Should I Pay to put a Spec on one of the Spec Platforms?

Several companies that publish master specification libraries will publish a manufacturer’s proprietary guide specification section… for a fee. Manufacturers frequently ask me if they should buy into one of these spec libraries. Here is my brief reply:

1.  Participating in a commercial specification system should be seen as an adjunct to publishing your own guide spec, not a replacement for it.

a. The commercial systems place emphasis on creating a spec section that fits their own formatting and style; this sometimes places the system's own need for consistency above your needs to clearly present your product.

b. The commercial system may not be available to all specifiers. The specifier should spend time understanding your product and their project needs, not learning to navigate an unfamiliar specification platform. In contrast, most specifiers will know how to edit a guide specification written in CSI format and published in a .doc format.

c. Once you have attracted a specifier to your product website and the specifier has decided to use your product, it is risky to introduce the specifier to a commercial specification system where the specifier might discover alternative products.

2. The commercial specification systems usually offer to write the spec for you as part of your participation fee. They do a good job with standard products. But if you have an innovative product, the commercial system's writers may not have the time or motivation to work with you to understand your product's unique features and benefits, how you go to market, and your exposure to product liability.

3. Participating in a commercial specification system is an advertising decision. At the "point of specification" (POS), a specifier that uses the commercial system will turn to the system's table of contents and might pick your product.  This is great. However, the decision to participate in the commercial systems must be made in comparison to other promotional and advertising expenditures.  Placement at POS works for products that are spec-driven, but does not reach designers, job captains, or other decision makers involved in product selection before the stage of spec writing.

Chusid receives CSI Award

The West Region of the Construction Specifications Institute presented Michael Chusid its Wilbur Johnston Memorial Award at its regional conference earlier this year. The annual award is given to an individual that "has made notable contributions in the advancement of the construction sciences, construction specifications, and to the education of those in the construction industry..."

Chusid's award citation reads,

In recognition of significant contributions to the development and advancement of innovation construction materials and methods as consultant to product manufacturers and trade associations; for your work on the MasterFormat 2004 Implementation Task Team; it's widely used training materials and working as a CSI Webinar Presenter for "Guide Specifications, a Marketing Tool for Manufacturers and Sales Representatives."

Defective product specs: A disaster waiting to happen.

I do a lot of work in the Lighting Protection industry. So I got excited when I saw the websitepre-engineered gazebos and shade shelters. The manufacturer's website offers a "lightning protection kit" for its shelters, but few details.

So I contacted them for info, and here is what happened:

1. The customer service rep did not know they offered lightning protection.

2. Then the rep sent me a link to the same website from which I made my inquiry.

3. When I asked for detailed info, the company sent the following:


1)   All lightning protection shall conform to Class I requirements (materials necessary to protect ordinary buildings not exceeding 75’ in height) as outlined in the LPI Standard of Practice, LPI - 175 (2008 Edition Standards of Practice) and NFPA 780 Booklet (2008 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems).

2)   Air terminal(s) shall be solid copper, ½” diameter with tapered top and threaded base.

3)   Terminal receiver shall be horizontal mount threaded bronze base unit.

4)   Wire shall be 28 strand, 14 AWG, ½” minimum rope lay copper cable connected with brass or bronze couplers.

5)   Ground rods shall be 5/8” x 8’ copper clad minimum.

6)   Contractor to ensure lightning protection is in compliance with local building codes.

This spec is a disaster waiting to happen. Here are a few of the spec's defects:

- It references obsolete standards,

- The copper components specified are incompatible with the company's steel and aluminum roofing and will corrode.

- Some of the dimensions given do not meet the standard, and others are oversized and expensive.

- The horizontal mount specified will not work on the manufacturer's sloped roofs.

- The manufacturer says to be "in compliance with local building codes," apparently unaware that few building codes address lightning protection.

I suspect the manufacturer thinks they are doing their clients a convenience by offering the kit. Maybe they are making a good faith effort to make their buildings safer.  But clearly, lightning protection is outside their expertise, and they a is selling a product that may not work as intended.

The company has positioned itself and its customers for an "attractive nuisance" lawsuit.  Imagine a child playing in a park when a thunderstorm approaches. The child sees a shelter with a lightning rod and takes refuge in it.  When the child, under the shelter, is injured or killed by a lightning strike, the attorneys will take the manufacturer, the installer, and the property owner to court. The architect or engineer, too, if there is one.


There are no minor components to a building. If you are selling something outside your expertise, get the advice of someone competent in the field.

A Remembrance: Steve Caporaso

He was there, at almost every construction industry trade show I attended, for years.  Our encounters were always brief, but sincere and meaningful, and over time evolved into a friendship. We exchanged ideas and business leads and swapped news and stories from the front lines of building product marketing.  Now he is gone, and I miss him.

Steve Caporaso was owner of Architects & Engineers Service Co.,, The company's representatives call on architects to present a collection of non-competing building products and generate leads for the manufacturers. For manufactures without a sales force to call on architects, it is a wonderful way to put a face to a company and get catalogs and samples into the hands of potential users.

Steve had the respect of both the manufacturers he represented and the architects he served. Steve was an established presence in the construction industry by the time I established my consulting practice, and I regarded him as an elder from whom I could get guidance.

AES, as the company is informally known, continues under the able guidance of Steve's widow, Catherine Caporaso and two of their children. I wish them every success.

Building that Grow On You?

"DARPA is launching the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program with a goal of creating a new class of materials that combines the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems. Living materials represent a new opportunity to leverage engineered biology to solve existing problems associated with the construction and maintenance of built environments, and to create new capabilities to craft smart infrastructure that dynamically responds to its surroundings."

What a clever acronym, ELM.  Imagine, plant a few seeds and 75 years later you can harvest the lumber and build with it.  That's not what the US Army is considering, however.

“The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” said ELM program manager Justin Gallivan. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources. And, since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage.”

With DARPA's mission of building better killing systems, I doubt their first agenda is providing shelter to populations displaced by global warming. But maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Consider, for example,

-- Spreading a tarp seeded with spores that grow into a thick moss bed that insulates and even supports the structure.

-- Quick growing, thorny vines that grow into almost impregnable fences, but more quickly than the bougainvillea or cactus hedges now used for that purpose.

-- Airport runways that don't need mowing.

-- Toilets that make it possible to actually "shit bricks".

Frankly, most of the stuff DARPA does terrifies me, and this program is no exception.

"The long-term objective of the ELM program is to develop an ability to engineer structural properties directly into the genomes of biological systems..." (Emphasis added.) 

In other words, they propose to genetically modify ecosystems for the battlefield.  But don't worry,

"Work on ELM will be... carried out in controlled laboratory settings. DARPA does not anticipate environmental release during the program." 

The same reassurance was offered about atomic bombs.

More about ELM can be found at:

Specifying By Reference or Brand Name?

When writing a guide spec for a rainscreen system, I had to include structural silicone adhesives. My client told me to specify the type of adhesive by reference to the appropriate ASTM standards. I would agree with this approach for many types of adhesives, but not for high performance structural silicone. Here's why:

Two of the leading producers of structural silicone are Momentive (formerly GE) and Dow Corning. Their product literature states:

Momentive: Do not use, "In structural glazing applications unless Momentive Performance Materials (MPM) has reviewed shop drawings for applicability and has performed adhesion and compatibility tests on project substrates, spacer materials and all accompanying accessories. Review and testing is done on a project-by-project basis. No blanket approval is given by MPM for structural glazing applications."

Dow - "Sealant should not be used In structural applications without prior review and approval by your local Dow Corning Sales Application Engineer"

It would be inconvenient for my client's rainscreen installers to have to go through a review with their silicone supplier for every project, and I suspect most of them will overlook the requirement. Few architects take the time to review submittals so closely that they will note the silicone manufacturers' limitation.

The result: The required review is not performed, and the silicone manufacture has a free pass if there is a failure on a project. All they have to tell the judge that the customer did not do the required review.


I told my client to get letters of approval from leading silicone producers and make the letters part of their installation instructions. In return, the specific silicone products can be named in the rainscreen guidespec.

The Supplier's Fault?

I don't know where this tale originates, but it is worth retelling:

A young family lived next to a vacant lot. One day, a construction crew started building on the lot. The family's 4-year-old daughter naturally took an interest in the activity going on next door and spent much of each day observing the workers.
Eventually the construction crew, all of them "gems-in-the-rough," more or less adopted her as a kind of project mascot. They chatted with her, let her sit with them while they hadbreaks, and gave her little jobs to do to make her feel important.
At the end of the first week, they even presented her with a pay envelope containing ten dollars.
The little girl took this home and her mother suggested the girl take her "pay" to the bank and start a savings account.
When the girl and mother got to the bank, the teller asked the girl how she had come by her very own pay at such a young age.
The girl proudly replied, "I worked last week with a real construction crew building the new house next door to us."
"Oh my goodness gracious," said the teller, "and will you be working on the house again this week, too?"
The little girl replied, "I will, if those a##holes at the supply yard ever deliver the f##king drywall!"

In addition colorful jobsite speech, the tale also describes other conditions found on some construction projects:

  1. Underpaid laborers.
  2. Work done off-the-books.
  3. Scheduling problems are always the supplier's fault.

(Graphic from

Black History Month and Construction

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

"We wanted to demand that if they were going to build where we live, we should have the trade skills to build. If there were public contracts, we should have the right to have a part of those contracts.
"It’s not understood. The same people who call us lazy lock us out of trade unions. We’ve had to fight to get the right to skills to work. Many young men are hopeless and jobless — they don’t have the same trade skills their white counterparts had.
"In the fight to rebuild where we live, there are countless jobs. There are probably more jobs than people. People ask how can you police poverty. You can’t police poverty. But you can develop people where you live so there’s less need for police."

Rev. Jesse Jackson quoted in The New York Times

Photo by Gary Settle/The New York Times

Residential Design Trends

The recent AIA Home Design Trends Survey asked more than 500 residential architects what they thought would be the most significant home design elements over the next ten years. Here are their Top 10 responses.

Architects tend to think about custom homes, not the great mass of other housing options; something to remember when interpreting the findings.

Architects tend to think about custom homes, not the great mass of other housing options; something to remember when interpreting the findings.

1 Technological integration becoming more prevalent, with both dedicated support for personal devices, along with automated controls for temperature, security and lighting

2 Increased consumer awareness about environmental health issues leading to more widespread use of low or no volatile organic compounds for paint and composite wood, natural fiber upholstery, carpets without polyvinyl chloride backing and air purification systems

3 Growing demand for design strategies that strengthen homes against natural disasters including elevating residences, windows with impact glazing, dedicated safe rooms and backup power generation

4 Increasing use of energy-efficient and other sustainable design elements and products such as solar panels, water reclamation systems and tankless water heaters

5 Aging-in-place and universal design elements to accommodate an aging population including wider hallways, added handrails and one-level living spaces

6 Kitchens serving as focal point of the home highlighted by open design concepts

7 Heavy emphasis and investment in outdoor living spaces

8 Need for space devoted to home offices reflecting changing work patterns

9 Infill development promoting smaller, better designed homes

10 Strong preference for urban lifestyle characteristics resulting in higher-density development that provide additional amenities to residents

Comment: When planning your marketing strategy, remember that this is what AIA members are thinking about, and that actual demand is influenced by developers, consumers, codes, remodeling of existing housing stock, and other forces. 

Source: AIA Press Release 2016-01-13.


Marketing with MasterFormat

As building product manufactures develop products to meet new needs in the construction industry, they should understand how their products fit into the MasterFormat. When necessary, manufacturers should not hesitate to propose changes to the standard.

MasterFormat is the construction industry's standard for organizing construction-related information according to "work-results" based on construction practices. It is used to organize construction specifications, cost information, and building operations and maintenance information. Modifications can be proposed by users to keep the standard up to date and responsive to industry needs.

For example, I proposed the following changes that have been added to MasterFormat in the most recent update cycle:

09 78 19 Cementitious Interior Wall Paneling

09 78 23 Phenolic Interior Wall Paneling

13 19 19 Animal Washing Tubs

26 01 40.13 Operation and Maintenance of Lightning Protection Systems

32 18 23.63 Equestrian Surfacing

Additional information is at


It is always good to ask customers for feedback. I asked Ed Davis, President of Ceilume, and here is what he posted on my LinkedIn page.
"Working with Michael Chusid as an architectural product marketing consultant has been a revelation for our company, and will certainly be the same for yours if you choose to engage his services.

His depth of knowledge and innate inquisitiveness will, in short order, have him telling you things about your product that you probably haven’t thought of, and finding potential marketing strategies and market niches that you have not considered. You hire a consultant to tell you things you don’t know, to augment your strengths, and to expand your thinking. Mr. Chusid will do all that and more.

Expect some assumptions you hold dear to be challenged. Expect established patterns of thought and procedure to be disrupted, in a good way. Expect Michael to function as a dedicated member of your staff, not as an outsider. Never one to shoot from the hip, his advice, when given, will always be thoughtful and insightful. Whether or not you choose to follow it, understand that it is carefully considered, and worth your careful consideration.

If you are looking for a “yes person” to confirm what you are already doing, Michael is most likely not your man. If you are looking for someone to help take your product or your business to the next level, Michael is the guy to get you there."

Chusid certified to teach Lightning Protection Basics

I am now certified by the Lightning Safety Alliance to teach continuing education courses in Lightning Protection Basics.

Every location in the continental U.S. is at risk of damage due to lightning. Lightning causes over a billion dollars annually of damage to buildings and their content in the U.S. The risks are increasing as more building systems have digital controls that are vulnerable to lightning surge. This is in addition to risks of injury and death.

The good news is that lightning protection systems, designed and installed in accordance with recognized industry standards, provide reliable and affordable protection. Lightning protection also contributes to the sustainability and resilience of buildings and communities.

The bad news is that many people in the building design and construction industry are unfamiliar with the scope of the problem or how to access solutions.

Help me rectify that situation by hosting a continuing education program. I am available, without fee, to present the one-hour training to professional and trade associations, architectural and engineering offices, property management groups, and civic organizations.

Tradeshow Booth Sidewalls Restrictions

Most trade shows that offer "inline" 10 x 10 ft booth spaces prohibit exhibitors from using tall display materials that encroach into the front five feet of the booth. The logic has been that this restriction assures that attendees can see into booths down an aisle without blocked views.

Recently, I have seen many instances of shows relaxing their policy, giving waivers, or not enforcing the sidewall limits. Is this a trend?  These examples were at the recent ABX tradeshow in Boston:
Comes to within 2 ft of aisle.
The post and rack cut into the view of the neighbor's booth.
The front half of the booth's glass side walls are transparent for minimal interference with views.
Freestanding, yes; but as tall and opaque as a wall.
1. Limiting the encroachment of side walls make good neighbors.
2. Ask show management for waivers before shipping your booth.

Write about what you know.

Many individuals in building product sales develop significant expertise in their product category. If you have expertise, why not write something and get it published. Becoming a published author can do wonders for your reputation and open the door to new business, job offers, and consulting opportunities.

An example of someone doing this is Scott Tobias, a colleague whom I know through CSI. He is the author of the recently published tome, Illustrated Guide to Door Hardware: Design, Specification, Selection.
Scott was with a major architectural hardware company for over a decade and had risen to the office of Vice President of Architectural Development. He recently joined an independent consulting practice, however. While he will do well on the basis of existing relationships he has within the industry, increased recognition as, literally, the person that wrote the book gives him enhanced visibility, authority, and prestige among an expanded number of prospects.

Here is the publisher's statement about the book:
Illustrated Guide to Door Hardware: Design, Specification, Selection is the only book of its kind to compile all the relevant information regarding design, specifications, crafting, and reviewing shop drawings for door openings in one easy-to-access place. Content is presented consistently across chapters so professionals can find what they need quickly and reliably, and the book is illustrated with charts, photographs, and architectural details to more easily and meaningfully convey key information. Organized according to industry standards, each chapter focuses on a component of the door opening or door hardware and provides all options available, complete with everything professionals need to know about that component.

When designing, specifying, creating, and reviewing shop drawings for door openings, there are many elements to consider: physical items, such as the door, frame, and hanging devices; the opening's function; local codes and standards related to fire, life safety, and accessibility; aesthetics; quality and longevity versus cost; hardware cycle tests; security considerations; and electrified hardware requirements, to name a few. Until now, there hasn't been a single resource for this information.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., April 2015, 464 page, ISBN: 978-1-118-11261-8

Consolidation of Construction News Reports

Construction news services are used by many building product manufacturers to identify and track prospects and to gather market intelligence. At the beginning of the year there were five significant players in the business. Now there are only two.

iSqFt acquired BidClerk and CDC Publishing in May 2015 and then merged with CMD Group in August 2015.
This roll-up creates a powerhouse that competes with Dodge, recently spun-off from McGraw Hill.

While there are several local and regional plan rooms and publications that continue to serve local contractors and suppliers, this consolidation means that building product manufacturers now have just two sources of construction news reports and related lead and research services.

Good or bad news for building product manufacturers?

Depends on your point of view. There are fewer players and hence less competition that may lead to price increases. But my impression is that Dodge was so far ahead of the others in market share and resources, that the roll-up of the smaller firms may actually create an effective alternative to Dodge.

"Every building has an architect"

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has a campaign to encourage its members to send this postcard to editors and to urge the editors to identify the name of architects in photo credits. Several American Institute of Architect components have also endorsed the program.
This is a usually good advice for building product manufacturers to follow when using building photos in marketing literature. It makes the manufacturer seem more connected to the culture of architects. The architect will generally like the public exposure. And it may encourage other architects to think, "Well, if XYZ Architects used it, I guess I can too."

Criticism: The campaign may make members of the association feel good about themselves, but I  doubt the campaign will have much impact on editors already pressed for time.

  • Many buildings do not have architects.
  • For many buildings, the names of the architects is lost or would require extensive research.
  • Other buildings have been remodeled and enlarged; is the editor to list them all?
  • The developer, builder, engineer, and others contributed to the vision for the building. Shouldn't they be credited too. 
  • Photos of buildings are printed for all sorts of reasons not related to the architecture, making the name of the architect irrelevant to the article. And,
Finally, there are many times an architect would prefer to not have his or her name in the press:
Even if the architect is found to be not liable for the collapse of this balcony in Berkeley, would the firm want's its name here?

Shortage of Architects?

A recent opinion piece in Wall Street Journal describes a drop of enrollment in architectural schools and predict dire consequences for the construction industry. A drop in enrollment certainly concerns the essay's author, an academic.  Even if the decline in enrollments leads to a decline in registered architects, however, I doubt there will be much impact on the construction industry.
From Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture
Here is why:

1. It is a global market. Plenty of architectural talent around world able to do the drawing and "desk" work without meeting client or seeing site.

2. Perhaps the much touted productivity gains of CAD have become a reality.

3. Much of the work of architecture does not require a registered architect. The person I know that is most efficient at producing a set of construction drawings has a community college degree. The best spec writer I know has an English lit degree.

4. Constructors, developers, engineers, construction managers, and other professionals are taking on "architectural" roles.

5. Manufacturers and contractors are increasingly taking on delegated design and design build responsibility.

6. Many architectural firms have principals that are not architects. Given the complexity of contemporary practice, the management suite can be shared with lawyers, accountants, engineers, interior designer, and individuals that came up through the trades.

7. For most of career, it was widely assumed that the schools of architecture were producing more graduates than required by the profession. A short term correction will not pose a problem.

Still, the trend illustrates a new reality of building product marketing - the market is increasingly complex. Product decision makers do not all have AIA or RA after their names.

Two ways to see a building

When you look at this  picture, do you see a building with wood-framed construction stucco, vinyl window frames, clay tile, and cheap, painted wood numerals? Of course. But many architects also see a building through the lens of architectural history.

When a friend moved into this building, I posted this lighthearted critique on Facebook.

This an under-appreciated architectural gem exemplifies the transfer of the finest Southern European traditions to Southern California.

Consider, by way of exposition on this theme, how the symmetrical, tripartite facade of the upper story projects beyond the lower representing the defenses typical of an Italianate tower, a theme further expressed by the use of terracotta tile on the pseudo-Mansardic attic story. Yet the tetrastyle engaged pilasters have the Mannered confidence of Michelangelo's Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

While realized at a somewhat smaller scale, the groomed arboreal forms in the landscape are based on the finest traditions of royal gardens. The sinuous line at the intersection of earth and structure is the mark of a master.

It is unfortunate that this edifice has been stripped of the ashlar marble cladding that undoubtedly defined its exterior. The mean rendering, however, discloses its pure lines and anticipates the austerity of the Villa Savoye.

We must not overlook the aesthetic tension introduced by the deliberate use of anachronistic serifs on the cartouche, leaving us to ponder why the builder chose to memorialize the defense of Constantinople during the indicated year.
The post  received "Likes" from many of my friends that are architects, suggesting that they recognized it as a sendup of architectural thinking. 

Bottom Line: When preparing marketing communications for a building product, it is useful to understand all the ways architects think.

Great Construction Equipment Video

Video, above, gets its point across without words.

Behinds the scene video, below, reinforces the point with words.