Guide Specifications for Public Works Projects 

Readers of this blog know that I beat the drum for CSI specification writing format. Yet segments of the US construction market use other formats. In the public works sector, for example, many states, have their own standard specifications for department of transportation (DOT) work.  In the West, many municipalities rely on The "Greenbook" - Standard Specifications for Public Works Construction for paving, pipelines, and other civil engineering projects.

Specifications like these affect more than just the appearance and structure of a project specifications. For example, contractual and administrative requirements and the relationship between drawings (often called "plans" in engineering documents) and specifications may differ from typical "architectural" specifications. Public work specifications also shy away from reference to proprietary products.

If you compete for public works contracts, you may benefit from guide specs tailored to your market. For example, I have recently written guide specifications to help my clients break into Illinois DOT projects and to match Greenbook formats.  Call me to discuss your situation - +1 818 219 4937.

Good Humor

A good joke can lubricate even the toughest situation.

To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

A pastor, a doctor and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer fumed, "What's with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes!" The doctor chimed in, "I don't know, but I've never seen such ineptitude! The pastor said, "Hey, here comes the greenskeeper. Let's have a word with him." "Hi George. Say, what's with that group ahead of us? They're rather slow, aren't they?" The greenskeeper replied, "Oh, yes, that's a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime." The group was silent for a moment. The pastor said, "That's so sad. I think I will say a special prayer for them tonight." The doctor said, "Good idea. And I'm going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if there's anything he can do for them." The engineer said, "Why can't these guys play at night?"

There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multimillion dollar machines. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail. In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge.

He spent a day studying the huge machine. At the end of the day, he marked a small "x" in chalk on a particular component of the machine and stated, "This is where your problem is". The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

The engineer responded briefly:
One chalk mark $1
Knowing where to put it $49,999

It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace.

A Department of Transportation maintenance crew packed up the truck early one morning and drove out to a construction site where they were to work that day. The crew started to unload the gear when one of the workers noticed that they had forgotten the shovels. Panicked, the crew chief called back to the crew supervisor. "We forgot the shovels back at the shop, boss. What are we gonna do?" The supervisor thought a minute and said "stay calm, just lean against each other until we get someone out there with the shovels."

An engineer died and was instantly transported to pearly gates. Saint Peter met the engineer at the gates of Heaven. Peter looked through his records to see if the engineer was listed in "the book" of souls that should go to heaven. Peter looked once, furrowed his brow, looked again and finally said, "I'm sorry, but your name is not on the list. Usually engineers are a cinch to get in to Heaven but since your name is not on the list you'll have to go .... below." The engineer was, of course, disappointed but he took the elevator down to Hell.

A couple weeks later Peter called down to Satan in Hell. "Hello, Satan?" "Yeah, its me, Peter. Whatayawant?" "It is about that engineer I sent down a couple weeks ago." Satan answered, "Oh yeah, that guy was a real find. He's great. He has gotten a heat exchanger working so that it is now a nice comfortable 68 degrees, he has piped in cool running water, he has got a ventilation system going to get rid of that sulfur smell. He made this place into a paradise."

There was silence on the line for a moment and then Peter said "well, we made a mistake. He belongs up here. There was a record keeping glitch but I want you to send him up right away." "No way are we giving this guy up," said Satan, "he is the best thing that ever happened to us down here." Peter responded, "Well that is just too bad, he belongs up here and that is that." Satan, unmoved, said "no can do, Padre -- he is staying here." Peter, exasperated, said "well, if you don't send him up right away, we are going to sue."

The line was quiet for a moment when Satan sneered "where are YOU going to find a lawyer?"

Why Engineers Don't Write Recipe Books
Chocolate Chip Cookies:
1.) 532.35 cm3 gluten
2.) 4.9 cm3 NaHCO3
3.) 4.9 cm3 refined halite
4.) 236.6 cm3 partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
5.) 177.45 cm3 crystalline C12H22O11
6.) 177.45 cm3 unrefined C12H22O11
7.) 4.9 cm3 methyl ether of protocatechuic aldehyde
8.) Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
9.) 473.2 cm3 theobroma cacao
10.) 236.6 cm3 de-encapsulated legume meats (sieve size #10)

To a 2-L jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) with an overall heat transfer coefficient of about 100 Btu/F-ft2-hr, add ingredients one, two and three with constant agitation. In a second 2-L reactor vessel with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, add ingredients four, five, six, and seven until the mixture is homogenous. To reactor #2, add ingredient eight, followed by three equal volumes of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Additionally, add ingredient nine and ten slowly, with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction. Using a screw extrude attached to a #4 nodulizer, place the mixture piece-meal on a 316SS sheet (300 x 600 mm). Heat in a 460K oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank Johnston's first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown. Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 25C heat-transfer table, allowing the product to come to equilibrium.

Five Surgeons
Five surgeons were taking a coffee break and were discussing their work. The first said, "I think accountants are the easiest to operate on. You open them up and everything inside is numbered." The second said, "I think librarians are the easiest to operate on. You open them up and everything inside is in alphabetical order." The Third said, "I like to operate on electricians. You open them up and everything inside is color-coded." The fourth one said, "I like to operate on lawyers. They're heartless, spineless, gutless, and their heads and their butts are interchangeable." Fifth surgeon said, "I like Engineers...they always understand when you have a few parts left over at the end..."

The Balloonist
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet about the ground. You are between 42 and 44 degrees north latitude and between 83 and 85 degrees west longitude."

"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.

"I am," replied the man, "but how did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost."

The man below responded, "You must be a manager."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "how did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are exactly in the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

One morning a contractor called an architectural firm and asked to speak to an architect regarding a particular project.

The receptionist, with a voice full of regret, said, "I'm sorry, sir, but the architect recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site." The contractor stated his condolences and hung up.

About an hour later the same contractor called back and asked to speak to an architect regarding the same project. Again, the receptionist gave the contractor the bad news: "I'm sorry, sir, but the architect recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site." As before, the contractor mumbled his regrets and hung up.

This pattern repeated itself each hour throughout the morning, until, at last, the receptionist recognized the contractor's voice, whereupon she said to him, "Sir, why do you keep calling here when you know I'm going to say the architect has recently died a slow, agonizing death out on a project site?"

The contractor, exploding with long-suppressed maniacal laughter, gasped, "Because I love to hear you say it!" 

Reliability and Safety

A new study suggests that the introduction of verification and checking procedures can improve structural safety and performance. While the article focuses on the role of engineers in assuring successful outcomes, building product manufacturers can apply the same principles by verifying the proper fabrication and installation of their materials and systems.

A reviewer has this to say about the study:
Engineer Franz Knoll of Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Ltd., based in Montreal, Quebec, writing in the International Journal of Reliability and Safety explains that faults and flaws in any industrial product almost always originate from human error, through lack of attention, communication, or competence.

Knoll points out that scientific testing and analysis are increasingly removing doubt as to what is to blame for problems and errors that arise. Natural events can be quantified and the probabilities of their occurrence predicted. While early-warning systems for earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunami and volcanic activity are in place, it is often human shortcomings that lead to the worst outcomes during and after such events.

When it comes to the construction of buildings and bridges, human failings are often most apparent. As Knoll says, in the construction industry, human shortcomings trickle so that inferiority ultimately leaks from the bottom, as workers endeavor to comply with strict budgets under pressure to perform well.

"In the pursuit of quality in building in the sense of an absence of serious flaws, a targeted strategy for the apprehension and correction of human errors is of the essence," Knoll says. In this context an absolute requirement is that at critical stages during construction, highly qualified and experienced engineers must attend to the task of checking for mistakes so that problems are not buried in concrete or plastered over only to resurface later. Such personnel being in short supply would suggest that directing them towards the details that matter, rather than encumbering them with administrative chores would be appropriate.
More information: "Of reality, quality and Murphy's law: strategies for eliminating human error and mitigating its effects" in Int. J. Reliability and Safety, 2012, 6, 3-14

You have got to be kidding!

A sense of humor is a great asset for a building product sales rep. A good joke can help thaw a cold prospect, defuse a tense negotiation, and salve your wounds.

I have found an excellent trove of jokes about engineers at Most of them work just as well if you exchange "architect" or "contractor" for "engineer."

Here are a few examples that I hope you enjoy:

A New Element Discovered!
A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. This new element has been tentatively named "Administratium."

Administratium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 111 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by a force called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Administratium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Administratium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.

Administratium has a normal half-life of three years; it does not decay but instead undergoes reorganization. In fact, Administratium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization causes some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Administratium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "critical morass." You will know it when you see it...

An enthusiastic but somewhat unscrupulous salesman was waiting to see the purchasing agent of an engineering firm. The salesman was there to submit his company's bid, or price quote, for a particular job. He couldn't help but notice, however, that a competitor's bid was on the purchasing agent's desk. Unfortunately, the actual figure was covered by a juice can.

The temptation to see the amount quoted became too much, and the salesman reached over and lifted the can. His heart sank as he watched thousands of BB pellets pour from the bottomless can and scatter across the floor.

How to Find the Height of a Building
An engineering student, a Physics student, and a Mathematics student were each given $150 and were told to use the money to find out exactly how tall a particular hotel was.

All three ran off, extremely keen on how to do this. The Physics student went out, purchased some stopwatches, a number of ball bearings, a calculator, and got some friends. He had them all time the drop of ball bearings from the roof, and he then figured out the height from the time it took for the bearings to accelerate from rest until they impacted with the sidewalk.

The Math student waited until the sun was going down, then she took out her protractor, plumb line, measuring tape, and scratch pad, measured the length of the shadow, found the angle the building's roof made from the ground, and used trigonometry to figure out the height of the building.

These two students bumped into the Engineering student the next day, who was nursing a really bad hangover. When asked what he did to find the height of the building he replied: "Well, I walked up to the bell hop, gave him 10 bucks, asked him how tall the hotel was, and hit the bar inside for happy hour!"

Not Obsolete Yet...
John was well respected for his engineering knowledge. When a new computer system was put in to help with the engineering duties, the brass at the company was given a demonstration of the new systems abilities. To give the computer as test, the brass asked the computer a solve a difficult engineering equation. The computer promptly responded back with the perfect answer, "Ask John."

Building a Fence
An engineer, a physicist and a mathematicians have to build a fence around a flock of sheep, using as little material as possible.

The engineer forms the flock into a circular shape and constructs a fence around it.

The physicist builds a fence with an infinite diameter and pulls it together until it fits around the flock.

The mathematicians thinks for a while, then builds a fence around himself and defines himself as being outside.

Arguing with an Engineer
Arguing with an engineer is a lot like wrestling in the mud with a pig. After a few hours, you realize that he likes it.

Common Sense

During the heat of the space race in the 1960's, NASA decided it needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules.

After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth.

The Soviet Union, when faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

The Guillotine
Three men are sentenced to death for various crimes against a mythical and oppressive state. One is a priest, another is a drunkard and the third is an engineer.

The first to face the executioner is the priest. When asked if he wanted to lie face down or face up on the guillotine, he said, "I'll lie face up! I have nothing to fear. The Lord is on my side!" So he lay on his back and faced the razor-sharp blade. When it was released, the blade fell half way and stopped. The executioner exclaimed, "This must be divine intervention. You are pardoned, and you may leave."

The next was the drunkard. When asked the same question, he chose to lie face up like the priest, saying, "I'm a drunk, not an idiot!" So he lay on his back too, facing the sharp blade as the sun glinted off its keen edge. Again, the blade fell only half way and stopped. The executioner exclaimed, "The Lord is generous today. You are pardoned, and you may also leave."

Finally, it was time for the engineer. He also chose to lie on his back. After all, it seemed that was the lucky thing to do that day. He lay on his back looking up at the heavy blade tensing against the rope. Just before the blade was let loose, he shouted, "Wait! I think I see the problem!"

Efficiency Expert
The efficiency expert concluded his lecture with a note of caution. "You don't want to try these techniques at home."

"Why not?" asked someone from the back of the audience.

"I watched my wife's routine at breakfast for years," the expert explained.

"She made lots of trips to the refrigerator, stove, table and cabinets, often carrying just a single item at a time. 'Hon,' I suggested, 'Why don't you try carrying several things at once?'"

The voice from the back asked, "Did it save time?"

The expert replied, "Actually, yes. It used to take her 20 minutes to get breakfast ready. Now I do it in seven."

The next one lets the engineer be the hero, and give marketing consultants like Chusid Associates a once-over.

Sales and Marketing Experts
A group of Sales and Marketing experts were given the assignment of measuring the height of a flagpole. Wearing suits and ties, they marched out to the flagpole with their ladders and tape measures, falling all over themselves to get an accurate reading.

An Engineer comes along and sees what they're trying to do. He walks over, pulls the flagpole out of the ground, lays it flat on the ground, measures it from end to end, gives the measurement to one of the so-called experts, puts the pole back vertically into its slot in the ground and walks away.

After the Engineer has gone, the sales guy turns to a marketing guy and laughs. "Isn't that just like an Engineer?" he says. "We're looking for the height, and he gives us the length!"

Add your favorite joke in the comments, below.

Cost to Correct Errors in Construction Documents

This graph illustrates that the cost of correcting defects in design and specifications can quickly escalate if not mitigated early in a project.

For building product manufacturers, this suggests the benefits of having a proactive sales force during a project's design phase, and of reviewing bidding documents carefully prior to entering into a contract. If you can help an architect, engineer, or other specifier to use your product correctly during the design phase, there will be less economic risk during construction.

Graph is from "Using Spec Writers Properly" by Derek B. McCowan, PE in the June 2010 issue of Consulting-Specifying Engineer.

Engineering Design and Its Relationship to Product Liability

Guest post from Mark Pasamaneck, PE 
In this article, I will explore the relationship between the engineeringdesign process and the failure of a plumbing component as it
relates to product liability.
     In the litigious society in which we live, everyone connected to
the life-cycle of a plumbing component should be concerned with
its long-term suitability as it exists in any plumbing system. As an
engineer or designer of a plumbing component, you should have
a desire to go beyond just limiting liability. As described in the
codes and most engineering ethics documents, a designer must be
concerned with protecting the people and property exposed to his
design from seen or unseen damage and hazards.

While the political, social, and legal reasons are beyond the
scope of this article, the decade of the 1970s was largely considered
the decade of safety awareness. While a few federal
acts were aimed at safety in the 1950s, the majority of the
safety acts in use today were developed in the late 1960s and
first published in the 1970s, including the Consumer Product
Safety Act of 1972. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975
gave broad powers to the Federal Trade Commission regarding
product warranties.
     Of particular interest to the plumbing community is that
the majority of the plumbing components in use today were
conceived of and designed well before the 1970s. Many manufacturers
have never evaluated their components or designs in
light of the safety acts and standards implemented in the 1970s
and after. While the building codes commonly grandfather in
outdated technologies, there is no such provision for an old
product design that was produced in the modern era. It is also
obvious that courts have held that the “product” for which a
designer or producer is responsible includes such items as the
warranty, instructions, packaging, labels, and warnings (note:
not an all-inclusive list).

While the topic of engineering design in general would take many
articles, this discussion on product liability requires an overview of
the engineering design process. The design process commonly is
called iterative since it is very rare that an idea can go through the
steps of concept to finished product without changes. The design
process outlined below is considered the standard in all types of
industry. While many more steps may be encountered in a complex
part or system, the following serves to define the general steps
useful in the design iteration. This process also incorporates the
cradle-to-grave responsibility of the designer and manufacturer.

1. Define the function of the product within a system or as a
stand alone.
• If the product is itself a system, define each subsystem and
initiate an independent design iteration until each component
is uniquely defined.
• If the product is within a system, define system parameters
and environments in which the product will operate.
2. Identify prior designs that may assist or preclude (patents)
the design process.
3. Identify all laws, codes, or standards that apply to
the product or system.
4. Brainstorm possible design concepts.
5. Remove concepts that are not viable due to manufacturability,
regulations, cost, hazards, complexity, integration,
functionality, or aesthetics.
6. Choose a design concept.
7. Create the design using accepted design practices applicable
to the field of interest. These will necessarily include
factors of safety, dynamic loads, static loads, wear, compatibility,
environment of use, durability, cost issues, and
materials (suitability, durability, strength, degradation,
fabrication, identification of failure modes, and predictable
failure locations).
8. Evaluate functionality: geometry, motion, size, complexity,
and ergonomics.
9. Evaluate safety: operational, human, environmental, and
failure analysis.
10. Evaluate energy: requirements, created, kinematic, thermodynamic,
and chemical.
11. Evaluate quality: marketability, longevity, aesthetics, and
12. Evaluate manufacturability: available processes and new
13. Evaluate environmental aspects: materials, fluids,
wastes, interactions, phase changes, flammability,
and toxicology.
14. Iterate the design. (Redo steps 7 through 13 based on
the analysis.)
15. Lay out the design.
16. Obtain manufacturing criteria.
17. Create a prototype and test (optional).
18. Create the product.
19. Test the product.
20. Reiterate through the entire design process based on
testing and analysis.
21. Produce the product. Some changes may occur, but they
should not impact the actual design.
22. Perform quality control, which is used to evaluate the
compliance of the produced product with the design.
23. Deliver the product. Packaging, labeling, instructions,
and warnings are included in this step, but they also
must be considered throughout the process.
24. Consumers use the product. The producer must consider
the environment of intended use as well as anticipated or
probable misuse of the product. These must be addressed
appropriately throughout the design process.
25. Dispose of product. The end of use must be considered
by the designers. Fail-safe designs should be incorporated,
and any hazards associated with disposal and/or failure
must be addressed appropriately as well.

Steps 7, 8, 9, and 19 are where a defect or hazard (such as that
shown in Figure 1) should be detected in most cases. When
detected, the question must be answered as to whether the
defect or hazard was foreseeable or unreasonably dangerous.
If it was, the commonly held approach in the engineering community
to solve the problem is known as the safety hierarchy.
This process is based on sound engineering principles coupled
with economic considerations and human factors. The first
reasonable item in the hierarchy must be utilized, and skipping
steps is not appropriate.
The steps are as follows:
1. Design it out.
2. Guard it out.
3. Train it out.
4. Warn it out.
5. Don’t make it.
    The hierarchy is intended to evaluate if the problem can be
corrected by engineering measures. However, those measures
also can be evaluated in and of themselves. For example, were the
warnings understandable, sufficiently broad, or used as a substitute
for design or guarding?
    The design process and the safety hierarchy outlined above
almost always include other sub-processes and evaluation techniques.
Severity indices, fault trees, failure mode and effect analysis
(FMEA), root cause analysis, and design checklists all are tools
that if sufficiently designed and used within the design process
will aid the designer in his goal to make a safer product.

When product liability theories are evaluated, three general areas
are considered.
1. Design defect:
• Was the product designed to do the job based on the reasonable
expectation of a consumer, without undue risk?
• Was it designed for the environment of intended use?
• Was the design properly engineered and tested?
2. Manufacturing defect: Despite a sufficient design, was there a
flaw in the:
• Processing?
• Assembly?
• Raw materials?
3. Warning defect: Did the manufacturer fail to properly advise
• Assembly?
• Use and maintenance?
• Hazards?

Hopefully, if you have made it this far, you now are asking yourself
how you can improve your products to both reduce liability and
improve safety. Much of the general information on design is
contained herein, but a more in-depth understanding obviously
would be beneficial for the designer.
    Let’s look at design defects first. It is important to document
what sources of information were used or considered in the design
process of a component. The specific issues for the plumbing component
designer that account for a large number of design-related
defects are related to stress concentrations and material selection.
ASPE publishes the Plumbing Engineering Design Handbook,
and Volume 4 covers plumbing components and equipment. I
have utilized this reference for years to illustrate what a designer
“should” have included in a design. While a lot of good information
is available online, if you use it in a design, be sure to properly
record and document the source. Materials, machinery, and
design handbooks are prevalent and should be sourced for relevant
design information. One of the various texts on design and
product liability (see Figure 2) also should be included. One of the
best for a general understanding is Managing Engineering Design
by Hales and Gooch.
    Manufacturing defects come in two main areas: assembly
and cast/mold defects. This is an area that the designer typically
cannot control, but can influence. Some issues of quality control
and tolerances have to be determined within the design, and
others will be left to the assembly workers, a quality control (QC)
department, or line design. When it comes to casting and mold
defects, those processes should be considered and properly speci-
fied in the design. Then a QC program to ensure compliance must
be implemented (see Figure 3).
    The third area is related to warnings. Step 3 of the safety hierarchy
would be evaluated in this step as instructions for installation
and maintenance (training). It is the responsibility of the
design engineer and producing company to ensure that a product
brought to market is reasonably safe and suitable for the environment
of its intended use. A product subject to degradation,
corrosion, catastrophic failure, or other risk of damage to people
or property should adequately warn of the risk or danger if there
was no other reasonable way to eliminate the risk or failure mode.
The product instructions might address, but not be limited to,
warnings, providing maintenance instructions, and warning of the
consequences of failing to heed the instructions.
    The design of warnings should follow American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) standards regarding the identification and
warning against potential safety hazards. In 1979, the ANSI Z53
Committee of Safety Colors was combined with the Z35 Committee
on Safety Signs to form the Z535 Committee, which develops
the standards that must be used to design warnings, labels, and
instructions intended to identify and warn against hazards and
prevent accidents. The relevant standards for products are:
• ANSI Z535.4: Product Safety Signs and Labels
• ANSI Z535.6: Product Safety Information in Product Manuals,
Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials

    For a warning to be effective, there must be a reasonable degree
of certainty that the end user will receive and understand the
warning (see Figure 4). The use of warnings also must follow the
safety hierarchy. Since warnings are the fourth step, available
design alternatives must be considered in the design process.
Guarding out of a hazard and subsequent training must be undertaken
before warnings can reasonably be considered or designed.
    Our society, as stated in the various plumbing codes, relies on
the engineer, designer, and manufacturer to produce products that
are safe and durable. Society also recognizes and accepts some
level of risk, provided that they know about it beforehand and that
companies must be economically viable to survive. Don’t shirk your
responsibility to the public, your profession, yourself, or your company
by producing a product based on an insufficient design.

This article was reprinted with permission and all copyright remains with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

ICC Call for Increased Seismic Protection in Midwest will Create New Market

The International Code Conference (ICC) has issued a statement calling for stricter enforcement in the Midwest of building code requirements for seismic resistance. Their press release reads, in part:
In the past few months, we all looked on in dismay and profound sadness as we read and heard the news about earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The differences between lives lost and property damage from earthquakes are unequivocally related to the enforcement, or lack of enforcement, of building safety codes.  Chile’s quake was a 8.8 magnitude, 500 times more powerful than the earthquake that hit Haiti but its toll in both lives lost and property damage was nowhere near as devastating. Chile, like the United States, uses and enforces building codes.

Unfortunately, even in our own country there is a tendency to ignore the obvious. About 200 years ago, four major quakes ranging from 7.0 to 8.0 hit the New Madrid region, covering eight states,  including the cities of Memphis (Tenn.), Nashville (Tenn.), St. Louis and Little Rock (Ark.), causing the Mississippi River to run upstream and church bells to ring in Boston.

We know that a similar quake in this region today would be one of the worst disasters in American history causing tens of thousands of deaths, displacing hundreds of thousands, not to mention the hundreds of billions in economic losses.

And yet despite everything we have witnessed and everything we know, code officials in the New Madrid region of our country are struggling to persuade local and state governments to keep the seismic provisions that are in the codes developed by the International Code Council and used throughout the nation.
Building smart saves lives and money.  Let’s not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Structural material manufacturers with an eye on the penny (and the pound) should take note. Building code requirements almost always tighten after major disasters. There may be more Midwestern opportunities, in the near future, to sell products that contribute to seismic safety.

Testing Laboratory Follies

Even the best testing laboratories are prone to make errors in their reports.

Today's Example:

I just saw a report for a flexural test conducted on a product that was only recently brought to market. The product is made of porcelain, a material that is relatively weak in tension. However, the back side of the porcelain was laminated with a fibrous reinforcing to give it tensile strength.

As a composite product, the flexural strength of the product is likely to vary, depending on which side of the test specimen was "up" in the test apparatus. Tested in one configuration, the fibers would be in tension and the composite would have a high flexural strength. Tested in the other configuration, the porcelain would be in tension and would fail at a lower value.

The test report did not indicate the configuration used for the testing.

The test was conducted by a respected lab affiliated with a national trade association. I do not question its integrity. However, tests like this are typically performed by a technician, then written up by another member of the lab -- neither of whom may know what is being tested nor the intended use of the test.

Testing is an investment. Make sure to review your product test reports carefully, and hire a consultant if you lack the in-house technical expertise to interpret the result.

Tax Benefits for Designers

Tax benefits can be a powerful tool for promoting certain building products. Chusid Associates, for example, has worked with producers of demountable partitions and access flooring systems to explain how the accelerated depreciation of these products can create bottom line benefits for a building owner.

The following article, reposted from the
Xella (producers of Hebel autoclaved aerated concrete) website, explains a little know tax benefit that can accrue to design professionals:

The Federal tax laws provide a significant tax benefit for designers of energy-efficient commercial buildings for public entities, such as government buildings and public schools. A designer such as an architect, engineer, contractor, environmental consultant or energy services provider who creates the technical specifications can deduct the cost to the public entity of “energy-efficient commercial building property expenditures” up to a cap of $1.80 per square foot of the energy-efficient commercial building property expenditures that are made.[1]

The deduction is allowed in the year in which the property is placed in service and is in lieu of depreciating the amounts qualifying for the deduction over 39 years.[2] .The tax laws define energy-efficient commercial building expenditures as property:

  1. Installed on or in any building located in the United States that is within the scope of Standard 90.1-2001 of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America,
  2. Installed as part of (i) the interior lighting systems, (ii) the heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems, or (iii) the building envelope, and
  3. Certified as being installed as part of a plan designed to reduce the total annual energy and power costs with respect to the interior lighting systems, heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems of the building by 50 percent or more in comparison to a reference building which meets the minimum requirements of Standard 90.1-2001 (as in effect on April 2, 2003).[1]
This deduction generally is available to owners of buildings. However, because the owners public buildings, such as schools and government offices do not generally pay taxes, the tax laws provide a special rule allowing the owners to pass the benefit through to the designer. If there is more than one designer, the governmental owner of the building can allocate the full deduction to one designer that is primarily responsible for the design or, at the owner's discretion, allocate the deduction among several designers. The governmental owner of the public building is not required to include any amount in income on account of the deduction allocated to the designer, but is required to reduce the basis of the property by the amount of the deduction allocated. Note that a person who installs, repairs, or maintains the property is not a designer.[3]

Hebel AAC’s energy-efficient properties help meet their requirement for this tax-deduction credit level. Its unique closed cellular structure and thermal mass contribute to a high R-value and air-tightness, which reduce heating and cooling costs and improve indoor air quality. Buildings using Hebel Autoclaved Aerated Concrete have seen up to a 35 percent decrease in cooling costs.

In the case of a building that does not meet the overall building requirement of a 50-percent energy saving, a partial deduction is allowed with respect to each separate building system: (1) the interior lighting system, (2) the heating, cooling, ventilation and hot water systems, and (3) the building envelope. The maximum allowable deduction is $0.60 per square foot for each separate system.

Case in Point 1: 50% Energy Savings A school spends $200,000 in qualifying costs on a new 100,000 square feet, energy-efficient building using Hebel AAC. 100,000 sq. ft. X $1.80 = $180,000 Tax Deduction to the Designer

Case in Point 2: <50%> Same school as above, yet only the Hebel AAC building envelope qualifies. 100,000 sq. ft. X $.060= $60,000 Tax Deduction to the Designer
Certain certification requirements must be met in order to qualify for the deduction. The IRS has published guidance concerning how to meet these requirements.[4] In general, these calculations must be performed using energy simulation models found in computer software approved in the guidance and not by measuring actual electricity usage. Under this guidance, calculations are made by comparison to a reference building that is based on a building that is located in the same climate zone as the taxpayer's building and is otherwise comparable to the taxpayer's building except that its interior lighting systems, heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems, and building envelope meet the minimum requirements of Standard 90.1-2001. Calculations must be certified by a licensed professional engineer or contractor that is not related to the taxpayer and meets certain other tests.

In determining energy and power cost savings for purposes of partial deduction described above for an energy efficient building envelope, the proposed building is a building that contains the building envelope that has been incorporated, or that the taxpayer plans to incorporate, into the taxpayer's building but that is otherwise identical to the reference building.

The deduction is effective for property placed in service after December 31, 2005 and prior to December 31, 2013.[5]

It may be possible to meet the energy efficiency standards set forth above using Hebel AAC.

Please consult your own tax advisor to determine whether your project can qualify for this significant tax benefit. IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice that may be contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction(s) or tax-related matter(s) that may be addressed herein.

Notice 2006-52 can be found:
Notice 2008-40 can be found:
[1] Code section 179D(d)(4); Notice 2008-40, 2008-14 I.R.B. 725.
[2] Code section 179D.
[3] Notice 2008-40, section 3.
[4] Notice 2006-52, 2006-26 I.R.B. 1175, clarified and amplified, Notice 2008-40.
[5] Code section 179D(h).


The specification of a single building product does not, by itself, qualify a project for this tax credit. The credit requires the design of energy efficiency into an overall building project. Still, building product manufacturers can gain from understanding and explaining how their product contributes to the overall result.

Contact Chusid Associates to explore whether this law can benefit your company and to discuss the best way to incorporate it into your marketing program.

Designers and Builders are Risk Adverse

Standard operating procedure for most design professionals:

"I want to be the second person to use the material for the first time."