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I first published the article below in 2010.  With Virginia’s adoption of the 2015 edition of the I‑Codes, it will be necessary to update office master specifications to reflect the editions of the various standards referenced by the current code.  With this in mind, it is appropriate to republish the article.

 

REFERENCE STANDARDS:  NOT JUST ALPHABET SOUP

-Raymond E. Gaines, RA, CSI, CDT

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 a member of CSI.  Your career may depend on it!

 

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Several years ago, I received a binder from a window manufacturer in response to a contact I made at Construct. The size tables in the catalog indicate which window units are in compliance with emergency egress and rescue requirements.

Fast forward to last week. Because of the age of the binder, we went to the manufacturer’s website to ensure that the sizes we are looking to use are still available.  What we found is that there are a wider choice of sizes available than there were eight years ago, but several of the windows that were labeled as egress compliant in the old catalog did not bear that designation on the website.  This is complicated by the fact that with the 2012 edition of the IBC, Exceptions 1 and 2 to Section 1029.1 have been eliminated.  Put succinctly, fully sprinklered buildings and buildings with two means of egress are now required to have emergency escape windows that were unnecessary under the 2009 IBC.

We contacted the manufacturer who steered us to an obscure feature on the website that allows the user to check the clear opening of each window size. The user is then left to make his/her own determination of whether the window complies with Section 1029.  Yes, this information is available via the website, but it is not readily apparent to the first time user.

So Mr./Ms. Manufacturer, please consider this your wake-up call. If the information is available, please put it where we can find it on your website.  Otherwise we will likely go to your competitor who has the information in a readily accessible location.

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Late this morning I received word of a local gas leak that closed the only entrance to a local subdivision. Aside from the inconvenience to the residents of the neighborhood, there is also a school in the subdivision. The road closures that were the result of the gas leak also prevented school bus access to/from the school.

The subdivision in question was platted in the 1960’s and as was typical of the time only included a single point of access. Over the last ten years or so, the county has used a new urbanist model and required new subdivisions to have a second point of access, and even planned an interconnection to this development from a recently constructed project. The neighbors objected to the interconnection because it would “increase traffic” in their neighborhood. Had this connection been made, there never would have been a question as to whether the students would be able to get home this afternoon. They would have simply diverted the buses from the main entrance to the back way out.

As to concerns about increased traffic, with a second entrance, the number of vehicle trips past the houses fronting on the main entrance street would have gone down. Because of the location of the neighborhood, I don’t believe anyone would be using the connection as a shortcut, other than the residents of the newer development.

Assuming both developments are of the same size and type, the traffic differential ends up zeroing out. More importantly, emergency vehicle access and school bus access is maintained.

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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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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.

 

REFERENCE STANDARDS:  NOT JUST ALPHABET SOUP

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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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.

DIVISION THIRTY-THREE:  PLASTIC STORMWATER PIPING

— 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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