Archive for December, 2010

What follows is an updated version of an article I first published in December 2002 edition of the Central Virginia CSI Parameter.  As is typical of these old articles I am posting, it is as pertinent today as it was eight years ago.



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 an active member of CSI.  Your career may depend on it!

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I have posted twice before arguments for sprinklering buildings.  The first, which I posted last August dealt primarily with protection of lives.  The second posting from last week addresses the loss of livelihood.  With this post, I will address the relationship of fire protection to green construction and environmental stewardship.

 The National Trust for Historic Preservation has long advocated that preservation of old buildings is the ultimate in green because of the embodied energy in the existing structure.  Folded in with the energy required to demolish the building and dispose of the debris and other related environmental (and human/cultural) costs and the energy required to redevelop the site, there is something approaching a threefold disadvantage to replacing buildings rather than reusing.

Fast forward to the topic at hand.  When buildings are destroyed by fire the embedded energy of the building is lost.  Again, the cost of cleaning up the rubble (no hope of recycling/reusing most of it) and the resources required to rebuild in essence triple the embedded energy of the facility.  Couple that with the environmental damage caused by the fire itself (metals melting, materials decomposing and/or off gassing during combustion, etc., and you could have a bona-fide disaster which could have been averted.

Given that we see about half a million structure fires annually, doesn’t it make environmental sense to sprinkler the buildings?

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It has barely been forty-eight hours since a local restaurant was destroyed by fire.  Only the badly damaged walls remain.  Fortunately, there were no injuries.

 Had this building been fully sprinklered, there would only have been minor smoke and water damage.  Instead, the local fire marshal estimates the property damage at one million dollars.  I’m sure that the decision not to sprinkler the building was based on the fact that the a sprinkler system was not required by code and such a system would have cost in the neighborhood of $15,000 – $20,000 in today’s dollars, or two percent of the property loss.  False economy if you ask me.

 Had the building been sprinklered, there wouldn’t be employees facing the prospect of no job for the upcoming holidays.  Secondly, there would only have been a week or so of lost revenue instead of the months that the owners now face.  I am concerned, as well, that the owner may not be allowed to rebuild exactly the structure that burned, as local zoning regulations may force them to make significant design changes and endure the long approval process that goes along with them.

 All this being said, I would encourage business owners to consider the ramifications of saving a few bucks up front only to face losing fifty times as much and install a functioning fire suppression (sprinkler) system.  It may be your livelihood that goes up next. 

See also my post on this topic from last August.

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