AWC opposes New Jersey anti-wood legislation

The American Wood Council (AWC) said it is in opposition to a bill in the New Jersey State Senate that limits the heights and areas of wood-frame construction.

The AWC, who represents about 86% of the structural wood products industry, has submitted a letter to the New Jersey Senate opposing bill S. 1261. aimed at limiting the size of wood-frame construction in large residential multi-family construction.

But the bill is backed by first responders and legislators in the state who say the legislation will increase fire safety standards in new construction, particularly through the use of non-combustible materials.

In the letter, the AWC argues that current building codes do not discriminate or favor one material over another while reinforcing the equivalent performance concept.

“Under the code, all building components are evaluated by standardized tests, and all that receive compliant ratings can be used. Engineers, architects, developers, and contractors are then given design freedom to choose among the most cost-effective materials that meet the stringent criteria in the Code. Despite what you might hear, it is erroneous to believe that, because a product is claimed to be non-combustible, it won’t fail in a fire. Fires don’t start in the materials of construction – rather, fires begin in the spaces of buildings we occupy, and into which we bring combustible, flammable, and toxic materials. The progression of a fire from these furnishings and contents to the building materials themselves, is delayed by building code design, allowing safe occupant evacuation,” the AWC said in its letter to the senate.

“The proposition to reduce certain building heights and areas has been brought up time and time again and repeatedly fails because the code already addresses the issue of combustible construction through equivalent performance. Notably, S. 1261 is being promulgated by the concrete industry to increase market share. The Build with Strength Coalition has attempted to change other state and local jurisdictions and each effort has been soundly rejected. Despite claims by competing materials, the long-established code development process works very well to ensure that state-of-the-art building code provisions are regularly adopted.

“Decisions about and adoption of building codes should be determined by local code officials, engineers and design professionals who work with these materials daily.

Additionally, the AWC urged state senators to recognize that the best building codes do not result from legislation, but rather from a process that employs the best expertise of building and fire officials, along with the building design community.

“The International Code Council provides that very process, ensuring that all code provisions are approved by these very experts employed by governmental agencies. While groups like ours participate in the process, the system only permits those tasked with enforcing the code, such as New Jersey’s building and fire officials, to approve those provisions,” the AWC said.

The bill is currently in review by the state senate and has the support of senate president Stephen Sweeney.