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Working with variations in building codes

Safety & Codes | October 1, 2009 | By:

Q: I’m installing a tent in a county I haven’t worked in before and the local code official is asking for things that aren’t in the building code. What do I do?

A: The International Building Code (IBC) is a model building code, meaning that even in states that have adopted it, variations can occur. In fact, every county, city and municipality can, and often does, mandate additional and/or different requirements. In areas in which you normally do installations, no doubt you’ve already established a relationship with the local official, but when you’re forging new territory, you’ll have to establish your credentials.

Here are some strategies that might help:

Be prepared to show that you know what you’re talking about. Your local code official inspects all kinds of structures, not just fabric, so you know more about fabric than he or she does. Make yourself a walking encyclopedia for that person’s reference. In fact, make a cheat sheet if you have to (including references to specific sections within the code) and be willing to share it with him or her—with your company name on it—so the official remembers which tent installer was so knowledgeable.

Documentation, documentation, documentation. A paper trail is a necessity. Since IFC 2403.9 (the section that has to do with anchorage requirements) is vague, make sure you have documentation from your tent manufacturer regarding proper anchorage. If that’s not available to you, consider referencing the IFAI Tent Procedural Handbook developed by IFAI’s Tent Rental Division.

Burning issues. Keep your flammability certificate on hand. The IFC calls for tents to be made of materials that pass NFPA 701(2404.2). If, instead, your tent is made of fabric that passes California State Fire Marshal (CSFM) flammability requirements, you may need to go back to your tent manufacturer and ask for a different certificate. Since there’s more bureaucracy involved with CSFM testing, it’s likely that the material has been tested to both.

Lastly, be flexible. Both of you know that the code official has the last say in the matter. By showing the code official that you’re invested in installing a safe product, you’re starting that relationship off on the right note.

Juli Case is information and technical services manager for the Industrial Fabrics Association International. For more information on tent safety, visit

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