Opening Limitations Code Change Proposal


Currently, there is no code requirement specific to opening limitations in flexible guard infill such a cable. As result enforcement varies. Hanging weights, standing on the cables, or plucking the cable to hear a “note” are some of the methods employed by each individual inspector. Although the SMA has been successful in getting disapproval of related code changes by other parties in prior cycles the consistent enforcement desired by our members will require a code change.  It was determined that proactive development, by SMA, of the needed regulation is necessary. Based upon member in-house testing in defense of the issue used in the last code cycle, the SMA has filed a code change proposal to be heard in April at the IBC Committee Action Hearing. The proposed change will affect all small section flexible infill, rods, hollow tubes, basket ornaments, etc. However, the issue is most recognized as related to cable infill systems.

The proposed change states that “The required opening limitation shall not be exceeded when a load of 16.5 pounds is applied with a cone in accordance with Test Method D of ASTM E935-00” The full proposal located at this link as currently submitted is subject to withdrawal or modification.

We would like to ask that stakeholders provide feedback in the form of confirming the proposed 16.5 pound load is appropriate as proposed, or if you would be willing to provide data to support a different load value. Your particular feedback may be submitted in confidence to the SMA Staff via our online form.

If you have an interest in this matter, please respond by Friday, February 16th, 2024 no later than 4 PM ET via our online form. If you are providing additional data or testing information, it must be submitted no later than Friday, March 15th, 2024.

Early Adoption at ICC Expo 2023

The SMA attended the International Code Council’s Expo and Conference in October 2023.  Dave Cooper, SMA Code Development Representative, and Renda Barr, SMA Vice President encouraged Early Adoption of the new Floor Framing Supporting Guards regulations to Code Officials, Plans Examiners, Building Inspectors, Architects and Engineers and were able to speak with representatives from 32 different states.  The overall success of our early adoption efforts will be largely dependent upon the rollout of grassroots efforts by our members to educate the Design, Regulatory, Builder, and Stairbuilder segments of our industry.  Although there is much yet to do, this initial introduction of our intent was well accepted and very successful in representing the SMA’s dedication to code development as a central part of our mission as an organization.

Find out more online at

A New Perspective – ICC Code Hearings

By Delon Shetler, SMA Member, Heartland Stairways

Several weeks ago the International Code Council (ICC) held public comment hearings in Louisville, Kentucky. As most of you know, code is arguably the single most important action item of the SMA. Stair code concerns are the single and initial reason why the SMA was born in the first place. The stories of how the SMA was started, how very few contributed huge sums to get things started, how a small group of individuals started advocating for the stair industry, and how the SMA has evolved into the many faceted, very active, and influential entity it is today is fascinating and inspiring.

Our company didn’t join the SMA for many years because we thought the cost was too high. After seeing all the code advocacy the SMA had been doing for us all those years that we weren’t members, we realized we had a duty to become involved and give back. Funny thing is, the more we become involved the more we seem to continue to get back. One area we haven’t delved into helping out very much as a company is code, and therefore, when we heard the hearings were in Louisville it made sense to make a little 4 hour road trip and see what David Cooper experienced at these events.

I have always been impressed by how much heart and effort Dave has put forth toward the SMA and a person doesn’t have to spend much time with Dave to see how passionate he is about stair code. He lives and breathes stair code…the truest of stair nerds. The SMA had a substantial contingency attend this event and the collective that was present and ready to back Dave was pretty impressive. There were 9 issues that Dave had planned to testify and I think most of us other attendees had varying degrees of passion on the various topics.

Dave put forth a lot of preparation on the various topics and on several topics he had assistance from others. Issues ranged from application of a load to determine the guard opening limitations in cable systems, to the relationship of balustrades to floor structure, several relating to the definition of a landing, and more. Dave had received a great deal of input and assistance with the balustrade/floor structure issue and the SMA and fellow industry advocates were very well prepared for this topic. This article isn’t intended to be about the issues but more about the process so I encourage everyone to look at the various issues the SMA argued, the side we chose to argue, and why. You may have ideas and input that could change our argument or give ideas on how to bolster our arguments.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected but I do know there was much more real world experience and common sense present than I expected. I had a somewhat jaded view and expectation of a “big government lobbying” type of atmosphere where money and the loudest mouth has the most influence but this was not the case. You could tell most of the people there were industry experts and the process has enough steps and parliamentary procedure to ensure that all are heard but no single voice gets favoritism by getting more time or attention. Also, any individual that wants to attend can have their two minutes at the podium without any association to any organization. Everyone also gets to have one minute of rebuttal after all are done with first round of testimony. The Chairperson has a timer and no one gets a second more.

This was the Public Comment Hearing (PCH) the second of two in the process. At the first hearing an ICC committee rules in favor or against each of the issues. After their ruling and prior to the PCH, there is opportunity to submit public comment in favor or against their ruling. It can become quite confusing to a newcomer knowing if you are arguing for or against because you are arguing either for the committee ruling or against the committee ruling which could be for or against the issue at hand, or for or against public comments relating to the issue at hand. Such as, you could step up to the podium and argue in favor of the committee ruling which was actually opposed to the issue you also oppose. Each time you had to get straight which side you were on. Plus, sometimes arguments are for or against public comments that were submitted after committee rulings. On the first day it was funny, as John Wonderly, Terrie Stokes, and I approached the podium behind Dave we were still whispering about whether we were for or against. We knew full well what we wanted to argue but we had to get straight which way the committee had ruled prior. We were going to argue in support of Dave about some of the public comments but the issue was voted upon in favor the committee ruling so the public comments became non-issues and further testimony wasn’t necessary. Are you confused? It took me over half of a day in attendance before I became comfortable with knowing the order of processes and knowing how the rulings, arguments, and voting really worked.

My big take away was, the code process is quite lengthy and complex. I have a new and greater appreciation for Dave and his familiarity with the code process and the product he advocates. It was interesting and good to see how much collaboration goes on amongst various trade associations and to a much lesser degree, private businesses. The code process is about as fair as I imagine it could be. There is obviously no perfect system and there are obviously going to be selfish interests and biases to be encountered for such programs but the process has a way of sorting through the BS and letting truth and common sense prevail.

My old take away still is, we need to be very thankful for the SMA, Dave, and all the volunteers that are on the front lines fighting against frivolous regulations that hinder the stair industry’s ability to function while also bringing forth new codes needed to ensure safety to our clients and continued public trust in our organization and industry.

Join the SMA Board of Directors!

The Stairbuilders and Manufacturers Association Governance Committee is seeking candidates for nomination to join the Board of Directors. Make a positive impact in the stair industry! Thoughtfully nominate yourself or a respected peer as a candidate for election.

More information about the responsibilities and expectations of a director can be found below. Please place your nomination by email to no later than December 15, 2022. We look forward to hearing from you!



NOTE:  The SMA Board of Directors consists of nine members, each elected to 3-year terms. Divided into three classes, a new class is elected each year by the members of the SMA. The directors meet regularly by teleconference and hold several face-to-face meetings each year.


The 2022-2023 SMA Board of Directors are:

  • Dale Reutter, Fitts Industries (President) *
  • Terrie Stokes, Crown Heritage (Vice President)
  • Bob King, King and Company (Secretary) *
  • Chris Adams, Florida Stairworks and Carpentry *
  • John Wonderly, John Wonderly Architectural Woodworking
  • Boyd Winkler, House of Forgings
  • Keith Fleming, Helix Handrails
  • Renda Barr, SRG Stairs
  • Catie Hope, Loudoun Stairs

 * = Outgoing Board Member

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!