Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

My two favorite subcontractors are Not Me and I Dunno (apologies to Bil Keane).

As a recovering contractor (I built stuff in a previous life), I often had to deal with the conflict between subs resulting from the popular misconception that the organization of construction specifications into divisions and sections dictates their scope of work and division of labor. The classic scenario that illustrates this misconception comes from plumbers and site utility contractors, but is true for other trades as well. Typically, the plumber would extend pipes to a point five feet outside the building. Likewise, the site guy would bring utilities to a point five feet from the building. It seems that neither gave a moment’s thought as to who would actually make the connection, and the general contractor often would get stuck with making the connection at the interface between the work of the two trades. Imagine the chaos that results when there are three trades involved in a single connection (yes I’ve actually seen this happen).

This scenario results in construction delays while the parties involved argue over whose responsibility it is to make the connection. Imagine the chaos also when it comes to getting submittals from these guys when wearing my current hat as an architect. All too often, Paragraph 1.2.2 of AIA A201 is ignored – probably more out of ignorance than anything else.

Now that I’ve complained, let me introduce something positive to the conversation in the form of CSI’s Certified Construction Contract Administrator program. A CCCA brings to the table a working knowledge of contract documents; after all, the CDT is a prerequisite to the certification. CCCAs are particularly knowledgeable in the roles and responsibilities of the various parties to the construction process (as distinguished from the parties to the construction contract). They handle the administration of a construction contract with competence and professionalism. A CCCA is familiar with bidding and negotiation procedures, Division 01, conditions of the construction contract, and can distinguish between construction observation and inspection.

A CCCA has demonstrated his/her knowledge by successfully sitting for a certification exam. The exam is arduous enough that one is unlikely to be successful without a thorough knowledge of the subject matter. The exam is based on the CSI Contract Administrator Practice Guide, Project Delivery Practice Guide, MasterFormat and other CSI formats, construction contracts, and general conditions. The exam is administered during two periods each year lasting approximately a month in the spring and again in the fall. CSI publishes the CCCA Candidate Handbook to facilitate exam preparation and act as a guide for the candidates studies. Information about the CCCA is available at http://csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Certification/CCCA .


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Once again, my CSI membership paid for itself.  This time, however, it was in a way I never would have imagined 24 years ago when I first joined the organization.

At it’s October dinner meeting, the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI hosted a program on NFPA 285 and its inclusion in the International Building Code.  More fully known as NFPA 285: Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Non-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components, the standard establishes the testing protocol for evaluating multi-story wall assemblies in buildings of all but Type V construction.

Here’s how I once again benefited from my CSI membership.  My design student daughter often seeks my counsel regarding her projects, at times to get an idea whether she’s going in the right direction, and others when she simply wishes to show me what she’s up to.  This morning, I received an e-mail from her asking my opinion as to whether insulated concrete forms (ICF’s) would be an appropriate material for her project on tornado resistant design.  Knowing that my firm often recommends the use of ICF’s, she knew I would have an opinion on the subject.

In this particular instance, I believe the ICF wall would not be the appropriate system.  For starters, she needs the wall to be impact resistant, so a hard, almost structural, cladding would be necessary.  Secondly, I went on to explain, the wall assembly would have to be tested under NFPA 285.  This is something I would not have been aware of had I not been an active member of CSI.  My thanks to Kirby Davis of the Dallas Chapter for making me aware of that which has been largely unenforced locally at Construct 2012 in Phoenix in September.

And so, my membership paid for itself in allowing me to pass a bit of knowledge on to the next generation.  I find this tremendously rewarding.

Membership in CSI is easy to come by.  Simply ask a current member, or contact the Institute ( www.csinet.org ).  You will be welcomed.

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I have posted multiple times arguments for sprinklering buildings.  Most of the time when one thinks of fire protection systems, new construction comes to mind.  When NBC 29 Television in Charlottesville recently reported that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation installed a new HI-FOG fire sprinkler at Monticello, it dawned on me that there is a place in historic preservation for fire sprinklers.

 That said, when preserving a historic property, first priority is to preserve as much original historic fabric as possible, making “minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, and spatial relationships” 1  To a great extent, it would give one pause to go boring holes in 200+ year old plaster.  But think of the consequence of not doing this and losing a significant historic structure to fire.

 Most of the historic buildings around here are wood framed, as the colonists did not have the resources to construct stone buildings.  As such, given the right combination of ignition and a good draft, the fuel contributed by the unprotected framing would go up in flames quickly running the risk of losing the entire structure and the historic fabric.

 So given the advances in fire protection technology over the last century, it makes sense to sacrifice small amounts of historic plaster in discrete locations for the good of the entire structure.  To be sure, there may be some water damage following a sprinkler activation, but water damage is reversible.  Reducing a historic structure to charred rubble is not.

 So to the staff at Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello, I salute you for taking a stand against fire and for preserving the house for the benefit of future generations.

1.  From NPS Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

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In my last post, I bemoaned the fact that the architectural education establishment appears to be ignoring the fact that architecture is a profession licensed by the states to protect public health, safety, and welfare.  Rather than be a complainer, I have to offer a path toward a solution.  This is why I am a member of CSI.

 For the emerging professionals out there, CSI (The Construction Specifications Institute – not the TV show) offers many opportunities to obtain the technical information you missed while in architecture school.  This information is also of value to the other members of the construction/design team.

 Most CSI chapters offer great technical programs at their monthly membership meetings.  Additionally, most offer AIA learning units with certificates for non-AIA members.  Most of the CSI regions also offer similar education programs.  Both of these options are available to you, the young professional at very little cost and minimal travel, so take advantage of the low hanging educational fruit.

 If you have the wherewithal to get there, attendance at Construct 2012 and the CSI Convention inPhoenixSeptember 11-14,2012 is a great source of information and technical education.  Professionals who attend can usually get enough hours during the four days to satisfy their state’s continuing education requirements for professional licensure.

 CSI continues to pursue other opportunities to offer technical education for the construction community, so stay tuned.

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The City ofCharlottesvillerecently held a design competition to explore better ways to replace theBelmontBridgespanning the former C&O Railroad tracks.  The railroad right-of-way is now owned by CSX Corporation and leased to the Buckingham Branch Railroad.  Rail traffic these days includes local Buckingham Branch freight trains, long distance CSX coal trains, and Amtrak. 

 The existing bridge is a highway department standard design, constructed in 1961-62.  In recent years, it has fallen into disrepair due to, in this writer’s opinion, not so benign neglect by city officials.

 So in the interest of maintaining the city’s award winning aesthetic, a design competition was held.  The winning entry was submitted by students at the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  The proposal is to not build a new bridge, but replace it with a grade crossing.

 Granted, such a design would have a small town feel, but the students seem to be missing the fact that once they graduate, they will eventually be licensed by theCommonwealthofVirginia, or some other state, to protect the general health, safety, and welfare.  Putting railroad, automobile, and pedestrian traffic into the same physical space is doing exactly the opposite.  It is also not a green solution to the problem.

 My reasoning is this:  If automobile traffic is sitting at the grade crossing waiting for a train to pass, most will sit there with idling engines.  When sitting still, all internal combustion engines get the same mileage: zero MPG.  While idling, they are spewing out greenhouse gases (presumably CO2).  The pedestrians who are forced to wait for the train will be exposed to both automobile exhaust and diesel exhaust from the trains.

 I would state further that the greenest option is to not replace the bridge, but to maintain the existing structure.  Granted, this will involve replacing most of the concrete from the deck up, but the structural steel and substructure are sound.  So instead of spending a few hundred thousand to renovate the existing structure, millions will be spent, as the grade crossing option will be a non-starter on the part of the railroad.

 So this is an indictment of the local political process as well as the architectural academic community.  Instead of turning out graduates who are prepared to practice, we seem to be producing young professionals that don’t understand their obligation to society.

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I recently ran into an individual at a construction industry networking event who has been involved in lobbying efforts discouraging the Commonwealth of Virginia from enforcing Section R313 of the International Residential Code (IRC) which requires fire sprinklers in new homes.  His (and others’) main argument is that inclusion of fire sprinkler systems in single family residences will increase the cost of housing in the commonwealth.  Granted, there will be an initial cost increase, but as a percentage of construction cost, I would peg the increase at somewhere between ½% and ¾%.

 That said, the homeowner of such a house should recoup his/her costs over time through decreased insurance premiums.  There is also the fact that water damage is far easier to mitigate than major structural damage in the event of a fire.  Repairs of such damage can be accomplished in a matter of days rather than months.  Additionally, assuming that the occupants survive, temporary housing costs are reduced commensurate with the repair time.

Dollars and cents aside, who can put a value on human life?

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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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