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.

Green Certifications Continue to Grow

The General Services Administration (GSA) released its review of the Green Building Certification Systems. Three certification systems passed GSA screening criteria: Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes, U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and the International Living Building Challenge.

Five years ago, only LEED passed the screening process. In its most recent review, GSA determined Green Globes best advanced federal policies in new buildings and recommended LEED for existing buildings. (From Environmental Building & Design)
Marketing the sustainability of your building products keeps getting more complicated. A few years ago, it was sufficient for many manufacturers to identify how their products contributed to LEED credits. Now, there are multiple LEED programs and each of them have an increased number of possible credits.

As indicated above, one now has to as understand Green Globes and the Living Building Challenge to pursue Government work. And this is on top of the new International Green Construction CodeISO 14000 certifications, and a multitude of product certification programs.

Perhaps they green certification programs are like the natural systems they strive to protect; they keep growing. Sometimes it feels like you need a weed whacker to blaze a path through them. But if you account for them in your strategic plan and marketing strategy, green certification programs can also act as fertilizer to support the growth of your business.

Product Declarations

This cartoon reminds us of the growing call for building product manufacturers to disclose the composition of their products.  One of my clients is in the process of contacting all its raw material suppliers to find out if the ingredients include any Red Listed components.

Image courtesy of www.lab-initio.com.

LEED 2012 Comment Period Opens Thursday March 1

LEED 2012 is in the final stages of development.  The third draft is being opened for public comment starting Thursday, March 1 through March 20.  If you want to comment, you must be a USGBC member in good standing as of March 1.

According to the LEED 2012 Development page, "This third draft of the rating system is focused on providing a simple-to-use, technically advanced and more robust system. Once the comment period process concludes, LEED 2012 will be balloted this June and launch in November. "

If you want to have your say in the shaping of this highly influential sustainability certification system,  now is the time.  If you're not a member in good standing, you'll need to join or re-up by March 1 if you intend to comment.

Do you speak construction?

This blog has previously given the straight-up benefits of CSI Certification for careers in building products. So let me get the message across in a more lighthearted attempt:

When selling in Mexico, it helps to speak the language they hablan there.

     ¿Habla usted de la construcción?

Or to be fluent in Française when making a pitch in Quebec.

     Parlez-vous de la construction?

So if you sell building products, of course you'll want to

     Speak Specifese, the language of specifiers and contractors!

Specifiers and builders, like people everywhere, appreciate it it when you attempt to address them in their native tongue.

Now, you can learn Specifese even if you have never studied a second language before. In fact, many individuals become proficient in Specifese in under three months.

Language immersion classes are forming right now, at Construction Speaking Insiders (CSI) clubs around the country.

Members of the club take pride in their achievement; displaying the initials of the club's slogan,"Communicate, Don't Talk through your hat"* (CDT) after their names.

Impress your friends and family, and even your boss.

But hurry, this opportunity ends at the end of this month.
Act today, and get FREE CDT Study Guide.
Come on!
Do it
*The phrase "talk through your hat" means talking about something without knowing much about it.

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
BuildingGreen.com 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

Green Advantage: Coming to a Job Site Near You

Green Advantage (GA) is filling one of the missing links in sustainable construction. No matter how carefully a project is designed, environmental goals may be compromised if construction crews do not understand principles of sustainability nor how to best manage a jobsite to protect the environment.

To meet this challenge, Green Advantage offers a personnel certification program by which a builder can demonstrate competency in these areas. Chusid Associates is providing marketing and technical support to the organization.

While the Green Advantage program has been gaining adherents since its launch in 1998, I believe it will soon gain critical mass and become part of the construction mainstream. One reason for this optimism is that USGBC has determined that a LEED Innovation Credit can be earned if 30 percent of a project's field supervisory personnel are Green Advantage Certified Practitioners. The Green Advantage Field Personnel Standard can also be embraced by building owners, designers, and contractors that are not pursuing LEED certification.

There are several ways by which building product manufacturers can take advantage of the Green Advantage program:
  • Employees that go onto jobsites can become GA Certified Practitioners. This credential will enhance their professional stature and help establish their credibility.
  • Having GA certified employees reinforces your brand's commitment to sustainable construction.
  • GA certification can also be a criterion in the award of subcontracts since the 30 percent standard also applies to subcontractor personnel that provide services on the jobsite.
Consider getting GA certification for all members of your field crew. Liz Boastfield, Director of Communications at Green Advantage, can help you arrange for training and testing for your organization. Call her at +1 540 822 9449 x105 or email liz@GreenAdvantage.org.

Finally, Green Advantage is a non-profit organization and needs corporate financial support to supplement its income from certifications. Support of the organization can provide PR and other benefits to your company. I encourage you to contact Liz to discuss this opportunity.

Reps who Write Specs can Ring up More Sales

By being able to lend a hand to architects, reps can lose the stigma of "salesman" and be recognized as an integral part of the design team 

This article is an encore of something Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. It remains true today.

Q. Getting our products named in an architect's specifications is an important part of our sales strategy. What would the advantages be if our reps knew how to write specs themselves? And how can they get the training they need? - C.B.F., sales manager

A. Let me answer your first question by relating an experience I had once while working at an architectural firm. 'Joe" was a building product sales representative who carried a roofing system I had never used. He called on me several times to introduce his company and explain the benefits of his product. I became interested in his product, but, like most architects, I couldn't devote the time to research and write a spec for it.

Then one day a storm destroyed the roofs of several local schools. An emergency school board meeting was held and my firm was awarded the contract to design the re-roofing. The next morning, Joe showed up at my office asking how he would help. Since I had a pressing deadline, I asked Joe to write the roofing spec while I assembled the rest of the bid documents. He took a seat in my conference room and several hours later presented me with a well-written specification section.

If Joe had not been able to roll up his sleeves and write an effective spec Tor his product, I would have been pressured by time constraints to use another roof I was already familiar with. Joe's spec was written in the style used by my office, the format recommended by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). It was properly cross-referenced to other specification sections, and it showed an understanding of bidding requirements and the conditions of the construction contract. I was able to put Joe's spec into the project manual with a minimum of editing. And I saved the section in my computer to use as an office master specification.

Joe's spec was written around his company's products, of course. But because the client was a public agency that required competitive bids, Joe named several other suppliers as acceptable substitutes. By spelling out exactly what was required, Joe made sure that his competitors couldn't cut costs by bidding a lower quality product.

In my mind. Joe had ceased to be a roofing salesman and had become my roofing consultant-part of my design team. In this new capacity, he was invited back many times to bid other projects and was able to roof many of my buildings.

Why reps should know specs
While opportunities like this don't happen every day, it demonstrates how important it is for a salesman to understand spec writing. Another roofing salesman might have merely referred me to his technical manual for the specifications. Joe's product may have been no better than the alternatives, but the advantage he had was that he knew the language of the industry and was capable of using it to service a customer.

Sales reps who can help with specs and detailing are a valuable resource. Architects are typically under tremendous time pressures and cannot possibly be expert in all building materials, so they frequently rely on sales reps for assistance. In some trades, such as elevators and door hardware, specification writing is an established part of the sales rep's job. The ability to write specs is also crucial when promoting maintenance projects or other work for which an owner has not retained an architect or consulting engineer.

While it's easy to feel intimidated by 500 pages of project specifications, a rep who understands how specs are organized and prepared is likely to have a greater sense of self-confidence and professionalism. Even if the opportunity to write a section does not arise, these reps will have many chances to suggest specifications or modifications that will improve a building's design or ensure their product is used correctly. By working with the specifier, the rep has a better chance of getting his product's proprietary advantages included in the specification. And his understanding of specs will help him prepare more accurate bids and deliver projects with fewer problems.

Where to learn
I recommend taking one of the introductory classes offered by many CSI chapters or by industry groups such as the National Concrete Masonry Association. Such classes can also be presented as part of a company's sales meetings.

These classes introduce the CSI, Manual of Practice [now called Project Resourse Manual] which describes organization of construction documents, principles of effective spec writing, and CSI's recommended three-part format. The manual's latest edition has chapters on product presentation techniques, product literature, and effective technical assistance. The classes also prepare you to earn CSI's Certified Construction Product Representative designation. (Call 703-684-0300 to order a copy or to get information on classes and certification.)

It also helps to read as many specs as possible, especially the sections that apply to your product. Also, familiarize yourself with bidding requirements and conditions of the construction contract. Keep a reference file of good specifications and sections that address special conditions.

When calling on a new firm, meet the specification writer and find out how he prepares specs. Give him copies of your specs on the type of computer medium he uses. If he has an office master specification, offer to review it for technical accuracy and compliance with the latest standards. The more you know about how the specifier works, the better equipped you'll be to render assistance.

Specification writers will usually respond favorably to your interest. Consider how Joe learned to write specs. As a novice, he would write a specification and then ask experienced specifiers to critique it. He would revise the spec to include their recommendations and then give it to them to use as part of their office master specifications. In addition to helping Joe learn to write specs, this process got the specifiers involved with Joe's product.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid. Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1994

Green Certifications Consolidate

According to Environmental Building News, the number of green product certifications is large and growing--perhaps 100 so far in the U.S. alone. They have published a special report, "Green Building Product Certifications," to provide guidance to someone trying to navigate this web of agencies and labels.

As occurs in most market segments as they mature, small organizations are starting to be consolidated into larger organizations.

Evidence that this is occurring in the sustainable construction field are two recent acquisitions by UL Environment, a division of Underwriters Laboratories

UL announced this week that it acquired Air Quality Sciences and its certifying body, Greenguard Environmental Institute. Their Greenguard label is relied upon as evidence that a product has been tested to meet indoor air quality emission standards. In August 2010, UL acquired Canada’s EcoLogo, one of the oldest eco-labels in the field.

USGBC: Do Not Use "GA" for LEED Green Associate

According to an email from the USGBC Education Provider Network today:
On October 1st, 2010 All USGBC Education Providers must permanently cease to use the term “GA” when referencing USGBC’s LEED Green Associate exam and/or credential in any printed manner or official reference to the exam or credential. The correct terminology is “LEED Green Associate exam” and “LEED Green Associate credential.” These names may not be shortened to “GA,” as this moniker is trademarked by Green Advantage, Inc. [Emphasis added]
I suspect we might see a name change for this credential, as "LEED Green Associate Credential" is quite a mouthful and doesn't fit well on a business card. For now, though, if anyone on your team has or is pursuing this credential, check all your literature, websites, LinkedIn profiles, etc. to be sure you are using the correct terminology.

This is also a good reminder to always be very diligent in your research when naming new products or companies, or developing new corporate language. It is not fun to invest all the time and effort in launching a new name only to have it benefit another company, plus convincing the customers that just adopted the new term to change again. This happened to us last year when we discovered the name we had been using for 25 years for our popular and highly-recognized sales training program had been trademarked by another company 27 years ago.

Do the research up front; save yourself the headache later.

QR News: Surveys, Real Estate, & Certification Programs

QR codes have arrived. While they are still gaining mass recognition and acceptance, they are now used in enough places and creative applications that they will be a "must-use" technology within the next few years. Having opened my eyes to them, I see them everywhere; in the grocery store, on my mail, on billboards, and in industry magazines. Here's two sightings of innovative QR programs:


TwitterMoms QR Code Seal of Approval

The TwitterMoms Seal of Approval is a social media-based guerrilla version of Consumer Reports; 25+ moms evaluate the product, and post their reviews. It uses the high perceived trustworthiness of peer review and word-of-mouth to create a program untainted by "pay-to-play" certifications or "sterile lab conditions" instead of real-world testing.

Sound like something that could exist in the construction world?

The seal now
uses a QR code to link to online information and reviews. As Roger at 2D Codes puts it:
The TwitterMoms Seal of Approval...is using a QR Code to enable users to scan and read detailed ratings and feedback from the TwitterMoms review process. Enabling the reading of comprehensive product reviews at the point of sale combined with the wisdom of the TwitterMoms crowd just has to be good news for consumers.
Again, the value of a program like this in the construction industry would be incredible. Most architects don't think point-of-purchase, but contractors do. And having one-click access on phone or laptop to safety instructions, installation videos, warranty info, and much more would be a huge benefit to them. And architects would still benefit from the reviews, especially those from other architects that have used the product and can give insights the product literature does not. Combined with an online spec writing program, this could become a one-click "Scan here to specify!" Linking the QR code to LEED calculators, GreenFormat listings, or other online databases also fulfills the "Rule Three" criteria of making the content valuable to the user at the moment they scan it. 

QR Code Survey System

Recommendi links QR codes to customer surveys, creating an opportunity for on-the-spot feedback. Their gallery showcases uses in restaurants, posters in store windows, and on invoices and receipts. I am constantly getting receipts at restaurants and stores asking me to call or visit their webpage to take a brief survey; the ones that don't go straight in the trash get used as bookmarks. But using the QR code makes it easier for me to respond in the moment, and more likely that I'll actually take the time.
Where would you want instant feedback from your customer? On the sales literature your rep leaves behind? In your trade show booth? On the customized technical drawings you just sent them? How about user surveys from building occupants, "Scan here to tell us what you think of our lighting!"

Transforming Static "For Sale" Signs

Clikbrix uses QR codes on "For Sale" signs outside properties to link to online information. From their website:
Imagine a house hunter spotting a Clikbrix QR Code on your ‘For Sale’ sign, agency window or any of your printed, promotional materials... from bus shelters to business cards. She simply opens the QR Code reader on her...mobile device...then points and scans to instantly connect to your Mobile-friendly Professional Profile webpage, paired with robust details of the relative property including stunning photos—she also gets the inside story on the neighborhood, from the best schools to hot restaurants, shops and more. The prospective buyer loves what she sees and is delighted she can e-mail the detailed Property Listing page to her friends; she even shares it on Facebook and Twitter.
Point-and-scan access to information about your company on a jobsite sign? That sure sounds valuable, especially when it can be paired with information about how your product is being used on that job, why it was chosen, and an automatically-generated email to your local representative.

Now obviously none of these directly impact construction, or are aimed at building product manufacturers, but they are proof-of-concept about what can be done within our industry. There is a wealth of information about your product online - both pieces you posted and user-generated content. The easier you can make it for architects to access that information, the more confident they will be in using your products.

What innovative uses of QR codes have you seen? Tell us in the comments!

QR Product Certification Marks

The Japan Coolant Material Association has started using QR codes as product certification marks. From an article by QR Code Magazine:
The script across the middle has the association name and the code resolves to a mobile site with the product manufacturer’s details and more information about the product.
No additional information on this yet, as the site is in Japanese and I have not found a translated source.

I like this idea. A common complaint I hear from manufacturers is they spend all this money getting a certification, but no one knows what it means! Granted, if the certifying agency is unknown that might be a warning sign. But considering how many highly specialized certifications are out there, it's entirely reasonable a specifier might not yet know the one your company uses. Making the logo scannable means instant information about the certifying organization, and what exactly certification means.

More than that, the codes are easily customized so instead of scanning to go to the GreenFormat homepage, for example, I could scan to go directly to your product's GreenFormat profile. This would be very useful for specifiers, giving them instant access to very detailed information.

It would also benefit the certifying organization. Many manufacturers misuse, intentionally or not, certifying agencies' logos, implying an endorsement that does not exist. To cite a common example, the USGBC does not certify or endorse products. Many manufacturers, however, claim USGBC or LEED certification for their products. If USGBC integrated a QR code into their logo, it could point to a page explaining this.

How would QR product certification marks help you?

[UPDATE] Corrected the name of the source site from 2d-code to QR Code Magazine.