction materials and plumbing, mechanical and gas components: Evaluation Service Reports (ESR) and Evaluation Service Listings (ESL).

Evaluation Service Reports go beyond traditional listings that evaluate products in a single use: the ESRs evaluate the product against all applications that may appear in the codes and often as part of construction assemblies.  For example, while a foam plastic product may be listed for flame spread behavior in accordance with ASTM E-84, Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials, an ICC ESR may include evaluation of structural strength, wind resistance, water resistance, or any other application that may appear in one of the codes.  Evaluation Service Reports often provide architects and designers a tested basis for proposing alternate methods and materials.

In the area of fire protection, ICC-ES offers reports on such diverse topics as gypsum wallboard assemblies, metal joists, and fireplaces and stoves.  ICC-ES has produced similar reports for Vibration and Seismic Controls for Fire-suppression Piping and Equipment, Wet-Pipe Sprinkler Systems and Fixed Condensed Aerosol Extinguishing System Units.

What's In an ICC-ES Evaulation Report

Evaluation Service Report Process

Fire code officials must be careful that the products they approve are tested against nationally recognized criteria: public safety and protecting the jurisdiction’s liability exposure are primary concerns.  Furthermore, the code official must be confident the product is rigorously tested for the application where it may be installed.  The ICC-ES process assures these goals are met.

The first step in the evaluation process is the development of suitable acceptance criteria.  When an application is received for an ICC-ES report on an innovative product that is an alternative to what is specified in one of the codes–and there are no existing criteria that would apply–acceptance criteria must be developed. ICC-ES acceptance criteria are developed cooperatively between ICC-ES staff and report applicants, and are discussed and approved–usually in open hearings with public input–by the ICC-ES Evaluation Committee. The Evaluation Committee consists of code officials from across the United States who volunteer to help ICC-ES. The committee holds public hearings three times each year to consider acceptance criteria and other items related to ICC-ES operations.

Where code requirements are not clear, ICC-ES may use existing acceptance criteria to perform product evaluations. Acceptance criteria may also be developed when the codes are not clear in a particular area or on specific issues related to a product, when industry raises concerns regarding report requirements, or when a new criterion is deemed needed by the report applicant, ICC-ES staff, or the ICC-ES Evaluation Committee.

ICC-ES has two methods by which the proposed acceptance criteria are developed and approved. Most criteria, as noted, are subject to public hearings by the Evaluation Committee; but criteria falling into some selected categories (such as the subject is nonstructural, does not involve life-safety, and is already addressed in nationally recognized standards or generally accepted industry standards). The subject requires its own criteria, but precedent for the new document already exists in other criteria or in the code (such as are considered and approved through an alternative acceptance criteria process) for public comment and voting by the Evaluation Committee.  The alternative process includes posting the proposed criteria to the ICC-ES Web site at http://www.icc-es.org/.

Once the acceptance criteria are developed, they are validated to ensure they include minimum testing requirements, quality assessment, and quality control requirements in the testing procedures and laboratories.

Next, the products are submitted to accredited labs for performance testing in accordance with the acceptance criteria.  Generally, data that consists of laboratory test reports or inspection reports must be from agencies that are accredited for the work by a party that is a signatory to the Mutual Recognition Arrangement of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation. One of these signatories is the International Accreditation Service (IAS).

IAS is a member of the ICC family of companies. It accredits–under national and international standards–testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, inspection agencies, building departments, and other agencies to ensure they meet performance requirements. ICC-ES references the use of  IAS-accredited laboratories and inspection agencies as one possible option. ICC-ES can also consider test reports from laboratories that are accredited as complying with ISO/IEC Standard 17025 by the International Accreditation Service (IAS) or by any other accreditation body that is a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA).

IAS may also provide services related to manufacturing quality control issues. IAS is independent, and not involved with any decisions related to the issuance of ICC-ES evaluation reports.

Test Results Review and ESRs

Once all of the product testing is completed, test reports, calculations, quality assurance/quality control, and any other appropriate supplementary reports are submitted to the ICC Evaluation Service. ICC-ES engineers check the data for compliance to the acceptance criteria and the codes in which the product may apply. If the product complies with code requirements, ICC-ES publishes an Evaluation Service Report and posts the report free online. Evaluation Service Reports are prepared by licensed professional engineers in a variety of disciplines (structural, mechanical, civil, fire, etc.). It is important for the code official to remember evaluation reports–like listings– are advisory only. The code official always is the final decision-maker regarding product acceptance.

 ICC-ES evaluation reports are intended mainly to aid agencies that enforce building regulation to help determine a product’s code compliance. All current and valid evaluation reports and instructions to read them are available on the Web site, and can be searched by the product name, the product manufacturer’s name, or the product.

Finally, ICC performs facility audits to ensure the products are manufactured in compliance with the acceptance criteria.  ICC-ES requires qualifying inspections at manufacturing plants in conjunction with initial report applications, addition of new products to existing reports, or where new manufacturing facilities are added to a report. For products subject to regular, ongoing follow-up inspections, the required number of inspections is noted in the approved quality documentation. For products that do not require regular ongoing inspections, there must be a qualifying inspection of the manufacturing facility before the evaluation report is issued and annual follow-up inspections.

What Sets ICC-ES Apart?

With more than 80 years of product evaluation experience, ICC-ES is the only evaluation service that is a part of an organization that publishes the building code for most of the United States and many jurisdictions throughout the world.

Perhaps most significantly, ICC-ES is the only evaluation service body with institutional knowledge and expertise about ICC-ES acceptance criteria.  Prior to February 1, 2003, there were four different building-product evaluation services in the United States: the National Evaluation Service (NES), BOCA evaluation services (BOCA ES), ICBO Evaluation Service (ICBO ES), and SBCCI Public Safety Testing and Evaluation Services, Inc. (SBCCI PST & ESI). On February 1, 2003, these four “legacy” services combined their operations as ICC Evaluation Service.

A legacy report is an evaluation report that was originally issued by BOCA ES, ICBO ES, NES or SBCCI PST & ESI. Such reports were in good standing at the time these organizations merged to form ICC-ES, or may be an evaluation report issued as a result of an application received by one of the above-noted organizations prior to March 1, 2003, with the application being approved by March 1, 2004. Any legacy report that appears on the ICC-ES Web site is still a valid report, but particular attention should be paid to the version of the building code for which recognition was achieved.

ICC-ES Building Products Listing Program

In addition to its Evaluation Service Reports, ICC-ES offers a listing program for building products such as unit masonry, firestopping, roofing, gypsum board, and plumbing, mechanical, and gas service components. By reviewing and analyzing approved laboratory test results, the ICC-ES listing program offers a fast and cost-effective way for building product manufacturers to show their product’s compliance with consensus standards referenced in the building codes.

The listing program covers specific products that may meet consensus standards. Moreover, the program covers only specific aspects of the product as outlined in the standard and specific related code sections. The ICC-ES product evaluation process, on the other hand, is specifically formulated to address innovative products where code requirements are not clear and national consensus standards do not apply. Moreover, evaluation reports cover all aspects of the product, from components to installation.

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The International Code Council family of codes are familiar to building, fire, mechanical, and plumbing officials, product manufacturers and the design community for their model regulations in the built environment.  The ICC Evaluation Service provides these interested professionals an added dimension of safety when making complex decisions regarding life safety, structural integrity and building performance.  The ICC-ES provides an independent, accredited third-party review to provide code officials support for their decisions.

Robert Neale serves as the International Code Council Vice President for Government Relations: National Fire Service Activities. He is responsible for strategic guidance to help local fire organizations adopt and enforce the most recent version of the model codes based on technical merit and build relationships among code enforcement entities.

In 2015, Rob retired as Deputy Superintendent for the United States Fire Administration National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Prior to that, for six years he managed the National Fire Academy’s Technical Fire Prevention curriculum; including fire inspection techniques, prescriptive and performance-based fire and building code interpretation and application, fire protection systems function, design, installation, and standards, and plan review for fire inspection personnel.

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