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This morning as I was driving into work, I turned into the parking lot and had to stop because a worker wearing ear protection and carrying a weed whacker stepped into the travelway without looking up and stopped in the middle of the lane to make an adjustment to his equipment, again without looking up.  After several seconds he didn’t move and never looked up.  I have to assume that the reason he stepped in front of the car in the first place was because he didn’t hear the engine for the ear protection.

This begs the question: when does use of a safety device become endangerment?

The proper use of any safety appliance such as a hard hat, safety glasses, steel toed boots, fluorescent green vest and similar personal protective gear is essential for a safe workplace.  But simply putting on the equipment doesn’t guarantee a safe workplace.  It requires the most important piece of equipment; that located between our ears.  As we go about our jobs, and daily life for that matter, we need to be constantly aware of the world around us, even while focusing on the job at hand.  Simply paying attention would prevent a whole host of accidents.

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I first published the article below in 2010.  With Virginia’s adoption of the 2015 edition of the I‑Codes, it will be necessary to update office master specifications to reflect the editions of the various standards referenced by the current code.  With this in mind, it is appropriate to republish the article.

 

REFERENCE STANDARDS:  NOT JUST ALPHABET SOUP

-Raymond E. Gaines, RA, CSI, CDT

Specification writers often use reference standards in construction specifications.  Their use or misuse can make the difference between a specification that is enforceable and one that is rife with conflicts and ambiguities.

Consensus standards are nothing new.  ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) which develops and publishes consensus standards for materials, products, systems, and services has been around since 1898, and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) was established in 1918.  These are just two of the organizations that produce consensus standards used in the construction industry.  Others that produce frequently used standards are AAMA, ACI, AISC, AITC, NFPA to name a few.  This is, of course, not an exhaustive list by any means.

Reference standards are frequently cited in construction specifications as well as building codes.  Their inclusion in these types of documents by reference makes them part and parcel of the code or specification.  Chapter 35 of the International Building Code is a listing of the standards that are referenced in the text of the code including the dates of publication of the various standards.  Inclusion of the publication date is extremely important, as these standards are periodically reviewed and updated.  The building code, however, incorporates a specific version of a given reference standard.  Compliance with a later (or earlier) version of the same standard doesn’t necessarily assure compliance with the code.

The same is true of specification writing.  When incorporating a standard by reference it is important for the specification writer to be specific as to which edition of the standard is to be used.  In the event that a more recent version of a particular standard is referenced, it is incumbent on the specification writer to ensure that the referenced document is not in conflict with pertinent provisions of the building code.

A common mistake made by specifiers is to restate provisions of a standard referenced in the same specification such as specifying curing procedures for concrete when a reference to the appropriate ACI standard is sufficient.  Another common error is to reference two conflicting standards such that compliance with one creates a conflict with of the provisions of another.  Phrases such as “latest edition” or “current edition” should be avoided as well for similar reasons.  Specifying blind should also be avoided.

These are but a few reasons among many for specifiers to have a thorough working knowledge of the standards they reference in their specifications.  This becomes a monumental task, as the library required is monumental in size and it requires constant updating.  While this article isn’t intended as a promotion of the use of a particular guide specification such as Masterspec, Spectext, or SpecLink, the producers of these and similar documents are better able to stay on top of the latest developments in consensus standards and use of these or similar products is a reasonable way to manage risk.  Use of a good guide specification alone, however is not a substitute for knowledge on the part of the specifier.

Good library maintenance, continuing education, and CSI certification on the part of the specifier can help in the preparation of a quality specification which is clear, correct, complete, and concise.  Participation in monthly CSI chapter meetings is a start in the right direction.  The best way to gain information on this and other topics is to become a member of CSI.  Your career may depend on it!

 

I have been interested in sustainable architecture since the energy crisis of the late 1970s.  Back in the day, nobody used the word sustainability, but it was the direction that Bob Schubert of Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture was guiding his students.  Recognizing that the earth is a finite system, the practice of responsible utilization of resources was simply a no-brainer.  When the words “green building” and “sustainability” became buzzwords in the 1990s, I thought of what Bob was preaching some twenty years earlier.

Fast forward about 35 years, and an old friend approached me about designing a house for her.  I jumped at the opportunity, because we share similar views on stewardship of natural resources and the environment.  We talked off and on for a couple of years until she was able to find the perfect piece of land on which to site the house.  The land slopes almost due south which is an ideal setup for passive solar design.  By coincidence, this is also the direction of the best views, so the house took on biophilic characteristics before we laid down the first line, connecting the owner with nature.20170227_161933

During our conversations, we talked about utilizing a small building footprint of approximately 1,200 square feet.  As a matter of resource conservation, I typically design around a 4’ x 4’ module (6 bricks, 3 concrete blocks, 3 joist spaces @16”, and half a sheet of plywood) to optimize the use of materials with minimal waste.  This house grew out of that paradigm.  As a result the footprint is exactly 1,200 square feet.

The house has south facing glass with appropriately positioned overhangs to keep the summer sun off the glass, but admit the winter sun when the solar gain reduces run time of the HVAC system.  Additionally, there is an operable clerestory that combined with low operable windows in the great room creates a chimney effect which keeps the house more comfortable in warmer weather without resorting to air conditioning on all but the hottest days.  The clerestory floods the house with light which elevates the mood of anyone occupying the space.

At a more personable level, the walls at the entrance are painted a contrasting color to draw attention to the entrance, since the front door is perpendicular to the street.  Because the public spaces face south, the more private areas by default need to face the north, which happens to face the street.  Again, this was ideal, because of the symbiotic need for smaller glass areas due to the function and orientation of the spaces20170227_161923.

The functionality of the design resulted in a prairie style house nestled into a hillside in central Virginia.  When viewed from the north, the horizontal lines suggest a symbiotic relationship with the Earth and that the house is of the site not on it.

 

I have been asked the question “What one piece of advice do you wish that you had received as a young professional?” multiple times in recent years.  I struggled with the answer to this question, because I was blessed with several great mentors in my years as a young professional.  The advice I received was sound, and I gained a great deal of technical knowledge in the process.  Clearly their advice helped me to become the professional I am today.

The bit of advice that I was missing from my early mentors was that no one ever told me that TO BE A LEADER IS TO SERVE.  Got that?  To be a leader is to serve others.

It took me years to learn this truth.  As a youngster, I pictured a leader as something of a drill sergeant; telling others what to do and how to do it.  Through the school of hard knocks, I learned that being a leader often means leading by example.  In order to do so, one must lead by doing.

When we chartered the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI in 1990, I was in the midst of raising a family.  During the pre-charter meetings hosted by then Institute Director Byron Dickson, I realized that if I expected an organization that benefits me to exist, I’d better be willing to assume a leadership role, and became the first treasurer of the chapter.

Fast forward about 15-20 years and I watched my three daughters take on leadership roles in the organizations to which they belong.  I did not deliberately teach my children to be leaders, but as they say, your children don’t do as you say, they do as you do.

Somewhere between my misguided high school days of envisioning a leader as a drill sergeant and the time I was participating in CSI leadership, I figured out that in order to lead, I must be willing to work hard and be of service to others.  To this day, that knowledge has served me well.

I just love deadlines, especially the sound of them whooshing by” – seen on a refrigerator magnet

As we near major deadlines on multiple projects, our staff is working long hours to get the work done. I have two comments for our team response to this:  1. I appreciate your effort toward producing excellent work, and 2. Take care of yourself while you work hard.

The first of these two statements is more than an exercise of good manners. Expressing appreciation for what people do is good for their mental health.  We all need to be appreciated.

The second statement is not so obvious, but is none the less true.

First of all, when we work ourselves to exhaustion, we often make ourselves susceptible to illness due to lack of rest. Studies will back this up, and I have observed it empirically over the years.

I also have found that when we keep our noses to the grindstone, we often miss the obvious. My best empirical evidence of this comes from my own experience about 30 years ago in the early days of being in practice.  In those days, when still a one man firm, I would often find myself struggling to solve a design problem – it simply wasn’t coming to me.  With no colleagues immediately available to bounce ideas off of, I would put the pencil down and go outside and mow the lawn or do some similar mindless chore that would consume an hour or two.  I would find that when I went back into the office, the solution to the problem would pretty much bounce off the drawing board at me, and I would be able to complete my task.

As a practitioner of a profession that is notorious for abusing its employees, I make a deliberate effort to safeguard the mental health of the people around me. When we sit for hours on end in front of a computer screen, and the temptation is there to do exactly that, we lose perspective.  In the effort to solve a problem so we can move on, we find ourselves tempted to settle for a mediocre solution to the problem at hand at the expense of good design. This can be avoided by balancing our hard work with a deliberate period of rest – whether twenty minutes or the occasional three day weekend.

So to my professional colleagues out there, I offer this piece of advice: work hard, but balance it with a due portion of rest, relaxation, prayer, meditation, humor, or whatever it takes to get you through the day.  It will keep your axe sharp and your product worthy.

I’ve seen a fair amount of twitter traffic over the last couple of days regarding the documents that are handed to specifiers by architects. The principal complaint has to do with lack of detail in the drawings.  This is in step with complaints I’ve heard (and sometimes uttered) over the years about unprepared graduates coming from our architecture schools.  I was once one of them.

I’ve stated before in this forum that I was more fortunate than many in that I had an excellent mentor in Thomas R. Wyant, Jr., AIA, CSI. He filled in the many of the gaps that my professional education left void.  He also introduced me to CSI.  Tom paid attention to detail, both in terms of the documents we produced and in terms of the constructed result of our work.  For the 30 years that my practice has existed, I have made a concerted effort to pay this forward.

In spite of our best efforts, however, there is no such thing as a perfect set of construction documents. So the sketchy sections that initially go to the specifier should only serve as a conversation starter.  An experienced spec writer will see immediately what is missing and start asking questions.  It is this dialogue that results in details being fleshed out.  Assuming that there is enough time in the owner’s timetable for this conversation to take place, the construction documents should be adequate to allow the project to be built.

That said, we need to be educating all of the parties to the construction project – including the owners. Owner’s expectations should be realistic in terms of both budget and timing.  The A/E should be able to have enough time to produce the documents and make a reasonable profit in the progress.  Likewise, the contractor should have adequate time and funds to do his/her job appropriately; again at a reasonable profit.  In the end, the owner should have a facility that meets his/her needs that also provides an environment that is functional and meets the needs of the end user.

It boils down to communication, which is essential for a successful project. Such communication is possible through a common language which is facilitated by CSI formats and proper use thereof.  Individuals who hold a CSI certification or certificate will be well versed in the use of the various formats and will benefit the construction team on which they serve.

As we begin a new year, many have established new year’s resolutions for themselves, usually geared toward self improvement. A substantial portion of those resolutions have already been broken, and it’s only January 3rd.

Picking up on my last post, I would encourage construction professionals out there to make one of the following resolution:

a.  I will pass the CDT exam this year

b.  I will pass the CCS exam this year

c.  I will pass the CCCS exam this year

d.  I will pass the CCPR exam this year

You will note that there is not an option “e. None of the above”.

In support of your efforts to pass one of these CSI Certificate/Certification exams this year, I will be facilitating a CDT study group for members and friends of the Central Virginia CSI chapter who are preparing to sit for the CDT. In the past, I tweeted quotes from the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide on an almost daily basis in advance of upcoming exam windows.  They can be found by searching #CSIcertification and #CDT on Twitter.  My intent is to pick up where I left off with that practice.  My Twitter Handle is @Ray_Gaines_FCSI.

Other study materials are available at csiresources.org where you can sign up for the exam, and download various study materials. You can also sign up for the CDT One Day at a Time daily e-mail study program at specguy.com.  Check with your local CSI chapter to see if they are hosting a study group.  Absent a local study group, there is a lot of material available on YouTube from various CSI chapters.

In the interest of professional self improvement, I would encourage you to resolve to do this in 2017.