Contributed by Cherise Lakeside
One of the goals of Let’s Fix Construction is to bring common problems in Architecture, Engineering and Construction to the table for positive and collaborative discussion and solutions. We have complained long enough. It’s time to start fixing things.
In my humble opinion, the best way to fix something is to learn what you don’t know. Often problems are perpetuated simply because we lack a piece of the puzzle and, because nobody tells us, we keep repeating the same mistakes.
The issue that I would like to address today has driven me crazy for years. What’s worse is that it is a relatively easy fix. But, we are not fixing it.
If you don’t already know me, a quick background: I have worked in AEC for 30 years – In Architecture, Engineering AND Construction. This wide-ranging experience in our industry has been a gift in that I have been able to see the process from many different sides. Add to that a heavy involvement in the Construction Specifications Institute (No, they are not only about specs!) and I feel uniquely qualified to write this blog.
There is a commonality in AEC, no matter what discipline in which you work. Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Manufacturing, Product Reps, Owners, etc. That commonality is project delivery processes and contract administration. It doesn’t matter who you are, you need to know the project requirements, risks, roles and responsibilities. Period. No question about it. No brainer.
But, guess what? Very few in relation to the whole of our industry have this knowledge. WHAAAAAT? How in the world do you work on a project and not know this? Ummmm, we are all over the place.
Let me ask you a few questions:
Can you answer these questions? Seriously, I could go on for hours listing the things that many don’t know.
The important point here is that the items above and many more affect every one of you on a project, I don’t care who you are. You can’t possibly efficiently and effectively do your job without having this knowledge. Your level of risk skyrockets if you don’t know the contractual requirements of your project (or at a minimum where to look for them) and your efficiency plummets. In a “time is money” business, this is unacceptable.
Now, you might be thinking something like ‘This if for the powers-that-be to understand.’ That is flawed thinking. Very, very flawed.
Contributed by Cherise Lakeside
(Editors Note: While this post may not be directly about a construction related topic, it does fit into our FIX theme and it does correlate into our communication and collaboration theme. Enjoy!)
I am a very open minded person and I love people. People from all walks of life are what keep my life interesting and enriched. I have no requirement for those people to be or live like me to want them in my life. What really matters is that you are kind, that we connect and we accept each other for our authentic selves. That’s it.
Am I perfect? Hell no! I can be as guilty as the next person. You meet someone new and based on how they look, what they are wearing or things you have heard about them, you attach a label to them. It is almost instinctive for your brain to make a snap judgment, categorize a person and decide whether they are likely ‘your type’ of person to spend time with.
The voices in my head have been especially focused on this lately. I have figured out when something keeps popping into my head over and over, it is likely worth blogging about if for no other reason than to quiet those voices.
For some reason, we feel more comfortable putting a label on people. “Have you met Sally yet? She’s a total hipster.” What is a hipster anyway? How does that label define what KIND of person you are? How does that tell me, really, whether we are going to have anything in common or whether we will connect?
I could go on all day listing a million ways that people will describe someone almost always using descriptors or labels that tell you nothing at all about the character of that person, what interests they have or how intelligent they are. Yet, many will make assumptions about that person’s character based on these descriptors.
What kind of assumptions immediately pop into your head when you read the list above? Is Jeff inexperienced because he is ‘only 24’? Does Ashley make poor decisions because she is a ‘single parent’? Is Jim an anti-social introvert because he is a ‘brainy engineer’?
Whether any of those things popped into your head or not, these are the kinds of assumptions that people make based on these types of descriptors. These assumptions can affect lives.
I have been at the receiving end of some of these labels and frankly, I don’t like it. I have a whole lot of layers that you may or may not see depending on where you meet me, how comfortable I am with you and how much I want to reveal. Those layers peel off over time and with familiarity and trust. Assuming you know anything about me based on a ‘label’ is naïve at best and discriminatory at worst.
This needs to stop.
Contributed by Elias Saltz
In my earlier post here on Let’s Fix Construction, I listed a number of ways in which architects contribute to problems that led us to this project of looking for ways we can fix construction. Among that list, I posited “Architects are hesitant to participate in the code-writing process, even though the content of the codes and the way they’re developed directly impact their work.” Admittedly, I count myself among the architects who are not participating in the code-writing process (yet), but decided it would be helpful to do a little research and highlight some of the many organizations in which it is possible to participate.
Probably the most visible code-writing organization is the International Code Council (ICC), the publisher of the I-codes such as the International Building Code (IBC). The ICC has multiple committees and councils in which architects can contribute their energy and expertise in the code development process. The most applicable for architects’ contribution is likely to be the Building Code Action Committee, which has responsibility over editing IBC Chapters 1-6, 10-13, 15-25 and 17-35. ICC’s Code Action Committees:
“...are code discipline specific committees whose purposes are to enhance the technical requirements of the International Codes. This includes both the technical aspects of the codes as well as the code content in terms of scope and application of referenced standards. This is accomplished by submitting proposed code changes and participating in the code development process.”
Membership in ICC is required to be a voting member on any of their technical or governance committees but individual membership are not expensive. They put their committee openings on their website.
In addition to membership on its committee, ICC now has a cloud-based system for code development named cdpAccess. The purpose of cdpAccess is to allow the public to submit proposed code changes and comment on others’ proposals. The final determination of whether or not code proposals are accepted still lies with the applicable committees, and online voting by committee members is supported by the system. This site is free to use but requires registration. This article provides useful details about cdpAccess. It is not currently accepting new code proposals at this time, as the several development cycle groups are past the input stage.
Next up among the most-used building codes are those published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA currently has 279 technical committees and approximately 8,900 volunteers. They publish a useful document describing the steps they go through in publishing their codes and standards.
The vast majority of architects are likely to be unable to help with most NFPA documents as they most certainly lack sufficient technical knowledge of the topic (like, for example, NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Apparatus). However, there are several codes and standards for which architects likely will have relevant experience: NFPA 80: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code and NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, among others. NFPA also lists their technical committees seeking members on their website and encourages visitors to submit an application online.
Beyond code-writing organizations, many architects participate in standards development. By far the most familiar organization producing standards is ASTM International. ASTM has dozens of technical committees and over 32,000 volunteers working on developing standards and test methods covering almost everything under the sun. An inexpensive ($75 for an individual) membership in ASTM is required for participation on a committee. This page contains an overview for how ASTM standards are developed (or modified), from inception through publication.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
CSI's practice documents - MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and the Practice Guides - present a unified and consistent approach to preparing and interpreting construction documents based on AIA or EJCDC general conditions and related documents. They also are applicable to documents produced by most other organizations, though some modification may be necessary. When teaching CSI classes, I emphasize the overall organization of these documents as a first principle; with that in mind, it's easier to understand why things are organized the way they are, and to see how they all work together. This sometimes leads to comments and questions, such as, "That's not the way my office does it!" and "Why don't this manufacturer's specifications follow those rules?"
Together, CSI's practice documents provide a firm but adaptable framework for preparing construction documents. They provide enough structure so, as the old adage says, there is "a place for everything and everything in its place." On the other hand, they are sufficiently flexible to allow one to specify just about anything imaginable.
Although these documents create a fairly complete framework, they do not go into great detail about how to address all matters: there is no standard specification for concrete; a number of optional methods are offered; there is no boilerplate text for any part of a specification beyond article titles, and even those are suggestions. The specifier, following the principles of the practice documents, is left to supply the remaining detail.
Obviously, this leaves a lot to be done. If a specifier were to start with nothing more than access to products, it would take a long time to assemble a set of master specifications. The widespread availability of reference standards is of inestimable help, making it possible to easily define performance testing methods and properties. However, even with these standards, writing even a simple section could take many hours, and the amount of research that would be required for a complex system or assembly could be overwhelming. (Reference standards are not without their own problems; see my previously written "Faith-based specifications.")
Fortunately, a few entrepreneurial people, and later, manufacturers themselves, saw an unfulfilled need and began to produce master guide specifications for a great variety of construction products and systems. Unfortunately, the results typically have not followed the rules established by AIA and CSI documents. Even worse, guide specifications often are used verbatim or with only minor changes, and without much concern about how well they are written. A common excuse is that they are incorporated late in a project, but it's not unusual to see them become office masters with little change.
Manufacturers have a defensible position; they are in business to sell products, and they have a tendency to stack the deck any way they can in their own proprietary specifications. I'm not saying it's right, and it definitely doesn't comply with CSI practice guides, but it's understandable. How many times have you seen a manufacturer's guide specification that requires the product be produced by only that manufacturer, not once, but two or three times? From their viewpoint, it makes sense to identify the manufacturer under Section Includes, Quality Assurance, Manufacturers, Components, Assemblies, and a few more times under Execution. Some manufacturers also like to include a variety of restrictive specifications that have little to do with performance or quality. I won't be surprised if some day I see a manufacturer's specification that includes something like, "Label: Must include the words Acme Widgets, Inc."
Still, I can't get too excited when a manufacturer writes a specification that eliminates the competition. They still offer useful information, and the price is right. The sad thing is that some designers apparently don't realize what's going on, and leave all of the proprietary provisions in place - and then call it a competitive specification!
Regardless of how guide specifications are written, the designer should modify them so they express what is needed by the owner and the project.
Contributed by Michael C. Kerner
Many factors must be considered when a design specifies cold-formed steel framing members. Material selection will impact nearly every member of the construction team including the architect, engineer, specifier, code official, distributor and contractor - and could even impact the safety of building occupants. Therefore, it is imperative that there’s an understanding of requirements needed for steel framing members to be designated as code compliant.
One of the most commonly specified materials for commercial construction is steel. Generally used for both load-bearing (structural) and non-load bearing wall and floor systems (non-structural), millions of pounds of the material is used every year for the non-combustible construction of office and apartment buildings, hotels and hospitals across country.
But, how does a contractor know if the steel studs being purchased meet International Building Code (IBC) and ASTM requirements? For some products, such as fire-rated doors, this is easy because the products bear the label of a recognized third party inspection agency. For the architect, builder and general contractor, it is important that they receive the building products the specifications demand.
For metal studs, ASTM C645 (drywall framing) and ASTM C955 (structural framing) are the standards referenced in the code. These documents specify the minimum criteria for: decimal thickness, type and weight of protective coating, mechanical properties of the steel, physical configuration of the stud and labeling requirements. Without meeting all the requirements, metal studs are not code compliant.
For example, a structural load-bearing stud is required to list the “coating designator”, CP-60, in the ink jet stream and in all supporting literature. The same consideration should be given when writing the specification, the coating designator, CP-60, should be listed. All these criteria must be met for a steel stud to be code compliant.
Building Occupant Safety
In addition to the building code requirements, there is one other important issue that must be recognized by both the installer and the design professional. The use of non-compliant material can create life-safety issues. For example, if a stud is required to be a certain thickness to attain a specific limiting height and/or carry a certain load, what effect is there when a thinner metal is used than what is specified? The stud may fail and cause injury to the building occupants, or in a life-safety situation such as a fire, the rated partition may fail and it would not allow the building occupants time to escape.
It is also possible that an individual product is code-compliant, yet it will not perform as intended in a life-safety situation. As an example, a metal stud could meet the minimum requirements of ASTM C645 yet not meet the requirements of the fire-rated assembly in which it is used. How is this possible?
Word of Caution
Keep in mind that ASTM specifications are minimum requirements for the product. These requirements must be checked against the actual products used in a tested assembly. For example, the disconnect can occur when comparing building code requirements against the method in which a given fire-rated assembly must be constructed.
For example, if an architect’s partition schedule calls for UL Design U411, but only calls out the depth of the stud, then the following scenario may occur: The contractor will supply a stud that meets the project specifications, which call for the product to comply with ASTM C645. However, if the actual tested assembly were researched, it would reveal that the stud would require a return lip of 3/8 inch (10 mm). This is much larger than the 3/16-inch (5-mm) return lip C645 requires. Therefore, the partition would not meet the fire-rated assembly construction requirements. The correct products and proper assembly must be employed or life-safety issues are raised in the building. If the proper products cannot be sourced, then a different tested assembly may need to be substituted.
Knowledge of the building codes for your jurisdiction is imperative to determine if a product is code-compliant. If you are not sure, ask your manufacturer. It may take some extra time to research, but when the integrity of the products and our industry are at stake, it would certainly seem worthy of our attention.
Let's Fix Construction is a collective group of construction professionals who want to better the industry by sharing our knowledge, openly communicating and encouraging collaboration.
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