Building Codes

NIBS Report Identify Industry Priorities

National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) has released a report, “Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council,” outlining three key priorities for the building industry:

1. labor force: Industry professionals are aging and retiring, required skills are changing, and we underestimate the value of vocational training.

Opportunity for Building Product Manufacturers:
1. Introduce systems that require less labor or less specialized skills.
2. Invest in robotics or move processes from field into factories
3. Create and support career training programs.
4. Show young people how you offer and support a career path in the trades.

2. resilient design: I have been predicting this as the "next new thing" in construction. This category is broad and includes, in my opinion, extreme weather, fire and fire storm, earthquake, climate change, violence and civil unrest, dependence on fragile infrastructure, etc.

Opportunities for Building Product Manufactures:
1. Make your own infrastructure more resilient.
2. Develop rapid response capabilities to move products and skills to needed locations.
3. Identify which of your products can contribute to improved building resilience.
4. Develop new products that offer improved resilience.
5. Train sales team to address resilience concerns of customers.

3 code enforcement: The report encourages federal agencies to work with industry to try to make sense of an increasing number of codes and the disconnect between code making and code enforcing.

Opportunities for Building Product Manufactures:
1. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
2. Help your customers make sense of the increasing complexity of codes and standards.

Download the report here, than contact me to discuss how you can use the findings to protect your business from risk and take advantage of new opportunities.

Michael Chusid, RA FCSI CCS
+1 818 219 4937 

Assuring Life Safety is Maintained by Owner

Building Product Manufacturers, contractors, and design professionals are generally well informed about life-safety. But what can a manufacturer do to help a building owner or manager maintain the safety of a building and its occupants?

I confronted this question while consulting to a company launching a new type of ceiling panel. The ceiling panels allow fire sprinklers to be used in a non-conventional manner. Based on extensive testing, the ceiling and sprinkler combination and has approvals and listings from UL, FM, IAPMO-UES, ICC-ES, and CertMark.The approvals and listings are not valid, however, if the approved panels are replaced with non-approved products.

At the conclusion of a construction project, the contractor delivers to the owner boxes of as-built drawings, product data sheets, and operation and maintenance instructions. These are important reference documents, but are only helpful if someone can interpret the information. Further, the submittals may contain only a cut-sheet and not a copy of the product's approvals and listings. When the typical tenant or facility manager decides to redecorate and replace the ceiling panels, is he or she is likely to not look for the old submittals?

I advised my client that it has an obligation to the future users of the building. I compared its situation to an automobile manufacturer. Not only does the automaker put safety instructions in the owners manual, they put critical warnings on the dashboard or visor where drivers and passengers are likely to notice them. My client now provides customers with a durable placard and recommends that it be installed next to the fire control panel or another conspicuous location. The placard warns future generations that replacement panels must be in kind unless otherwise approved by a building safety authority.

As a nice side benefit, the placard also contains the manufacturer's name and contact information and may lead to orders for replacement panels.

The automaker's warning labels are required by law. Similarly, building codes require fire-rated doors to be labeled. My client was not compelled by code to offer the signage, but was motivated by a higher standard: protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.

Please do not wait for the codes to issue mandates. Review your products and ask yourself, "What can I do to help assure building owners can use my product safely throughout the life of the building?"

Sign from

The Wrath of Abibarshim

Recently excavated clay tablets shed new light on the most famous engineering failure in antiquity. Although some of the words are conjectural, this translation contains a clear message for modern engineers. Do you know someone who might benefit from this voice from the past?
as heralded by PRODUCTION ENGINEERING Magazine
I, Abibarshim, Great King, King of Kings, Ruler of Kish, Babil, Agade and Sankhar, and of the regions across the Hilla, conqueror of Ninevah, destroyer of Sepharia, having striven mightily and met with grief, lay down this Code that ye may not also strive mightily and meet with grief, nor fall flat on thy ass.

For I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, and all that, did buy many Aethyopeans and hire many artisans and scribes and masons and Makers of Engines and Designers of Buildings. And great was their craft and great their number, which was one hundred and forty four thousand, give or take a few job-shoppers. Yea, they did strive mightily, too, for they knew what would happen if they strove
not mightily. And the name of my capital improvement project was the Tower of Babil.

Yea, great was their craft and wonderful to behold what the Designers of Buildings wrought on the papyrus. All who looked thereon did marvel at their genius. I, Abibarshim, did also look thereon and did declare their designs to have much nift.

But many days did pass, and many times did the moon wax and wane, and the tower was not yet builded.

So I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, did hie me to the palace by the Arakhtu where dwelt the Designers of Buildings and Makers of Engines. And there I found
not Designers of Buildings and Makers of Engines, but Drinkers of Coffee and Tellers of Tales (whom men call hurlers of bull dung). So I vented my royal spleen, which did perturb them mightily.

"Look here, O King, etc.," said the Chief of the Makers of Engines. "Some things can't be rushed. If thou wantest us to get thy bloody tower builded on time, then thou hadst better give us a little respect. For canst thou build thy tower without us?"

"But I have given thee this palace in which thy work may be done, and I pay thee many talents of gold and silver, plus all the usual fringies. What more wouldst thou have me do to get this project moving?"

"Well, thou canst start with alabaster lamps for the draughtsmen," saith the Chief of the Makers of Engines, refilling his cup. "And maybe draughting instruments of silver and electrum…"

"Thou shalt have them. Just get my tower builded." And I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, did depart the palace of the Makers of Engines with my tail betwixt my legs.

And many days did pass, and many times did the moon wax and wane, and the tower was still not yet builded. So I, Abibarshim, did corner the Chief Scribe and ask him, "What goeth on here?"

The Chief Scribe fell to his knees and said: "O Great and Merciful King, the Makers of Engines give us scrolls of materials for to purchase. But, verily, no man knoweth what the scrolls signify, save the Makers of Engines themselves. For they call not a spade a spade, but call it here a delver and there a digger and another place an entrenching tool and yet another a geovolvometer, so that the scroll of material agreeth not with the design papyrus. And strange to behold is their numerology."

So I, Abibarshim, gave certain orders to try to keep the Makers of Engines from creating their own language, saying, "How did it come to pass that those who have such swiftness of mind, even as the gazelle, lack the sense of geese?"

And many days did pass, and many times did the moon wax and wane, and the estimate did wax and never wane, and the tower was not yet builded.

So then I did ask the Chief Mason, "What giveth?" and he, throwing himself prostrate before me, spake thus:

"O King, every day we toil from dawn until the dusk! Every week the Makers of Engines say they have wrought new and niftier designs, of which we knew not, and what we have builded hath been fashioned into obsolete papyri. Then my team teareth down and starteth over, O Great King, Merciful King, King of Kings…"

So I, Abibarshim, gave certain orders that did fix those designs thenceforth.

But many days did pass, and the tower did rise slower than sap rolleth down the bark of a tree.

So I, Abibarshim, did seek out the Chief Aethyopean, who seemed to know where it's at, and asked, "How come no tower?"

And he did answer, "O Great and Merciful King, I be running short of bolt tighteners."

"Well, buy some more!"

"I have, O King, but each one either getteth used up or runneth off as soon as he learneth his trade."

"Which is?"

"The Makers of Engines have designed the granite facing panels such that no man hath arms long enough nor thin enough to reach the bolts. Thus each panel requires that a bolt tightener crawl behind and affix the bolts."


"So then he cannot get back out, O King, but is entombed there forever."

I, Abibarshim, did then call for a redesign which cost us three months and one thousand gold talents. But the days did pass and the tower had attained only four tiers in height. So I did go to the Chief Scribe to inquire why.

"O King, we have been awaiting, lo, these many months, the columns of Corinthian marble for the fifth tier."

"Is marble from Corinth so hard to find, then?"

"Nay, Sire, but the Corinthian stone cutters make columns only in heights which be whole numbers of cubits. And the Makers of Engines have specified cubits which be twelve cubits plus eleven-seventeenths part of a cubit. Such columns are not to be found in all of Corinth as an off-the-shelf item."

"Well, let's just change the drawings and round them off to thirteen cubits even."

"Nay, Sire, for they must match unto the interior columns, which are bought pre-cut from Ionia and which we have aplenty."

"Okay, we'll cut the Ionian columns down and go unto twelve cubit columns all around."

"Nay, for the Ionian columns be all of one piece with their capitals. To shorten them would mean cutting off their capitals."

"What in the name of Marduk is wrong with that? We can just fit new capitals on top of the shortened columns."

"Nay again, Sire. The entire structure unto the very top is designed around monobloc capitals. To add new capitals would weaken the fifth and higher tiers and require a complete redesign!"

I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, avouch that Makers of Engines, for all their craft, know not how to fly. For surely the Chief of the Makers of Engines and all his men would have flown down, had they known how, from the fourth level of my tower, from which parapet I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, had them flung.

Therefore have I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, created this Code and ordered it displayed at the Coffee Machine and all other places where hangeth out the Designers of Buildings and Makers of Engines.
The Code of Abibarshim
I. Once thou decidest what name to call a thing, that shall be its name forever after, until eternity passeth. Nor shall thou call any other thing by that name, for each thing shall have a name unto itself.

II. And in like manner shall be the enumeration of each thing.

III. Continue not to design a thing unto perfection, for, verily, an ounce of timeliness is more valuable than a pound of perfection. Once thou hast approved a design, go not back and improve it, unless of necessity most dire.

IV. Cover not thy tracks but make thy calculations plain, that those who follow thee may trace any error to its beginning and thus set it and all its brethren upon the path of righteousness.

V. And mock not the necessary papyrus work, for it is the handmaiden of what thou createst in stone and iron. Completest all thy papyri as thou goest and hoardest them not as a surprise for manufacturing.

VI. Attendest first to that which hath the most importance. Waste not time fixing thy wind to heavy papyrus with wire.

VII. He who designeth without a plan is like he who rusheth forth into darkness without a torch. Rush not ere thou knowest whither, for there are many snares and pitfalls in the dark, and wild beasts to reach up and bit thine ass or camel on the path named Critical.

VIII. Specify not odd-ball sizes and kinds of things, but design unto standards, that the scribes may buy stuff off-the-shelf and dabble not with specials.

IX. Design not assemblies which require four arms to put together or operate. Verily, the guy we hire in these days hath not four arms but ten thumbs.

X. Remember well that all which thou designest shall be a balance of time and cost and quality and function. If thou attendest not to all four, then miserable shall be thy lot and brief thy employment (unless thou knowest how to fly).

Quick Building Code Approval

Q. I am a student at Stanford and am researching a new building material, Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC). Could you tell me some examples of how long it takes to get approval for new building material?

A. You ask a simple question for which there is not a simple answer.

Before getting an acceptance criteria, it may be necessary to first invent a way to quantify results.
First, we have to ask, for what usage is the material proposed? There are few regulatory requirements for non-structural product interior surfacing. But if the product is proposed for countertops in commercial food handling areas, it will need to meet NSF requirements for hygiene and toxicity; if it is to be used as a wall surfacing product in healthcare or assembly facilities, it will need proof that its surface burning characteristics are acceptable. While the testing and approvals can happen fairly quickly and for relatively limited expense, there are complications. NSF, for example, has to inspect the production facility.

For structural applications, an engineer can use almost any product by submitting structural calculations and other evidence to the building code official in a local jurisdiction. But it would be irresponsible for an engineer to use a product until it was well tested and understood. This could include costly fire-resistance testing and long term testing for performance characteristics such as creep, the deformation that happens over time. If the product is proposed for highway or bridge construction, state agencies may want to conduct field trials for several years to make sure of its durability.

It becomes easier for an engineer or architect to use a product if it is included in the building code. Only well established products are included in codes such as the International Building Code. However innovative materials can get reviewed by the International Code Council - Evaluation Service, and their ICC-ES Report can then be presented to the local building code officials that make the ultimate decision about whether a product can be used in their jurisdiction.  ICC-ES needs to have an "Acceptance Criteria" before they can evaluate an innovative project, and getting one can be tedious and expensive.

I have seen it take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of effort to test a new product, get an acceptance criteria written, and then get an ICC-ES report. But that is only the beginning. One still has to get the approval of designers and builders to really have a successful product introduction.

Time-to-approval is often inverse to the cost. One of my clients got an acceptance criteria for a cementitious product in just six months, but only because they had a decade of academic testing and demonstration projects to draw upon, and could afford to hire the very best consultants. But along the way, they determined that winning customer acceptance would cost more and take longer than they had hoped, and decided to not commercialize the technology.


The most recent accomplishment in rapid building in China is getting a lot of press coverage and internet traffic.  "30-story building built in 15 days" is a short, slick video that includes time-lapse photography of a slender, 30-story hotel being erected very quickly.  The video includes a wealth of claims about the efficiency and sustainability of the building, the safety of the construction process, and the speed.

It is a remarkable achievement, as it was designed to be.  The claims bear close scrutiny - the meaning of "20 times more purer air" is not entirely clear, for example – but the basic achievement is still impressive.  In fact, one almost suspects that the projects was designed more for the impression than anything else.

The video subtly implies that the 15 days of erection is the same thing as 15 days of construction.  Prefabricated floor sections are seen being built, shipped, and installed, but that was almost certainly not the case.   

What the editing eliminates is the foundation which must have taken a number of days if not weeks to excavate and pour, not to mention 28 days (hopefully) to cure before the video begins.  It also eliminates the prefabrication time, which was doubtless considerable.

In a way, it's a pity they left out most of the pre-fabrication process.  It may be the most interesting aspect of this project.  One of its best lessons from the project is the power of pre-fabrication

Green Product references now cross-referenced

ICC-ES Environmental Reports now references GreenFormat, news that affects building product companies competing on the basis of environmental claims.

The ICC-ES Sustainable Attributes Verification and Evaluation (SAVE) program, from International Code Council - Evaluation Service, provides manufacturers with independent verification that their products meet specific sustainability targets defined by codes, standards and green rating systems.

GreenFormat, a program of Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), provides a uniform structure for manufacturers to report the sustainable characteristics of their products.

Collaborating with ICC-ES will increase awareness and use of GreenFormat, particularly with products compliant to the 2012 International Green Construction Code, so that professionals who select building products can make better-informed choices.

Contact Chusid Associates for additional information.

An Earthshaking Opportunity

I felt the earth move last week, even though I was hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. It was a reminder of the near certainty that there will be a major, devastating earthquake in the US in the near future.

We all know that individuals, businesses, and institutions must plan for earthquakes and other disasters, building product manufacturers can also plan ahead.
As the map shows, earthquake (and tsunami) opportunities are not just for the West Coast market. Indeed, faults in the Midwest and near large population centers of the East Coast are more vulnerable to loss of property and life.

Advances in building standards usually occur in response to natural disasters. As scientists, underwriters, and policymakers study the lessons learned from quakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and Japan, more stringent building codes are likely to emerge.

But there is no need for you to wait until then. Now is the time to take a fresh look at your product offering to determine if your products can help create safer buildings. Give me a call if you want to discuss your opportunities; your initial call is always free. I look forward to hearing from you.

Recycling Bone as a Building Material

LEED and other recent environmental initiatives have increased the construction industry's awareness of recycled content in building materials. However, finding alternative uses for industrial "waste" is not a new concept. This is made clear by recent archeological excavations in London that reveal how the bone core of horns were used as masonry units.

After the Romans settled in today’s London, Aldgate surroundings (eastwards from the city wall) were turned into a cemetery. But in the Post-Medieval period, Prescot Street was transformed from an essentially rural situation on the fringe of the City, into a densely populated central district. Among the on-going archaeological excavations at this site, a horn core pit has been discovered, showing the intense industrial activity in the area.
The pit itself consists of a cylindrical void with a perimeter structure built with animal horns as a cheaper alternative to bricks. These kind of industrial memories are often found in areas known for small-scale industry, such as ivory-working, tanning, bell founding and glass making.[...] These pits are sometimes used as soak-aways.” (
Underlying the basement slabs were large deposits of Post-Medieval soils that had been truncated by two large soak-aways and one small, and a horn core pit constructed from the horn cores of long horn cattle. This is significant because ‘horning’ was once an important industry in the area... ‘Horners’ were skilled craftsmen who worked horn from cattle to create a range of artifacts from drinking vessels to buttons, and from panels in lanterns (when sliced very thinly) to tool handles.
The waste from this procedure, the horn core, was not discarded, and was frequently reused as a lining for round pits with vertical sides dug deep into the ground. The horn cores were inter-woven to offer a degree stability to the structure, and the pit was then used for the disposal of domestic waste. They essentially performed the same function as the soak-aways, with waste material being dumped into them so that the waste water would drain away into the natural gravels below, while the remaining solids were broken down over time by bacterial action. (
What would it take to get an ICC-ES Evaluation Report on such a construction material today?

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Free Webcast: Green Product Certifications

Free Webcast
Green Product Certifications: 
Picking Out Green from Greenwash

Brought to you by BuildingGreen Suite

Enter the greenwash-free zone with the webcast that answers your questions on what green labels really mean and which ones to trust.

Wednesday, May 18 | 3 p.m. ET

Register now

What the heck do all these labels mean?
"Green" labels are everywhere today, from your breakfast coffee to every other building product. While there are benefits, if you don't speak the language of labels, certifications, and standards, it's easy to choose a product that appears to be sustainable, but isn't really.

Certifications and standards explained invites you to a certifications extravaganza: a one-hour live webcast packed with key understandings to sort out the green from the greenwash. We'll cover:

The value of "third-party" certifications vs. first- and second-party

What is a label vs. a certification vs. a standard
When does a single vs. a multi-attribute certification matter?
Less well-known but essential certifications for paints, wallboard, carpet, resilient flooring, furniture, wallcoverings, and composite panels
And a lot more.

What should I pay attention to?
In each major product category, some attributes are really important from a health and environmental standpoint, and some are secondary. We'll look at what really matters, and which labels deliver the goods.

You may be hearing more about EPD, LCAs, and other emerging trends. We'll forecast what's ahead, but also be frank with you about what matters today. We'll also tip you off to key tools that you can trust to screen products.

Your questions answered:
Is FSC still the "gold standard" in forestry?
Which emissions certifications really protect our health
Which environmental claims are relevant, and which are subterfuge?
Can you get a green product from a dirty company?

Attendees of this free webcast will receive:
One LEED CE hour
A CE certificate good for other reporting
A free email subscription to the GreenSpec Insights

Register now

Triangle Fire Legacy

March 25, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City that killed 146 workers. This tragic event focused attention on fire safety in construction, and accelerated the acceptance of tighter building codes and life-safety regulations.

The Fire illustrates how disasters are frequently the progenitor of new construction technologies. Reforms sparked by the incident led to mandatory usage of many building products we now take for granted, including:
  • Panic bars on exit doors.
  • Automatic fire sprinklers.
  • Fire alarm systems.
  • Fire-resistant glass at egress paths.
This cause and effect relationship continues: Environmental disasters spawn sustainable construction. Hurricanes bring demands for airborne missile testing of wall systems. And floods inundate us with innovation.

The only way to redeem a tragedy is to learn from it.

Building Codes Save Lives

Innovative building product manufacturers must frequently deal with expensive frustrating building code agencies and local enforcement jurisdictions. Yet the process of creating and enforcing standards helps to save lives and reduce property damage.

This was borne out by the recent earthquakes in Japan, as this dramatic video of swaying buildings testifies:

We must also recognize the ingenuity of the design and construction industry that strives learn from our failures to create safer structures.

Making Roadblocks into Stepping-Stones

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote almost 20 years ago. Code issues continue to be part of the building product marketing. The challenges today may be even greater since issues like building sustainability have added new requirements to the codes.

Codes and regulations may seem like hurdles to marketers, but they also present opportunities

I'm putting together a business plan for a new building material. What sort of approvals do I need from the building codes and other regulatory agencies, and how do these approvals affect the introduction of a new building product?- C.V., consultant

All marketers must understand the regulatory environment their products compete in. For building materials makers, this means working within the complex framework of regulations, standards, certifications, and the testing labs and other agencies that govern the way we build.

Most companies first encounter building codes and other regulatory agencies when they are told, "Your product can't be used on this project. It's not approved." You are correct to be looking at the necessary approvals as part of your marketing plan. With foresight, the approval process can be a stepping-stone rather than a roadblock to market penetration.

Take the approval process seriously. Without approval, your product may be considerably less attractive to specifiers and builders and may, in effect, even be banned.

If customers want to use your non-approved product, they may literally have to fight city hall. You'll be asked to send a technical expert to present the case for your product to code officials. But even with your support, few architects or contractors will be strongly' committed to your product. Most designers will stick with approved products.

Money and time
Building material testing and certification by independent laboratories, required for code compliance, can be costly. Underwriter's Laboratories, one of the most widely used, conducts fire and structural testing. Although UL is a not-for-profit corporation, it does charge for testing.

Trade associations, which are also nonprofit organizations, also certify products-for a fee. The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), for example, certifies the performance of aluminum windows, for a price. Many associations also require annual fees to maintain listings in their directories of approved products and to inspect manufacturing plants.

The approval process also takes time. Not only is the approval process bureaucratic and slow-moving, but also regional code differences and lack of coordination among various agencies may require you to duplicate efforts in each part of the country. Code enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of local building departments, so you can count on traveling to obtain local approval. As one foreign manufacturer told me, "The United States isn't the one big market we thought it would be. Each region, state, and even city seems to have their own codes and standards, with no thought at all for coordination."

Though burdensome, the approval process can create marketing opportunities, especially when new code requirements are introduced.  For example, when the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act required tactile markings in pavement to warn the visually disabled of possible hazards, many manufacturers developed new products to satisfy the code change. Similarly, recent hurricanes led to tightening of codes and created demand for new structural materials and more wind-resistant roof and wall systems.

The drive to overcome code limitations also can be a great incentive for new  product development. Building codes, for example, place severe performance requirements on glass used in fire-rated doors. For years, only small panels of wire-reinforced glass could be used. But in the past decade, a proliferation of new technologies have satisfied code requirements with larger panes of glass. Without  the code-imposed limitations, the new technologies would have had a hard time getting established. The reason? The lure of safer buildings does not seem to motivate builders as much as the thrill of getting around a building code restriction.

Markets, too, can develop as a result of building regulations.Water repellents for concrete and masonry languished for years because various manufacturers' conflicting claims made all their claims suspect. After a standardized test procedure enabled specifiers to evaluate competing products with greater confidence, the demand for water repellents grew dramatically.

Getting code approval or certification can help a new manufacturer enter product areas dominated by established technologies. The code or standard establishes a threshold of product performance, and if a new product meets the criteria, it is more readily accepted by architects and builders. This can level the playing field between established brands and new ones.

While it can be difficult and time consuming to accomplish, some manufacturers have managed to get codes and standards rewritten to their advantage or to position them in the market. For example, Pennwalt Corp., maker of Kynar resins used in coatings for metal wall panels, got AAMA to issue a new standard for high-performance organic coatings for metal. Whenever architects specified this standard, they were--perhaps without knowing it--specifying Pennwalt's product because, for decades, only Kynar-based products could meet the standard. As a result, Pennwalt received the cachet of a high-performance coating and was able to hide a sole source proprietary specification behind an industry standard. This helped the company get government jobs, where there is often reluctance toward using single source specifications.

It may help to think of approvals and certifications as part of your marketing communications program. Extensive documentation of your approvals can be a major competitive advantage in such code-sensitive product areas as fire-stopping.

Even the expense of going through the code approval process can work in a manufacturer's favor, as demonstrated by a recent controversy in the steel door industry. Several industry players wanted to change the standard to test fire doors under positive air pressure instead of neutral air pressure, saying it would lead to safer building construction. Others argued that the existing standards were adequate to protect lives and property. Though unstated, the millions of dollars it would cost manufacturers to retest and redesign their doors was also a consideration. A code change would benefit only firms that could afford the retesting and redesign.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1996

Flood-Resistance Research

More about the growing need for flood-resistant building products:

If you wanted to design a more flood-resistant building, there is little data on the forces created by surging water in buildings. An Australian scientist, Richard Brown, took advantage of the recent floods there to instrument a building. Among key findings:
  • Debris carried along by the water acts like battering rams.
  • Speed of water flow can vary rapidly. Flows of 0.3 m per second – a rate at which an average person can still stand up – could change within 40 seconds 1.8 m per second, Richard says.
  • Smooth floors offered no resistance or interruption to the flow.
The investigator says "this sort of information will assist architects and designers to build safer buildings with railings, places of refuge or ways to slow water flow," We add that it can also benefit product manufacturers.  More info.

Flood Resistant Products

I have written recently about the growing opportunities for flood-resistant building products. Here is an exciting new product that addresses this need:
The High Tide Escape Hatch can be installed between roof rafters, and opens easily to allow people to escape through their roof. For anyone building in a low laying area, it has now become irresponsible to not provide this type of egress.

What new products will you introduce to address the concerns about flooding?

"Atmospheric Rivers" and Architecture

Q. What would happen in California if it rained for 40 days and 40 nights?

A. Massive flooding, landslides, and devastation exceeding that of the largest earthquakes predicted in the state.

This is not an idle concern. Such a storm occurred in 1861-1862 producing massive damage and bankrupting the state. And similar but smaller events have happened since then.

Relatively new scientific models say these storms are the result of "Atmospheric Rivers" that transport tropical moisture across the Pacific and throw it at the US West Coast with "firehose-like ferocity," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What will this mean to building construction once regulators, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders start factoring these risks into equations?

Along the Eastern Sea Board and the Gulf Coast, and near major rivers in the Midwest, flood resistant construction is already of concerns, and hurricane resistance is already required in South Florida and other vulnerable jurisdictions. In the decades to come, flood-resistant architecture is likely to become an even more significant factor in design and construction, and to become a factor in areas not previously thought of as flood-prone.

Flooding from atmospheric rivers is likely to be conflated with flooding predicted to accompany climate change, including: inundation of coastal areas, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms. Katrina and recent flooding in Australia suggests the potential scale of the widespread damage that may occur, and emergency management agencies and other regulatory bodies are starting to take note.

This focus on flooding is ironic, because another significant trend in architecture is increased emphasis on water conservation, and severe water shortages are prognosticated in many parts of the world as a consequence of climate change. 

As public concerns about atmospheric rivers grows, possible impacts on construction and building products include:
  • The risks of flooding, landslides, or other flood-related damage will lead to new restrictions against building on vulnerable sites.
  • New engineering standard will be required for paving, foundations, and anything constructed on the ground to strengthen structures against supersaturation of soils.
  • Pipelines will have to be designed to resist buoyancy, and other utilities to resist damage due to excessive water pressure.
  • Building envelopes will be required to have increased resistance to wind-driven rain.
  • Demands on below grade waterproofing will be increased.
  • Flood barriers will receive increased consideration to prevent flooding water from entering buildings.
  • Structural designs will consider storm surge-resistance, even in areas not in traditional flood plains.
  • Demand will increase for building materials that will resist water damage and the mold that can grow on wet materials.
  • Increased construction on stilts will create opportunities for new types of framing systems, soffits, and ways to deliver services into elevated structures.
  • More construction on landfill.
  • Et cetera.
There may also be new opportunities for companies or organizations that pre-position materials and systems for rapid deployment after a disaster.

Without trying to be macabre, some building product manufactures may see a silver lining inside these storm clouds. I encourage you to join what is almost sure to be a national discussion about these risks, and to give them consideration in your long-term marketing strategy.

Australia, reeling from massive floods in 2011 and recent years, is already considering moves like those listed above.
Consider this report, for example,
THIS is a Gold Coast developer's possible solution to Queensland's flooding problem -- mini-suburbs on stilts.

Communities on concrete pylons -- roads, houses and all -- could be the way of the future, with Premier Anna Bligh saying the State Government will consider houses on stilts as way to stop homes going under in a flood.

The Gold Coast could be home to one of the first ''suburbs on stilts'' after a court cleared the way for a Merrimac development late last year.

Comments Wanted for New Building Standards

ACI and USGBC both have drafts of their new standards available, and are looking for public comment now through mid-January.

  • The US Green Building Council is taking comments through Jan. 14 for the draft update to the LEED green-building rating system.
  • The American Concrete Institute is taking comments through Jan. 17 on the 2011 update of ACI 318, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and Commentary.


Fire Safety is now a Green Issue

My associate, Aaron Chusid, is fond of saying: "The green building movement is over; it won. We don't talk about a 'fire-safe building movement' anymore because fire-resistive design has become a regular part of construction. We have to start discussing sustainable design in the same way."

Aaron's insights may be a bit premature, because a new report by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) makes it clear that fire safety is also a green building issue.

Their report, titled Fire Safety and Green Buildings - Bridging the Gap is a free download. I recommend it as required reading for all building product marketing executives during their midwinter break. It is chock-full of issues and challenges to inspire fresh marketing strategies for the new year.

It points out that a single-attribute approach to sustainable product selection can produce unintended fire hazards. For example:
  • Engineered wood systems may make efficient use of forest resources, but they may not provide the same fire safety.
  • Photovoltaic panels on a roof provide renewable energy, but they can be a hazard to fire fighters.
  • Some insulations with excellent thermal resistance also generate smoke that  hinders fire fighting.
  • Vegetative roofs have lots of environmental advantages, but shouldn't prevent fire department access.
Reading this report may help you identify threats or opportunities in the changing marketplace. One of Chusid Associates' clients, for example, is launching a new marketing initiative stimulated by the report. Their door opener is that the NASFM has raised concerns about the fire safety of products in its niche. This prepares the way for demonstrating that the firm has already solved the problem, allowing its customers to be both green and fire safe.

Environmental Risks Not Immediately Apparent

Manufacturers often rush to launch new products, hoping to gain a competitive edge. Yet the environmental risks of a new material or technology are not always apparent until the product has been on sale for a period. This is a problem even in industries such as pharmaceuticals in which products must undergo extensive testing and regulatory review for both effectiveness and safety.

It is an even bigger risk in the construction products industry. New building products may require testing to demonstrate certain aspects of safety -- such as fire resistance -- in order to comply with building codes. Yet there are not industry-wide  protocols for testing the environmental impact of a product, nor regulations mandating prior approval before marketing.

A case in point is nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide. The material has impressive potential for reducing airborne pollutants and making concrete self-cleaning. A marketing director promoting the product once assured me the compound is inert, and saw no reason to delay the product's introduction until it could be tested for impact on ecosystems. When he boosted that he could eat a spoonful without ill effects, I responded, "Yes, but you are not a coral polyp."

Now, new research suggests my concern was not unwarranted:

According to a new Northeastern University study, titanium dioxide nanoparticles (nTiO2) can disrupt photosynthetic organisms vital to aquatic ecosystems. Long used in paints, coatings, cement, and tile to create bright white coloring, titanium dioxide is now used in nanoparticle form in cosmetics, sunscreens, food coloring, and even building products, particularly white concrete products that are claimed to clean the air.

April Gu, Carla Cherchi, and other environmental engineers studied how nTiO2 affects one blue-green algae organism that contributes to aquatic nitrogen and carbon cycles. The researchers found that algae growth was reduced by 90 percent and nitrogen fixation activity was diminished when the organisms were exposed to nTiO2 at levels similar to those found in wastewater. Effects increased with exposure time and nTiO2 concentrations. The laboratory study did not evaluate the effect of titanium nanoparticles in the environment, or whether such particles are released from common products. For more information visit
Elsewhere, I have suggested prudent measures that can be taken to use TiO2 in building products, even while further environmental safety research is being conducted. The point of this post is to urge all members of the construction industry to proceed with caution when investigating new materials that have not been rigorously tested for environmental safety.

Cutting out Cut Sheet? Don't hold your breath.

The National Institute of Building Sciences has issued a press release claiming that "it won't be long until product specification sheets are a thing of the past" thanks to the Specifiers’ Properties information exchange, (SPie), a new digitized information exchange is being developed. My response: Don't hold your breath.

Proprietary product data sheets will continue to be required for as far as I can see into the future. I offer five reasons why this will take so long:
  1. Consensus standards always take a long time to develop. 
  2. The user-interfaces (BIM systems and mobile platforms, for example) will continue to change faster than the consensus standards can be implemented.
  3. Retraining an industry takes decades, even generations.
  4. Consensus standards work by defining minimum requirements, but designers, code bodies, and other industry forces constantly create new requirements that go beyond the minimum.
  5. Unless you manufacture a commodity product, you will want to compete on unique features and benefits that are not expressed in a standardized database.
I wish NIBS and their collaborators well, and will do what I can to support their effort as a worthwhile research project. But I remember when NIBS was saying that the construction industry's conversion to metric was eminent.

Here is the full text of their press release:
Cutting out the Cut Sheet? SPie Streamlines the Product Specification and Selection Process

It won’t be long until product specification sheets are a thing of the past. A new, easier way to select products, the Specifiers’ Properties information exchange (SPie), is helping manufacturers to deliver product information to specifiers and designers in an easy-to-compare, digital format. Specifiers and designers can witness a free demonstration of how SPie works on December 6 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm, during the National Institute of Building Sciences Annual Meeting, held in conjunction with Ecobuild America in Washington, D.C.

“Establishing a consistent definition and use of materials, products, equipment and assemblies is vital to the exchange of building information,” said Nicholas Nisbet, director of AEC3 UK Ltd., who is assisting the Institute and industry trade associations to implement the SPie standard. “We’re working with trade associations to define the minimum properties for their members’ products so that designers and specifiers can compare product information directly against their requirements.”

The demonstrations in December will show how adopting the SPie standard can improve the specification/selection process as well as other downstream processes, such as:
  • Lighting fixture specification and selection using standard specification software, allowing for the option of electronic purchasing,
  • Electrical elements, including operation and maintenance (O&M) methods,
  • Wall products and the impact of standard naming on quantity take-off (QTO) and estimating, and
  • Cabinetry specification and the processing of submittals.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), the Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP), and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) are spearheading the SPie project. Manufacturers and manufacturing associations, including the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industries (AWCI), the Woodwork Institute (WI), the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada (AWMAC) are active participants. During the December 6 demonstration, several industry associations will show how they are implementing the SPie standards and illustrate how SPie can extend into electronic purchasing, O&M, QTO and submittals.

“The focus of NEMA and its partner IDEA is to facilitate matching specific needs of building owners and designers to specific products in the marketplace. First, for the electrical industry. But, given the flexibility of the NEMA/IDEA solution, to those in other industries as well,” said Jim Lewis, NEMA’s manager for high performance buildings. “Working in conjunction with the National Institute of Building Sciences and other organizations on the SPie initiative, we are looking forward to presenting our joint contribution to the next-generation of building information modeling (BIM) solutions on December 6th.”

SPie extends and cross references the OmniClass™ product and properties tables. It applies the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard, which is already widely used for data sharing in building information modeling (BIM), to product specifications data.

To register for the free SPie demonstration, visit, select the “Exhibits and Keynotes Pass,” and enter promotion code NIBSIE to waive the fee.

Utilities to use Amazon business model?

Could the power company start selling electricity the same way Amazon sells e-books? Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, thinks they could.

, writing for, explains:
It sounds like the idea would be to sell an energy efficient device (like a smart fridge) via a utility and then sell discounted services or even electricity bundled into that device. The idea conjures up images of the utility as part retailer, part energy management provider, and at the end of the day owning the relationship with the customer. 
As Fehrenbacher points out, such a change would be a long time coming, and faces many challenges beyond the regulation changes that would be needed. Many utilities may even decide selling low-energy appliances is not in their best interest. Still, it seems an interesting inversion of the typical appliance/building system business model.