Construction Product Approval Process


When a new construction product is ready for market, the manufacturer must take certain steps to ensure its acceptance in the marketplace. The product must be tested to confirm its specifications. Those specifications must meet minimum quality standards. This process is critically important for new recycled-content construction products.

This guide is an overview of the approval process for new recycled-content construction products in California. CalRecycle has developed this guide to facilitate the approval of new construction products with recycled content, by covering:

The information provided in this guide is a general description of the procedures to be followed when seeking approval of a new construction product. You should always verify the requirements of the individual agencies whose standards apply to your product. CalRecycle cannot assume liability or responsibility for the application of this information generally or specifically to any particular situation or product.

Section A–Terminology


Definition.  A product specification is a detailed characteristic of a product, such as color, size, performance, and material content. Specifications for a construction product might include dimensions, strength, and roughness.

Who determines product specifications?  Product specifications are determined by the manufacturer, or by the customer who orders the product.

Why do we need product specifications?  When architects, designers or specifiers choose a construction product, they match product specifications with project needs.


Definition. A product standard is a document containing specifications that are commonly accepted as a measure of adequacy.

Who determines product standards? Most industries have established standards through their industry associations, such as the American Plywood Association and Steel Door Institute.

Why do we need product standards?

  • Communication: Standards provide a common language for the construction industry. Standards create clear communication among end user, designer, builder, manufacturer, and raw material supplier.
  • Product selection: Architects, specifiers and other purchasers expect a product to meet certain minimum quality standards that are set by industry.
  • Legal requirements: Some product standards are developed to protect public health and safety, and the environment, and are likely to be required by law in most jurisdictions.
  • Contract requirements: When product standards are cited in a contract, they become legally binding.

Building Codes

Definition. Building codes are minimum standards for the regulation of the design, construction, and quality of building materials.

Who writes building codes? Building codes are written by model code agencies such as International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and are accepted and enforced by State governments, and local Building Officials.

Why do we need building codes? Building codes protect public health and safety. For example, they provide minimum life-safety requirements for designing a structure to resist earthquakes.

Section B–Testing

Purpose. A product must be scientifically tested to prove that it meets a particular performance standard.

Who determines the tests required? Testing requirements are determined by the standards that are established by industry associations, model code agencies and other interested parties.

Where are products tested? When products are tested for compliance, they are tested by independent laboratories. Sources for locating laboratories include:

  • Yellow Pages, under “Laboratories, Testing” and “Laboratories, Analytical,”
  • Labs accredited by model code agencies.

Is funding available? Funding for product testing can be difficult to obtain, particularly for new companies. Possibilities include private investors, grants and loans. Sources of information include:

Industry Associations

There are hundreds of industry associations. Some organizations develop general consensus standards for many different industries. Several are listed below:

ASTM–American Society for Testing and Materials
ASTM is a non-profit organization that writes test standards and test methods for many types of materials, products, systems, and services. Volunteers work in 132 different committees that include such topics as paving materials, roofing, and environmental assessment. ASTM publishes standard test methods, specifications, practices, guides, classifications, and terminology.

ANSI–American National Standards Institute
ANSI is a nonprofit organization that coordinates the U.S. voluntary standards system, and develops voluntary standards for a wide variety of U.S. industries. ANSI represents national and international companies, government agencies, institutions, and professional, technical, trade, labor and consumer organizations. ANSI is the U.S. representative of ISO (see “ISO” below). ANSI provides a catalog of ANSI standards for $20, and a catalog of ISO standards for $65.

ISO–International Organization for Standardization
ISO is an international standards organization that provides voluntary international quality standards. ISO has 91 member nations.

Purpose. International standards provide a common international language. U.S. companies who manufacture to international standards can communicate and compete in international markets, and can also satisfy U.S. customers who prefer these standards.

ISO 9000. The ISO 9000 are voluntary standards for the effective operation of a business, including manufacturers. ISO 9002 concerns the production and installation of construction products. The inspection process takes six months to two years.

ISO 14000. ISO 14000 is a new set of environmental management standards that will be introduced in 1996 by ISO.

CSI–Construction Specifications Institute
CSI is a non-profit organization representing the design and building professions, including architects, engineers, contractors, designers, specifiers, and developers. CSI develops standardized construction documents, such as contracts and ‘spec sheets.’

SpecData(R) Program. CSI’s SpecData(R) is a copyrighted 10-part ‘spec sheet’ format of product information. The format includes installation methods and technical data, such as standard test results. The SpecData sheets are distributed to its 19,000 members.

Building Code Agencies

Model Code Agencies
There are three model code agencies that publish the three major building codes. They are independent not-for-profit organizations. Their codes are voluntary until a government entity adopts them as law. The three agencies represent three regions of the U.S. (To contact these agencies, see Appendix 2.)

For northeastern and parts of midwestern U.S. BOCA–Building Officials and Code Administrators–writes the BOCA National Building Code.

For southeastern U.S. SBCCI–Southern Building Code Congress International–writes the Standard Building Code.

For western and parts of midwestern U.S. ICBO–International Conference of Building Officials–writes the Uniform Building Code.

Uniform Building Code (UBC)

The UBC is a set of minimum life-safety requirements. Its purpose is to provide minimum health and safety standards by regulating the design, construction, and quality of materials of all buildings.

Performance standards. The UBC is primarily a code of “performance standards,” which means that it usually governs the behavior of a product rather than the material content. If a new product is designed to perform the same as an existing product, then the new product has to prove, via testing, that it is equal in every respect. [Most performance standards are developed by industry and then submitted to ICBO.]

Which products must conform? If a product is an integral part of a building and presents a potential safety risk to the public or consumer, then it must conform to the UBC. For example, while walls and stairways must conform, carpets and furnishings need not.

Applicability.  Local and state agencies in California have adopted the UBC with local changes.  Other codes: ICBO also publishes the Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC). The Uniform Fire Code (UFC) is published by the International Fire Code Institute. The National Electrical Code and fire-life safety standards are published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and are included by reference in the UBC, UMC, and the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC). The UPC is published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).

National code trends.  The trend is to provide more uniformity throughout the country. For example, the International Plumbing Code has recently been published by the International Code council (ICC) which is owned jointly by the three model code agencies in the U.S. A mechanical code is due for ICC publication in 1996, and an ICC building code is scheduled for the year 2000. Contact ICBO for the latest updates.

Evaluation Services.
Each of the three model code agencies has a voluntary evaluation program for building products. Required tests may include quality, strength, durability, effectiveness, safety, and fire resistance. Contact the model code agency in the region you plan to market. If your market is nationwide, contact the National Evaluation Service, Inc. (NES) which evaluates a product’s compliance with all three code agencies.

Testing.  To comply with the UBC, testing must be performed by an ICBO ES-accredited lab, and the results sent to ICBO ES.

Review. ICBO ES engineers then: verify product conforms to the UBC, or evaluate if the product is an acceptable alternate to that specified in the UBC.

Time frame. Some products can be tested in a lab; others must be tested in the field, which can take several years. After testing, the review process takes six to eight months, unless there are questions or problems, or unless product is a new type. If problems are not resolved within three years, the application must be resubmitted.

Report.  ICBO ES then provides a technical report to building enforcement agencies, architects and others, and lists the report in ICBO’s bimonthly periodical, Building StandardsTM. New reports are issued for a one-year period; at the end of that year, they are reexamined and issued for one or two year periods.

More information on ICBO ES. To order an information packet, contact ICBO ES.

California Building Codes

What are the California building codes?
The California building codes include the following:

  • The California Building Standards Code is Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR).
  • The California Building Code (CBC) is Part 2 of Title 24 and contains building construction standards. The CBC is based on the UBC, but is generally stricter than the UBC.

What buildings are covered by the CBC?
The CBC covers a multitude of building types, including State office buildings, hospitals and other health facilities, schools and universities.

State code agencies
Many state agencies contribute to the CBC. Seven of those have indicated that they would like to be contacted by manufacturers with new construction products. (Those seven are listed in Appendix 2.)

Local Codes

What is local government’s role?
Local governments write building codes for their communities by:

  • Adopting building codes from model code agencies.
  • Modifying those codes.
  • Writing local ordinances.

Who is responsible?
The city or county building official and city council:

  • Oversees local building requirements.
  • May also enforce state requirements.

Where can I find my local building officials?
local building officials may be found in local phone directories under various listings, including Building Permits, Building Inspection, Planning Department, and Public Works Department.


Section C–Steps

To introduce a new building product into the marketplace, the following steps are suggested:

Step 1. Contact industry association(s).

Ask:  What industry standards and tests are required for my product?

Plan to: Test for those industry standards.

Step 2. If you want to satisfy international standards, contact ISO (via ANSI).

Do:  Order ISO standards catalog from ANSI.

Ask:  What international standards are needed for my product?

Step 3. If you want to market throughout the U.S., contact NES.

Do:  Order information packet.

Ask:  Must product conform to ICBO, BOCA, and SBCCI codes? What tests are needed to satisfy all codes?

Plan to: Test for NES compliance.

Do: Skip to Step 6.

Step 4. IF you want to market only in western states, contact ICBO.

Ask: Must product conform to the UBC?

If yes: Go to Step 5.

If no: Go to Step 6.

Step 5. Contact ICBO-ES.

Do: Order application and review process packet for ICBO ES evaluation report.

Ask: What tests are needed to satisfy the UBC?

Plan to: Test for UBC compliance.

Step 6. Contact California State agencies.

Do: Contact each California State agency. (See Appendix 2.)

Ask: Does the agency have jurisdiction over the product type, or over the intended building type (e.g. schools, if you want to market to school buildings)? Does the agency need to review test data?

Step 7. If your market area is one city or county only, contact local building officials in intended market area.

Ask: What are local code requirements?

Do: Either

  • Generate a report from ICBO ES (see Step 5), or
  • Gather as much technical information about the product as possible and present to local building officials.

Step 8. Have product tested.

Do: Locate a laboratory for testing your product.

Do: Obtain funding.

Step 9. Submit report to Industry Association(s) and/or ICBO ES.

Step 10. Advertise your product.

Do: Create a ‘spec sheet.’ Design choices include:

  • Manufacturer’s own design.
  • CSI’s SpecData(R) Program.
  • Private consultants.

Do: Include product in construction product lists. (See Product Catalogs, Appendix 1.)

Do: Send salespeople to call on architects and designers to explain use of new products.

Do: Exhibit product at construction shows.


Appendix 1: Product Sources

The following is a partial list of catalogs, lists, and electronic sources of recycled-content construction products (RCP).

Harris Directory (~1800 RCPs)
1916 Pike Place, Suite 705
Seattle, WA 98101-1056
(206) 682-4042

CalRecycle’s online search for recycled-content product manufacturers

The Official Recycled Products Guide
P. O. Box 577
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
(800) 267-0707

EcoLiving Sourcebook (electronic, ~300 listings)
110 Linden St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 452-1500

Architectural Resource Guide
Architects, Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, Northern California (ADPSR)
P. O. Box 9126
Berkeley, CA 94709-0126
(510) 273-2428

A Resource Guide to Recycled-Content Construction Products
200 Main St., Room 580
City Hall East
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 237-1444

National Park Service Resource Guide
Technical Information Center (free)
P. O Box 25287
Denver, CO 80225
(303) 969-2557 fax

Sweet’s General Building & Renovation Catalog File (includes some RCPs)
Sweet’s Group, McGraw-Hill, Inc
Room 2040, 1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020


Appendix 2: Code Agencies

Model Code Agencies

There are three agencies representing three regions of the U.S., and a national service:

For national U.S.
National Evaluation Service, Inc. (NES)

4051 W. Flossmoor Rd.
Country Club Hills, IL 60478-5795
(708) 799-2305
NES evaluates a product’s compliance with all three code agencies, for nationwide marketing.

For southeastern U.S.
SBCCI–Southern Building Code Congress International

900 Montclair Rd.
Burmingham, AL 35213
(205) 591-1853

State Agencies

The following State offices are interested in seeing results of product testing for CBC compliance:

California Building Standards Commission
Coordinates all building standards adopted by state agencies.
1300 I Street, Suite 720
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 323-6363

Dept. of Housing and Community Development, Division of Codes and Standards
1800 3rd Street, Room 280
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 255-2501

Office of the State Fire Marshal, Building Materials Listing Program
7171 Bowling Drive, Suite 600
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 262-1936

California Energy Commission
Oversees building products that must meet R-value requirements, such as walls, windows, doors, and exterior roofs. Efficiency Standards Hotline
(800) 772-3300
(916) 654-5106

For more information contact: C&D Program Staff,