Posts Tagged ‘CSI Membership’

This morning’s sermon at UniversityBaptistChurch was based on the children’s story ‘Stone Soup”.  The tale is a great metaphor for the gifts of the spirit, and Michael Cheuk did a wonderful job of blending a kid friendly sermon with an object lesson about how congregations work and utilize the gifts and talents of their members.

 The same metaphor applies to the construction industry.  Structures don’t get built without the efforts of architects, engineers, contractors, material suppliers, product representatives, and the list goes on.  The industry is dependent on each and every individual that is part of the process.

 CSI is the only professional organization that includes all of the participants in the industry in a professionally diverse membership.  Each of us benefits from the experience of other members.  Questions which arise regarding constructability are often best addressed to contractors with experience in similar projects.  Inquiries regarding proper installation of specific products are usually best answered by manufacturer’s representatives.  Technical questions about functionality of systems should be addressed to an engineer, and the list goes on.

 This is the value proposition of CSI.  Like the stone soup which gained its flavor from the different vegetables which were added, CSI’s value proposition lies in the diversity of its membership base.  Those that take the time to attend chapter meetings improve their performance in their chosen fields.

 This can be extended to those participate in the CSI Certification Program.  Holders of CSI certifications have demonstrated the knowledge necessary to better perform their jobs.

 Membership is easy to come by.  Simply ask a current member, or contact the Institute.  You will be welcomed.


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Last Wednesday evening, I was delighted to hear a one hour concert by “Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Bones”, a wonderful trombone ensemble.  Most of us know the sound of a solo trombone.  The sound can be rich or thin, loud or soft, strident or mellow.  Imagine taking the rich sound of a solo trombone and combine it with three others and imagine the four part harmony, particularly if the highest part is played up in a typically trumpet register!  The effect was wonderful, particularly the piccolo part of Stars and Stripes Forever played on trombone.

 Now imagine the sound of a professional symphony orchestra.  Each of the players can produce a rich solo sound, but combined, the acoustic output is so much more!  By utilizing each individual player’s talents, the somposer and conductor can do so much!

 So it is with the construction team.  Good buildings don’t just happen.  It starts with an owner’s vision.  Mix in the talents of an architect and several engineers and other designers.  Now add in a great contractor with his accompanying group of specialty subcontractors.  Mix in a plethora of good material suppliers and product reps.  Let’s not forget the local inspectors and planning departments.  The result is so much more than any one individual could produce on his/her own.

 CSI is the one place where the entire construction team can get together in a collegial setting and discuss items of importance to each of us andd the entire team.  This week is Construct 2012 in Phoenix.  I have been in town less than twenty-four hours and have already encountered friends and colleagues who are manufacturer’s representatives, specialty product reps, contractors, association professionals, specifiers, and yes, other architects.  Every one of us is committed to excellence in the built environment.  It’s what we do at CSI

 Now extend the concept to life in general.  If all individuals were alike, we would be a lot poorer (we might as well be a rock on a desolate planet).  Thankfully, we all have differing personalities, different talents, and differing opinions.  This makes our lives far richer.  So I salute my friends everywhere.  I rejoice in you for who you are individually.

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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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My wife’s grandfather ran a small town grocery store in Bedford,Virginia until his retirement in 1966.

Flash forward forty-five years to 6:00 AM on a recent morning when I helped to unload my last trailer load of band fruit (fundraiser) at my daughter’s high school.  In the early morning hours, I was at the end of the roller conveyor catching boxes of fruit as it came off of the truck and sending it down another into the band room.  During the forty-some minutes this process was going on, I chatted with the driver about various things, including his dog who was asleep in the cab.  He talked of finding his canine companion on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke.  This resulted in my asking if he was from the Roanoke area, and he said he was from Bedford.

Upon finding out that he was from my wife’s grandparent’s home town, we got to talking about more local kinds of things, such as where people lived and worked, etc.  It turns out that as a boy, the driver’s mother was a regular customer at Grandpa’s store.  He told me he remembered the old man from when he’d tag along with his mother when she did the marketing.  Needless to say, I was reminded what a small world ours is, to be able to speak fondly of a mutual friend forty-five years plus after the fact.

Since the world is interconnected through the various relationships we have, I have to think of the many wonderful relationships I have developed over the last twenty-four years as a member of CSI.  The relationships cultivated through the years have resulted in enhanced professional development beyond the plethora of CSI sponsored educational programs I have attended.

By being active in the organization, I have come to know hundreds of professionals from all over the country who are willing to share their experience and knowledge.  As a result, there have been multiple occasions where I would pick up the phone with a question and one of my CSI friends would be able to get me the correct answer.  On other occasions, I’ve been more than happy to reciprocate.

By having this large network at my disposal, I have been blessed both professionally and personally because of my membership.  I have to say that CSI is probably the most economical professional organization I belong to, in spite of holding membership in multiple chapters.  Even if the dues weren’t what they are, the value is far higher than the memberships I have in organizations with far more expensive dues.

With that said, I would strongly encourage construction related professionals, and especially students in construction related curricula to join.  Getting involved is easy, simply go to www.csinet.org and follow the directions.  I’m certain you won’t regret it, and perhaps, someone may remember you to a mutual acquaintance in forty-some years.

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I have written on multiple occasions about my CSI membership paying for itself through contacts I’ve made through my membership activities.  Phone calls to other members have helped me sort out issues that come up occasionally in my practice.

 Two days ago, as I entered the office, the phone rang.  It was a member of another chapter who was trying to sort out an issue that had arisen in her work.  I spent forty-one minutes on the phone thinking the situation through with her.  While I’m not sure I gave her the answer to her problem, we were at least able to get her headed in the direction of a workable strategy with which to approach her supervisor.

 Later that morning I received an e-mail from another member who was looking to hire a product rep in our area and asking for names.  In this instance, I knew immediately who to refer to her.  A member of a sister chapter and CCPR was laid off by another company a few months back.  I responded within minutes with contact information for my unemployed friend.

 All that said, if these three individuals were not members of CSI, they would not have thought to contact me.  Since I’ve gone to the CSI network well many times in the past, I felt good about being able to be on the receiving end of those calls and able to render assistance.  Giving back to the organization and its members is somehow even more satisfying than simply receiving this most important benefit of membership.

 So the next time you need help with a construction related problem, call a member of CSI.  In addition to the fact that you’ll probably receive the correct answer, I imagine that the person you call will be rewarded as much as you in the giving back.

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A few disturbing circumstances:

A number of my friends and colleagues have indicated to me that they have been laid off as a result of the so called Great Recession.

Statistics indicate fewer startups during this recession than in previous economic downturns.

There seems to be a mindset that everyone has a right to a job.


Now the good news:

Anyone who is capable of practicing a profession is capable of starting a business.  I should know, I was laid off in 1987 and started my current practice.  I was fortunate that I was advised at the time to join the local home builders association as a means of generating leads through networking.  In January 1987, I attended a meeting as a visitor and engaged in dinner table conversation which led to enough billings to pay my NAHB dues for life.  I joined within the next two weeks.  Over the next several years, I was able to provide professional service many builder/contractor clients.

Within a year, I joined CSI.  While I looked at my NAHB membership as a marketing tool, my membership in CSI enables me to increase my level of professional competency.  That said, I am aware of several individuals who have successfully leveraged their CSI networking contacts into work.

Since jobs are scarce, I still firmly believe that the way to get through tough economic times is to hang out a shingle.  One reason that this can take place is our ability to work anywhere in the world we choose, thanks to the internet.  We can work from home and reduce overhead to near zero.  There are several other benefits of working out of one’s home.  I realized that when I seemed to be against a brick wall unable to figure out how to do something, I would simply get up from my desk and go outside to mow the grass (or some similar activity).  Generally speaking, when I would return to my work in an hour or two, the solution to whatever problem I was trying to solve would jump off the page (now the screen) at me.  Self employment gave me the freedom to do this.

Another benefit of self employment was that I was able to make a decent living billing about twenty to twenty-five hours per week.  This allowed me to begin volunteering in the public schools when my oldest reached kindergarten age.  Twenty years later, I am still there.

So if the job market is tossing you lemons, make lemonade and start your own business.  You won’t regret it.

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A few years back, the Central Virginia CSI Chapter was able to get a student affiliate chapter going at the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  That first year, in addition to an excellent lecture series, a number of the students chose to sit for the CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam.  I am pleased to report that the pass rate for that group was 100%.

 One of  those students remains a member of the Central Virginia Chapter and serves on its board of directors.  This individual credits her finding a job directly out of school to the fact that she already held the CDT certificate.  She has been continuously employed since in spite of difficult economic conditions.

 The CDT exam is often held in conjunction with construction documents courses at colleges and universities.  In this day and age when jobs are rare, students graduating can use any leg up that exists, so if this opportunity knocks, jump on it and demonstrate your competence by showing up for your first job interview with a professional credential in hand.

 Holders of the CDT demonstrate a high level of competence and professionalism.  They know their way around a construction contract.  They are familiar with the major model contract documents.  Without this knowledge, they would not have passed the exam, which is offered at specified times of the year.

 Information on the CSI Certification Program is available at www.csinet.org .

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The local CSI product show will take place tomorrow.  These events produced local chapters of the Construction Specifications Institute provide a major service to the local construction industry.  This happens in many ways, some obvious, some not so obvious.

 The obvious:  Product representatives from around the region will display their latest and greatest, taking advantage of the opportunity to talk with more construction professionals than they could possibly deal with in a day of making sales calls.  Also obvious:  The concurrent seminars are an important source of technical information to the attendees.  Additionally, a lot of networking will take place.

Now the not so obvious:  The local product shows are great leadership development and team building vehicles.  Most of these shows are produced by committees of dedicated volunteers made up of experienced veterans and younger workers.  The veteran committee members bring with them the wisdom of the years; what works and is proven.  The younger participants bring fresh ideas which keep the shows current and relevant.  The evolution of ideas is the strength of the younger members of CSI and, given the opportunity to implement their ideas, will serve as a means of member retention and leadership development.  Both are essential to the survival of any organization.

With that said, embrace and mentor the younger members of your organization.  They are the future.

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I recently found myself in a prolonged and difficult contract negotiation.  The potential client seemed to be having trouble with the contract we submitted, and it appeared that we would not come to a meeting of the minds.  The difficulty here is that both the client and our firm have the same goals for the project.  It was a matter of communication, or in this case, a lack thereof.

In order for communication to take place, the parties involved need to understand a common language.  Languages are dependent on a grammatical structure which Webster defines as a system of rules for writing or speaking a given language.  Without such a structure, during the course of a conversation, what is said by one party is not necessarily what is understood by the other.  In general, we grasp this concept by the time we reach middle school.

In the world of construction, it is necessary to communicate the owner’s intent to the contractor or builder who will be executing a project.  Typically, a designer (architect, engineer, or other design professional) interprets an owner’s program and ideas into a set of construction documents which guide the constructor (contractor or builder) on what to build to satisfy the owner’s needs.  Otherwise put, the design professional hears the owner’s needs and desires described verbally and translates them into written and graphic information for the contractor.

Because construction documents are a means of communication, they are by definition, a language.  As I’ve already stated, a language needs a grammatical structure to be understood.  In the language of construction, the ‘rules of grammar” are expressed in the various CSI formats.  By understanding MasterFormat™ and SectionFormat™, the constructor knows where to look to find a specific bit of information in a project manual, just as a grammarian knows where to find the direct object in a sentence.

That said, the best way for all of the parties to the construction process to understand this “grammar” that is embodied in the various CSI formats is to become a member of The Construction specifications Institute (CSI) and to hold the CDT Certificate.  Passing the CDT requires a basic knowledge of construction documents.  Possessing this body of knowledge enables a member of the construction team, whether designer or constructor, to perform their job more efficiently.  Imagine being able to communicate the owner’s wishes clearly, completely, concisely, and correctly on the first attempt.

The CDT is offered to members of CSI and non-members alike.  It is a great addition to an individual’s resume when they hit the street looking for that first job.  If all else is equal, holding the CDT can make the difference in a hire/no hire decision.  For this reason, taking the time to sit for the CDT while in school gives a student a leg up in the construction business upon graduation.

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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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