Composites make headway in the International Building Code

While fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) for structural uses aren’t included in the International Building Code (IBC) — yet — the International Building Code Working Group, part of the Architectural Division of the American Composites Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA), has made significant progress in getting composites approved for some uses in the 2009 edition of the IBC, published by the International Code Council (ICC). For now, composites are regulated by Chapter 26, Section 12 of the IBC.

While fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) for structural uses aren’t included in the International Building Code (IBC) — yet — the International Building Code Working Group, part of the Architectural Division of the American Composites Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA), has made significant progress in getting composites approved for some uses in the 2009 edition of the IBC, published by the International Code Council (ICC). For now, composites are regulated by Chapter 26, Section 12 of the IBC. According to the IBC Working Group’s chairman Nick Dembsey of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI, Worcester, Mass.), interior applications involving FRP have to meet the same IBC requirements as other materials. For exterior applications, when FRP covers greater than 20 percent of the wall area, FRP has to meet the same IBC requirements as those for plastic materials. When FRP covers between 10 and 20 percent of the wall area, the FRP must have a Flame Spread Index of 25 or less based during ASTM E84 (NFPA 255, UL 723) testing. When FRP is less than 10 percent of the wall area the Flame Spread Index must be 75 or less. In these limited-area applications FRP must in addition comply with other IBC requirements consistent with those for other materials. When FRP applications are installed on buildings less than 40 ft/12.2m in height, the FRP is limited to 10 percent of the wall area if the separation distance to an adjacent building is 5 ft/1.52m or less. If the separation distance is greater than 5 ft/1.52m then there is no area limitation for FRP, however the Flame Spread Index must be 200 or less. In these applications, FRP must in addition comply with other IBC requirements consistent with those for other materials.
The working group is currently participating in the ICC’s 2012 code cycle. As part of that cycle they are working on refining the text of Chapter 26, Section 12 of the IBC as well as tightening the requirements for exterior FRP that is 20 percent or less of the wall area. In the future, the working group will be focusing on education and outreach to allied professions as well as developing test and engineering standards better suited to accurately measure FRP performance in actual fire scenarios, says Dembsey. The latest IBC can be purchased at the ICC Web site, by following this link: http://www.iccsafe.org/Store/Pages/Product.aspx?category=7000&cat=ICCSafe&id=3000X09.