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Understanding Masonry Codes & Standards

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August 2009

Codes & Standards

The year 2009 has been challenging for the construction industry as a whole. But more important and specific, mason contractors have felt the blow of this recession head on. The United States construction market is currently in the middle of the worst recession in two generations. This economy is similar to playing that old video game from the early-1980s, Frogger. Small businesses are the frog, the economy is the cars, and the end of the recession is the other side of the street. All we really want to do is make it to the other side of the street without being crushed. If we make it, we will be leaner, more efficient companies that are primed and ready for growth.

In these challenging economic times, contractors project that management skills have taken on an even greater role. Since profits are already small, there is less room for error that may cost a contractor additional cost. One of the easiest ways to lose money on a job is to not understand the specified Codes and Standards that the job has been bid under. There is no single thing that has a greater impact on the manner in which you do business than codes and standards, and yet many contractors do not understand them or how they are developed. Here is an outline of how codes and standards are developed in the United States.

Masonry Standards Joint Committee
In the United States today, the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC) are adopted at the state or local level in all 50 states. Once the local or state jurisdiction formally adopts the Code, it is a mandatory minimum standard for designing and constructing structures in that jurisdiction. As it pertains to masonry, the 2009 IBC and 2009 IRC references the 2008 Building Code Requirements and Specification for Masonry Structures (TMS 402-08 / ACI 530-08 / ASCE 5-08) and (TMS 602-08 / ACI 530.1-08 / ASCE 6-08), commonly referred to as the Masonry Code. It is developed by the Masonry Standards Joint Committee (MSJC) every three years as a technical subcommittee of The Masonry Society (TMS) and is sponsored by TMS, American Concrete Institute (ACI) and Structural Engineering Institute (SEI)/American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

So who is responsible for developing the Masonry Code? The MSJC consists of around 40 professionals nationwide whose mission is to “develop and maintain design and construction standards for masonry for adoption or incorporation into model codes regulating masonry construction” using ANSI procedures. These professionals include contractors, architects, engineers, researchers, material suppliers and others. Due to the extremely technical nature of some of the subject matter, many contractors were fearful of participating. However, this perception is slowly changing and, as a result, the 2011MSJC has three times the contractor representation as the 2008 committee.


AAC – Aerated Autoclaved Concrete
ACI – American Concrete Institute
ANSI – American National Standards Institute
ASCE – American Society of Civil Engineers
ASTM – ASTM International
IBC – International Building Code
IRC – International Residential Code
MSJC – Masonry Standards Joint Committee
SEI – Structural Engineering Institute
TMS – The Masonry Society

The 2008 MSJC is organized into a main committee and 10 subcommittees, plus and executive subcommittees. The subcommittees are: Executive, AAC Masonry, Construction Requirements, Flexure and Axial Loads, General Requirements, Infill Walls, Shear, Reinforcement and Connectors, Seismic, Pre-stressed, and Veneer, Glass Block & Empirical.

Each subcommittee has a chairperson and controls the ballot items in their subcommittee. When an item is balloted, the subcommittee votes on a specific code change in one of four ways: affirmative, affirmative with comment, negative or abstention. Each member of the subcommittee has a vote and can vote how they see fit, as long as it has technical merit and proposes a solution or alternate wording. Once these items have “passed” the subcommittee level with no negatives, they are forwarded to the main committee for ballot, where it must pass the same process. Should an item make it through main committee, the sponsoring societies’ technical activities committees (TAC) and the general public get to voice their opinions as well during a “public comment period.” All of these checks and balances are designed to ensure that the best possible code provisions are being developed by the MSJC, and every interested party has input into the process.

ASTM International
The IBC, IRC and MSJC reference a host of ASTM International standards for consistency in materials manufacturing, material testing and overall best practices. ASTM International (formerly the American Society of Testing and Materials) is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world and is referenced and specified on almost every construction project in the United States.
Who is responsible for writing ASTM standards? The key word in the above paragraph is “voluntary.”  Some of these volunteers may include architects, engineers and contractors; however, an overwhelming majority of the more active participants are material manufacturers and suppliers.

ASTM is divided into main committees, subcommittees and task groups. As it pertains to masonry, there are a few main committees of importance: Committee 12 – Mortars and Grouts for Unit Masonry, Committee C15 – Manufactured Masonry Units, Committee C18 – Dimension Stone, Committee E06 – Performance of Buildings, Committee E34 – Occupational Health and Safety, and Committee E60 – Sustainability.

Each of these main committees contain subcommittees and task groups that are specific to a particular material, standard, part of a standard or topic. Similar to the MSJC process, items are balloted at the subcommittee level first, then at the main committee. Contrary to MSJC, however, once an item passes main committee balloting, it is forwarded to the “Society” for review to ensure that all of the proper procedures were being followed when developing and balloting a particular standard or change to a standard. Once an item passes main committee, it is almost always published.

The MSJC and ASTM codes and standards processes can be extremely challenging and highly political, yet they are paramount to ensuring that all members of the masonry industry have a voice. Often, contentious issues on some of these committees come down to a vote. And, while the contractors’ voices may be heard (sometimes loudly), the numbers are rarely available to back up the voice with votes. Contractors need to become more proactive in supporting the codes and standards that govern the masonry industry. Support is not only having a voice, but also being ready to listen, stand up and support that voice when necessary.


Rashod R. Johnson, P.E., is president of The Roderick Group in Chicago. He is the former MCAA director of engineering and currently serves as a technical consultant to the association.

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