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Posts Tagged ‘CSI’

Last Friday, I ran into a couple of old friends at a pre-bid meeting. As the conversation progressed, the topic of Thomas R. Wyant, JR, AIA, CSI came up.  Tom was my first employer after I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1979.  He was a client to my friends who are a surveyor and geotechnical engineer respectively.  We reminisced for several minutes about him.

While Tom was not the easiest individual to work for, I probably learned more about the profession of architecture from him than any other single person. In this vein, Tom was an expert in the technical aspects of putting a building together.  He was very particular about how we detailed things, but would let us draw things up as we saw fit.  On a daily basis, he would make the rounds in the drafting room and would look over our shoulders to review our work.  If we could justify what we did, he would say simply, yeah, that’ll work, and go on to visit with the next drafter.  If there was a problem with what we did, he would help us to solve it.

Probably the most important thing Tom did for us was to introduce us to specification writing, arguably an unusual thing to do with a couple of first and second year interns. He taught us to use MasterSpec and SpecText and in doing so, indirectly taught us CSI SectionFormat.  Also, in using both master systems, he demonstrated that at that time, some sections of each were better than the other.  In so doing, he gave us the opportunity to exercise some critical thinking about which component or system was more appropriate for the project(s) at hand and how best to communicate the information to the construction team.  I cannot think of a better way to mentor.

Tom is also responsible for my joining CSI, although he was never aware of it, as I joined five years after I left Tom’s firm. In this regard, he led by example.  Through him, I learned that CSI is the place to go for building information.  His mentoring led me to connections with literally thousands of experts nationwide.  For that I will always be grateful.

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I was disappointed to read a recent local newspaper article about the settlement of a lawsuit surrounding a local project that is the winner of multiple awards.  According to the article, there were more than 400 RFIs (requests for information) submitted by the contractor.  The article also states that there were several design features that were poorly executed or simply didn’t work as intended.

I have to say that the building in question is quite beautiful and has been honored as a green structure, but 400 RFIs?  In my mind, 400 RFIs on a project this size is an inexcusable number and makes me question the adequacy of the construction documents (which I haven’t seen, by the way) to convey the design intent.

Successful, timely, and cost-effective construction relies on appropriate communication of a project design by the design team to the contractor and supplier team on behalf of the ownerFrom project conception through design and construction to facility management, effective communication of the project requirements depends largely on having complete and coordinated construction documents.”

The quote above begins the introduction to Chapter 11 of The CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide (PDPG).  The PDPG is the primary source document for the CDT exam.  The CDT is the gateway credential into the CSI Certification Program.  All CSI certified professionals (CCS, CCPR, and CDT) hold the CDT credential, as it is a prerequisite to the certification exams.

Holders of the CDT have a working knowledge of construction documents and procedures.  They are aware of steps in the facility life cycle, have some knowledge of the legal issues associated with construction, and can assist an owner with the construction procurement process.  As holders of the credential, they know what information should be included in a set of construction documents and, more importantly, can recognize when it is missing.  Including pertinent and appropriate information in the CDs will minimize the number of RFIs on a project.

Registration will be opening soon for the spring certification exams.  Because of the time necessary to absorb the material, candidates should begin studying now.  Study materials are available from www.csinet.org/certification .

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It never ceases to amaze me how many construction proposals contain the very short specification “to code”.  What amazes me even more is that there are actually consumers who believe this statement or some variation thereon assures them of a quality project.

Wake up folks!  The building code is the crummiest construction that is legal.

So you ask: “How can I get better than the worst that’s legal?”

Better quality construction starts with better construction documents.  Good construction documents are usually produced by a licensed design professional.  For certain occupancies, a licensed design professional is required to seal and sign the construction documents before a construction permit can be issued by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  In such cases, simply having the seal of a licensed professional on the drawings is in the same category of “built to code”.

Better quality construction documents often involve the services of a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS).  The CCS is a certification issued by the Construction Specifications Institute more commonly known as CSI.  Holders of the CCS are required to have a minimum of five years’ experience preparing construction documents and at least two years of writing construction specifications.  In addition, a CCS will have passed a rigorous exam to receive the certification.

Unofficially, a CCS is an experienced professional with a vast body of technical knowledge.  As a member of the building team, the specifier will often prompt the other members of the design team to think about issues such as constructability, compatibility of materials, water-tightness, and similar issues.

Once a project is documented, it will need to be constructed by a qualified contractor.  One characteristic to look for in the course of selecting a contractor is whether or not he/she has a CDT on staff.  A CDT knows his/her way around a set of construction documents.  They understand the information presented and know where to look for certain information within the set of documents.  Additionally, a CDT has a basic understanding of the relationships called for in a set of construction contract documents.

With this in mind, when shopping for construction services, hire someone who holds a CSI issued certificate or a CSI certified professional.

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Did you ever spend time pondering facility life cycles?  Do you know who is on a typical construction project team?  Do you know which construction documents are contract documents?  Did you ever wonder how projects get built?  Do any of these questions keep you up at night?

If you are a member of the AEC industry and don’t know the correct answers to these questions, they should keep you up at night.  If you are employed in the AEC industry, you should be a member of CSI, and you should hold the CDT.  CSI is the one place where all members of the project team can sit down together as equals and discuss matters of mutual concern.  The Mission of CSI is to advance building information management and education of project teams to improve facility performance.

The CDT is the entry level credential offered by CSI.  According to the CSI website,  “the CDT Program provides a comprehensive overview for anyone who writes, interprets, enforces, or manages construction documents. Project architects, contractors, contract administrators, material suppliers, and manufacturers’ representatives are all realizing the advantages of being Construction Documents Technologists”.  “By being able to understand and interpret written construction documents, CDTs perform their jobs more effectively. By understanding the roles and relationships of all participants, CDTs improve communication among all members of the construction team”.  The credential is beneficial for architects and engineers, construction administration staff, construction product representatives, constructors, and professionals in other construction occupations.

The CDT Exam is administered each year during set periods in the spring and fall.  Because the exam is not an easy one, the time to begin study for the Spring 2016 exam is NOW.  Study materials are available from the CSI website.  The CDT Candidate Handbook lists the domains covered by the exam and the proportion of the exam dedicated to each.  It also lists the source materials that are to be studied by the exam candidate in order to pass the exam.

The CDT is the gateway to CSI’s Certification Program, and is a prerequisite for all of the advanced certifications offered by CSI.  It is a lifetime achievement and use of the letters CDT on your business card will gain you recognition within the industry as an individual who is knowledgeable in the construction process and documentation.

Watch the CSI website for when the registration window opens for the exam, but you should be studying now.  The information you need is available at http://csinet.org/main/certification/CDT .

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After returning from Construct 2015 last week, I asked one of our younger employees what she liked about the conference, and she didn’t hesitate to respond “The people”. I pressed her a little further and asked if she had learned anything, and her response was that the education sessions were great, but the people she met were the greatest value to her.  I was pleased to hear this, because I owe so much to my CSI friends all over the country.

I should clarify that even as a seasoned professional, I still run across questionsSTL Construct Banner for which I don’t have answers.  This is particularly true in this day and age that there is so much new technology out there and so much new information.  I consider myself fortunate that when I run across something I don’t know related to the AEC business, there is generally someone in my professional network who knows the answer.  That professional network includes the trusted advisors I know through CSI.

My network of professional peers includes, of course other architects, but it goes much further than this. I consider design professionals in other disciplines, product representatives, contractors, subcontractors, independent specifiers and other allied professionals to be my peers and trusted advisors.  It is through CSI that I know hundreds of these folks and have access to thousands of others through their contacts.

I have often said that my CSI membership pays for itself every day, because rarely does a day go by that I don’t communicate in some manner with other CSI members outside of our firm. Sometimes, it is as simple as a “good morning” on Twitter, but often it will be a personal e-mail or telephone call with a pressing technical question.  Over the years, the answers to these questions have at least made me a better architect and specifier, and perhaps, they have kept me out of court.

So this is only a small part of my CSI MVP: Member Value Proposition.  There are many other opportunities that membership presents.  These will be the subject of future posts.

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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 and attendance at Construct over the years has paid for itself. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted anything, so I figured I should pick up where I left off.

This afternoon, I was having a conversation with a local plan review official and the topic of fire safety entered the conversation. The bulk of what I brought to the conversation I learned at the 1992 CSI Convention in Atlanta.

Prior to that convention, I was a big believer in compartmentalizing buildings with rated assemblies to prevent the spread of fire in lieu of installing a sprinkler system. As I learned at that convention, it is virtually impossible to do this perfectly, and the result of such imperfections is rapid spread of fire through narrow openings where a firestop may have been missed during construction. Where there is a small orifice (perhaps a ¾” hole drilled for a wire that was subsequently deemed unnecessary) a virtual blowtorch is created resulting in flashover of the adjacent space in a surprisingly short span of time.

My professional firefighter friends have taught me a thing or two about the behavior of fire in a building and how to fight it as well. This has led me to advise clients to add a layer of gypsum board to the underside of the joists spanning an unfinished basement to buy a little time for firefighters to rescue building occupants.

Even though this allows a few extra minutes of structural soundness, there is no substitute for fully sprinklering a building. If the fire is extinguished (or at least knocked down) there is far less smoke generated; and therefore, the occupants have a chance to escape the potential for a smoke related fatality.

Moral of the story is this: if we sprinkler and protect the building, in so doing, we protect the occupants. Life safety is what it’s all about. As far as I am aware, only one of the buildings coming out of this firm has ever burned, and there were no injuries. My understanding of fire started because of my participation in CSI and the predecessor of Construct.

Later this month, many of us will return to Construct where we will catch up on the latest in building technology, pick up a years worth of HSW requirements, and who knows, we might just save a life as a result.

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I spent this weekend attending the CSI Middle Atlantic Region Conference in Gettysburg, PA. My time was well spent, as my membership once again paid for itself.

How so, you might ask?

The conference included a slate of excellent technical seminars. This in and of itself is a good value. More to the point, getting up and into a seminar at 8:00 AM on a Saturday resulted in my picking up a bit of information which will result in a revised detail on an upcoming project. The owner is thrilled that this subtle change will add value by saving maintenance costs in future years with little or no additional up front cost.

That said, we need to think out of the box in terms of how we do things. A professional standard of care is normally met when we do things the way we’ve always done them, particularly when it comes to keeping water out of our buildings (assuming we did it correctly in the first place). This alone should keep us out of court. This kind of thinking is about the same as saying “we’ll build it to code”, which is often touted as quality by some members of the construction industry. It is also the crummiest construction that is legal. So what happens if you do just a little bit more and, in the process, add value?

This is exactly what came to my attention because of the efforts of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter who hosted the conference. I would have missed this had I not been a member of CSI.

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It never ceases to amaze me how many construction proposals contain the very short specification “to code”. What amazes me even more is that there are actually consumers who believe this statement or some variation thereon assures them of a quality project.

Wake up folks! The building code is the crummiest construction that is legal.

So you ask: “How can I get better than the worst that’s legal?”

Better quality construction starts with better construction documents. Good construction documents are usually produced by a licensed design professional. For certain occupancies, a licensed design professional is required to seal and sign the construction documents before a construction permit can be issued by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). In such cases, simply having the seal of a licensed professional on the drawings is in the same category of “built to code”.

Better quality construction documents often involve the services of a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS). The CCS is a certification issued by the Construction Specifications Institute more commonly known as CSI. Holders of the CCS are required to have a minimum of five years’ experience preparing construction documents and at least two years of writing construction specifications. In addition, a CCS will have passed a rigorous exam to receive the certification.

Unofficially, a CCS is an experienced professional with a vast body of technical knowledge. As a member of the building team, the specifier will often prompt the other members of the design team to think about issues such as constructability, compatibility of materials, watertightness, and similar issues.

Once a project is documented, it will need to be constructed by a qualified contractor. One characteristic to look for in the course of selecting a contractor is whether or not he/she has a CDT on staff. A CDT knows his/her way around a set of construction documents. They understand the information presented and know where to look for certain information within the set of documents. Additionally, a CDT has a basic understanding of the relationships called for in a set of construction contract documents.

With this in mind, when shopping for construction services, hire someone who holds a CSI issued certificate or a CSI certified professional.

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Recently, a local TV station ran a feature on the 11 o’clock news about a couple of lovebirds who are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary. During the teaser, I recognized the husband as someone I had worked with on a couple of projects in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Several years following the end of our professional relationship (precipitated by Earl’s retirement), I ran into Earl at the local gas station and noticed a window sticker indicating that he and his wife were members of the Order of the Eastern Star. Knowing that my wife’s grandparents were very active in that organization at the state level, I asked Earl if he had known them. As it turns out, he and his wife had known my grandparents-in-law quite well, and so it is that Charlottesville connects with Culpeper Virginia in multiple ways at multiple levels.

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-five 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 and Canada 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 of friends, 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 http://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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