For example, some midsize cars offer more under-dash legroom than their competitors, but less interior width. Yet they tout themselves as “roomier.”

The best way to compare products of all types is to go category by category. In the case of building products, let’s use the example of fire-resistant materials for wall assemblies.

Virtually all of these products are UL tested, but that’s not the same as being a component of a code-compliant UL listed assembly. The latter is a far more rigorous designation because it’s a measure of the entire assembly’s performance. With a UL listing, architects and builders have the assurance that every component in the assembly meets code with flying colors. That’s a lot different from creating a wall assembly from a hodgepodge of UL tested components.

Then there’s a category that should be a no-brainer: product certification for both Type III and Type V construction. Some manufacturers boast about their Type V certification, but can’t provide proof of Type III certification. Both are essential in the construction business.

Moisture management is another area where there’s a lot of hedging. Any manufacturer who tells you that rain doesn’t affect the performance of FRT plywood or OSB is all wet. When these products are exposed to moisture during storage or construction, they’re supposed to either be discarded or allowed to dry to a maximum moisture content of 15% or less (which requires the use of a moisture meter). A steady rain can wash away a significant amount of the fire-resistant coating on these products, rendering them ineffective and unable to meet code.

Perhaps the best head-to-head comparison is the total cost of assembly installation. When you tally up what an entire wall costs—including all the damaged and discarded FRT plywood or OSB panels and the cost of getting multiple approvals from code officials—the non-FRT choice is often the best.

That’s why builders need to “respect the spec” that architects provide for fire-resistant materials. It can save money in the long run.

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