Archive for August, 2010


I had the distinct pleasure this morning of speaking with a distant cousin I hadn’t previously met.  We spoke of our mutual great-grandfather and the various family members we share, particularly those currently resting in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.  I have always enjoyed contemplating the members of previous generations and what their lives were like in prior centuries.

 Thoughts of the past inevitably foster thoughts of the present and future.  It is for future generations that we build green.


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What follows is an article I initially penned for the February 2002 Parameter, the newsletter of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).  the original title was Division Two: Plastic Storm Piping.  It should be noted that since the adoption of  MasterFormat 2004™  and the subsequent withdrawal of support for MasterFormat 95™, Division Two (Division 02) (formerly Sitework) has been reassigned to Existing Conditions.  Sitework has been moved to various divisions in the 30’s.


— Raymond E. Gaines, AIA, FCSI, CCS

For generations, storm drainage piping has remained essentially unchanged.  Designers specified and the industry used reinforced concrete pipe (RCP) or corrugated metal pipe (CMP) for larger sizes and terra cotta, cast iron, and similar materials for smaller applications.  Other structures (manholes, drop inlets, etc.) were made of masonry of some kind, either brick and block, cast in place concrete, or precast.  Precast has been the dominant material used for these in recent years, but the other materials remain in use, to a lesser degree depending on the preferences of the contractor/installer.

In the last several years, plastic materials have entered the marketplace.  In the (1970’s) plastic pipe came into use for applications of 8” (20cm) or less, and was frequently used for roof drainage.  These included Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), ABS, and others.  Their use as catchment piping for larger paved areas was limited, of course, by their size.

Over the last twenty years or so, the industry has gone to High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) for large diameter piping with increasing frequency.  It is usually used in corrugated form with smooth interior walls.  Interior friction is slightly less than for RCP, so flow characteristics are similar to slightly better.  The HDPE pipe can be used with conventional masonry drainage structures (manholes, etc.) or with plastic structures that the manufacturers are promoting now.  These materials are rated for AASHTO loads when installed properly  Plastic piping and related materials should comply with applicable ASTM and AASHTO standards.

When installing plastic storm piping materials, meticulous care needs to be exercised to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations.  This is of particular importance in backfilling and protection from direct sunlight.

When properly backfilled, the piping is resistant to crushing due to arching action of the backfill.  Conversely, voids in the backfill could allow deformation of the pipe under load.  Because of this, an appropriate inspection and testing program is strongly recommended.  Backfill should be placed and compacted in accordance with applicable AASHTO and ASTM standards.

Certain plastics degrade when exposed to Ultra-Violet (UV) light/radiation.  The piping manufacturers have recommended certain end details to prevent said degradation.  If using plastic piping in applications where exposure to sunlight is a possibility, the designer and installer need to verify that the specific piping material is intended for such exposure.

Other important considerations include volume of flow and buoyancy.  The last two are particularly important given the light weight of plastic materials compared to RCP.

When properly installed and maintained, the newer materials produce a satisfactory project with a long life.

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Years ago, I was a big believer in compartmentalizing structures to prevent the spread of fire.  It was legal at the time to construct large buildings without sprinkler systems by breaking them up into smaller fire areas with fire separation walls and ceilings.  Two things occurred that changed my mind on the subject.  The first was the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas on Nov 21, 1980, the second was a seminar I attended on firestopping at the CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) National Convention a few years thereafter.

According to the NFPA report on the fire, had the building been fully sprinklered, only two heads would have discharged knocking the fire down and confining it to a small area.  Subsequent water and smoke damage would also have been confined to a small area and the hotel would have been back in business in a day or two (if that long) instead of several months, and eighty-some lives would have been saved.

As to the failure of compartmentalizing, it is truly eye-opening to see how fast a small trash can fire will spread in a ten foot by ten foot office.  Within ten minutes the room will flash over.  If there is a penetration through the wall to an adjacent office such as an electrical conduit that isn’t properly firestopped, the annular space around the conduit will act a blowtorch in the wall.  Flashover of the second office will occur within four minutes of the first flashover.

Compartmentalization also fails in that if the fire separation assembly isn’t perfect, smoke will move freely through a structure.  It has long been established that most fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation.  This is again mitigated by having a properly functional fire suppression system in place, as a fire that isn’t burning won’t generate smoke.

Given that to this author’s knowledge there has not been a fire fatality in a building with a properly functioning sprinkler system speaks volumes.  Every incident with fatalities in a sprinklered building of which I am aware the system was shut down or otherwise compromised at the time of the fire.

In addition to the preservation of life and property, there are several economic benefits to sprinklering a building.  To begin with, insurance companies typically will charge lower premiums for sprinklered buildings.  Secondly, in the event that a fire occurs, damage will be reduced and the facility will be down for a week or two instead of an interruption of business of months or years.

If I sound like a sprinkler salesman, to some extent I am, but only because I truly believe sprinklering a building is the best possible advice I can give my clients.  Unfortunately, I have to overcome the effects of Hollywood on popular perception – how often have we seen a scene where someone holds a lighter under a sprinkler head and the whole system discharges like a deluge system.  Reality is that only one or two heads will discharge in a typical fire.  Once I explain this, people are usually more receptive to sprinklering their building.  This security is available for just a few bucks per square foot.

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CSI Pays

The following is a newsletter article I penned in October 2006.  I wrote the article about midday.  Before the day was out, as it turned out, I spoke with four non-local CSI contacts and my membership more than paid for itself.  The article is just as pertinent today as it was the day I wrote it.


My membership paid for itself twice today.

 I received a call this morning from a project manager friend who had a question about a detail on a project he is working on.  He frequently calls me with such questions.  Specifically, he wanted to know how to put together a rainscreen siding system.  I eventually gave him the name and e-mail address of a product rep who is a member of the Atlanta Chapter who can shed some light on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of his product for the application at hand.

 Later on, while discussing a different project, I was asked about a detail that a contractor is proposing to use which will again be critical to keeping rain out of the building.  Immediately, I sent an e-mail to another friend, this time a member of the New Hampshire Chapter.  This individual is an expert in his field and has presented at the CSI Show on this particular topic.

 I expect to hear from both within twenty-four hours.  Additionally, before the morning was out, I forwarded contact information for a member on the West Coast to another member in the Pittsburgh area who needed to contact her on region business.

 The lesson here is this:  membership in CSI pays.  Additionally, I would not know these folks but for my CSI activities beyond the chapter level.  All of these people are individuals I’ve met by attending the convention and serving on committees.  So, it follows that service to CSI pays.  I’ve lost track of the number of folks I’ve gotten to know through this organization.  I will say that because of my CSI membership, I now have friends and colleagues all over the United States that I can call or e-mail with questions and can expect a straight answer or a referrral to someone who can provide it.

 Since this sort of networking starts at our local chapter meetings, I would strongly encourage you to attend and check us out.

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As I sit here beside the Cowpasture River listening to the rapids and tree frogs, I can’t help but be reminded why I endeavor to practice green architecture.

 I have always considered myself a conservationist, even if I don’t look like one at first glance.  Recognizing that the earth is a finite system and our resources (including open space) are finite, it is my goal to leave the world better than I found it and to bestow a legacy to my children where they can experience the same joys in life I have.  Among other things, this would include being able to stand quietly and contemplate the rapids or to ride through them in a canoe or innertube.

 By practicing good planning; small lots, small footprints, keeping development within reasonable urban boundaries, we will preserve the open spaces.  By making the best possible use of materials we can build utilizing fewer trees.  This has a twofold effect.  First is that the countryside can stay forested longer.  Secondly, the trees improve the quality of the air we breathe.

 I could go on with the litany of things we can easily do to make our buildings and cities greener, but most of us are pretty well immersed in greenness these days.  Suffice it to say, it is up to us to be good stewards of what we have, and what we have is a small, green planet which provides a habitat for all of us.

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