Staircraft Awards


By John Wonderly, SMA Member, Owner – John Wonderly Architectural Woodworking

John Wonderly Architectural Woodworking consists of one employee and myself. I have been in the stair building industry for over 34 years. I have been with the SMA close to 20 years with a short break in the middle. Today, my shop is currently located in a rural area of Ohio and is nestled in the middle of eight acres of woods. Given the setting and the fact we custom make every part in house, we do not get much interaction with other people in the stair industry on a regular basis. This trade is such a small niche of the overall construction and manufacturing industry that I found it very difficult to “talk shop” and discuss technical and business issues with other people who design and build the same or similar stair projects. Being involved with the SMA and especially the StairCraft Awards has definitely changed that.

Attending the annual conferences and seeing all the photos of the other entries has been a great experience for me. Over the years, it also affirmed that I am a fellow member of a group of very talented and passionate crafts people. During these conferences the interaction I was lacking on a day to day basis became a special few days every year where special bonds were built and conversations happened that showed me a unique group of similar-minded stair builders. These interactions have helped me develop friendships and strong business relationships with fellow members of the SMA.

It was at my first SMA conference that Dave Cooper, the SMA Code Development Representative, asked me why I did not submit an entry into the StairCraft Awards. After explaining why I had not, he assured me that I was building unique stairs and he strongly encouraged me to enter the next year. Even though I had received a national design award from a woodworking organization several years earlier, my thought at the time was that I did not build anything worthy to submit along side such a talented group of stair builders. Finally, several years later I submitted my first entry to the SMA StairCraft Awards. I did not win an award that year, but the experience was very worthwhile. In the years since, I have received the honor of winning in several of the categories.

A few of the many benefits to winning a StairCraft Award is recognition from your peers, validation of your dedication to the craft and being promoted on the SMA website. From a business point of view, a huge benefit is also the advertising possibilities. Additional perks of winning one of these awards includes other organizations in the building industry adding the winners to their publications, websites, and information streams. Adding “National Award Winning Stair Builder” to all of your literature and promotional items and advertising is helpful for marketing one’s business. Every winner could create a drop down on your website for the winning stair and award. Every winner and for that matter, every entry inspires others within the industry to expand their creativity in their designs and offerings to their customers. Ideas that are generated by the entries and winners further enhances every aspect of our industry.

There are many different categories to enter within the Stair Craft Awards. Everything from Straight Traditional Stairs to Modern Curved Stairs and many others. There are even categories for just stair parts, just balustrades and even Anything but Stairs. So whether you build interior or exterior stairs, wood or steel stairs, or build stairs from any combination of materials, there is a category for you. If you are a parts manufacturer or distributor, there are categories for you to enter as well.

Standing By

2015…2018…2021…What is Next?

If you guessed 2024 you might understand that code development is a 3-year cycle. The 2024 IBC development cycle ended early this year with confirmation of the Online Governmental Consensus Vote, OGCV. The final hearing of the 2024 IRC ended on September 21 and the results of the IRC online ballot is expected early next year. Other than the highly contested issues decided by narrow margins the OGVC usually affirms the vote taken at the final hearing. The ICC’s final steps in the process are related to publication of the codes in late 2023 to be available for review and adoption by jurisdictions having authority.

Aside from the confusion over which version is adopted and enforced where you work there is actually an advantage to the years of cyclical development and subsequent adoption of the I-codes. You can see into the future, you can be prepared for the enforcement of regulations affecting your products, processes, and services well in advance as well as foresee opportunities to lead the market with creative solutions that only a tuned in professional could provide. The issues in this cycle possibly more than others from the recent past will provide the stair professional with clear opportunities to prove the value of their expert knowledge.

Clear evidence of this is the level of industry participation and the number of SMA members that engaged in constructive discussions with others from the shelter industry in the Post Connection Task Group and Committee meetings. Members attended the hearing, Stood UP and Testified and are now Standing By to educate others to understand and implement the results of their efforts. Issues of universal consequence stretching beyond our membership and the stair industry proved worthy of the consensus of many sectors beyond any one’s sphere of influence. Designers and Engineers, Manufacturers, Builders, Fabricators, Installers, and Regulators reached consensus upon a prescriptive solution for floor edge structure capable of supporting the guards we provide. It will be in the 2024 International Residential Code.

A guard connection solution is in your future… if you wait and your still around in 6 years when the 2024 code will most likely finally be enforced in your area. But as an SMA member that has preemptive knowledge of what is to come you can join with other SMA members to launch a grass roots nationwide campaign for local adoption NOW. It has been our intent from the beginning to promote this needed change in building safety regulations regardless of the outcome in this code cycle. Its approval will all but guarantee success of such an effort. You can be a part of developing the literature and presentations, or their dissemination, education and adoption in your area. Imagine the local stair professional with such a message gathering support, appreciation, and acknowledgement of their expertise with support of their association of stair professionals. Those taking the bully pulpit will be recognized.

Guard Connection to floor systems was the main issue but other issues also took the stage at the hearing. Among them the more critical results were:

  • We successfully defeated a proposal that failed to address the issue of guard infill spread. It addressed only cable and inaptly related the 50 lb/ft failure load to the dimensional requirement for guard opening limitations.
  • Our proposal for the definition of landing as well as one proposed by The National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) was disapproved. The notion of the need for specific definitions is often viewed as limiting the range of interpretation in enforcement. More work will be needed to gain favor of the regulators.
  • Our proposal to specifically eliminate guards and handrails from the “All other structural members” default category was approved. This misplaced default requirement was specifically pointed out by MSU as a significant problem when testing guard connections for the SMA.MSU determined that the default limit had been based on joist and rafter deflection completely unrelated to guards or handrails and if enforced our common installations would fail to comply.
  • We were effective in defeating a deck builder’s proposal to eliminate the required light source at the top landing of an exterior stair. Illumination is critical to one of the simplest ways to ensure safety at the start of a stair, top or bottom, where sight and movement coordination is initiated and the most common area of accidents.

Code and Standard development have been a critical part of the SMA’s identity and value proposition. Is this still the case? Are the major battles fought and won? Are there issues on the horizon that you can foresee will need the SMA? New products, new materials, consumer demands, and changing technology will continue to change our industry. What do you see as the future code and standard needs of our industry to be addressed? The problem of connecting guards to engineered floor systems with nothing more than air and a prayer was affecting the entire industry but was brought to the surface by just one member of the SMA. Your issues are likely SMA issues and could be issues resolved with help from your colleagues in the association.

The SMA has pledged to work with others from the industry to form a task group to address the issue of infill spread in the next cycle. This task group will be organized prior to the end of the year. If cable and/or other flexible guard infill materials are common to your product line, we encourage you to take part. Watch for SMA announcements and – STAND BY!