Industry Unstandards

Steve Miller sent me this fortune cookie message with a quote that has been attributed to Andrew Tanenbaum. It will be appreciated by anyone that has had to compare data based upon two or more test procedures that claim to measure the same phenomenon.

It seems as if competitors will publish product performance data derived from different test standards to deliberately make it difficult to compare products.

For the benefit of the search engines, here is the text: "The nice thing about standards is, there are so many to choose from."

Product Standards

Do confused customers buy more carpet? Apparently some building product manufacturers think so, because they resist the creation of standards in their industry. The following example is extracted from a blog post by Ron Geren, a specifier in Scottsdale, Arizona:

A Specifier's Rant: The "UN"standardized Carpet Industry

I just completed my umpteenth-hundredth carpet specification section and I’ve had it... As many of you may know... specifiers are typically tasked to include a minimum of three products in the specifications to ensure competition.  

...finding carpeting that has similar performance characteristics—it’s like asking someone to find three similar marbles in a barrel of marbles.  And to compound the problem, there is no standardization in the way carpeting information is presented—manufacturers' carpet data use inconsistent terminology and inconsistent units of measurement (if they even bother to provide the units of measurement).

For example, I see “tufted weight,” “face weight,” and “total weight.”  All have different meanings, but not all are provided in manufacturers’ literature...

So, how is a specifier (let alone a customer) supposed to compare the construction and performance of carpeting if the use of terminology by manufacturers is all over the map?  This specifier’s answer:  STANDARDIZE!
His complete rant is at, 2012/05/23.

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.

Marketing with Standards

Standards: Dense Prose
Industry standards are essential to the construction industry. Yet they are often confusing, out of date, and contradictory. Produced by consensus organizations, they are subject to political pressures that can favor or exclude proprietary products and innovative solutions. Moreover, designers, builders, and building material suppliers are challenged to stay current with revisions to standards.

This complexity can work to your marketing advantage.

First, building product manufacturers should be active in standards writing organizations affecting their work. These consensus-driven committees need your insight into best industry practices, the needs of your clients, and the pragmatic limitations of current technology.

Further, you can keep your clients up-to-date and informed of changes to standards. This will make your firm the "go-to" resource for current and reliable information. For example, changed standards provide a great opportunity for publicity; contact the editors of trade journals and offer to provide an article about the revisions.

Your marketing and technical literature should be up-to-date, and that your sales representatives and customer service personnel are trained. Then use your product literature, e-mail blasts, guide specifications, and continuing education programs to inform your customers.

Your point-of-purchase and packaging provide other opportunities. Imagine a customer that has a choice between two products; one has a sticker proclaiming: "Complies with the New 2011 Industry Standards," and the other is silent on the matter. Which has the greatest appeal?

I recently updated a guide specification for a client that produces pigments for integrally-colored concrete. In the decade since I wrote the original guide spec, most of the standards it references had been revised. The updated standards cost over $100, an expense few construction firms are willing to pay, especially when a firm has to stay abreast of revisions in dozens or even hundreds of product categories. An even greater cost is the time required for a professional to review the steady stream of updated documents. This provides an opportunity for my client to be of service to their customers.

For example, American Concrete Institute document ACI 303.1 - Specifications for Architectural Concrete has not been revised since 1997, but it references another document that has been revised, ACI 117. The 2006 version of ACI 117 changes how construction tolerances are specified. Had my client reissued a guide specification with the obsolete tolerances, it would have been a disservice to their customers, a potential source of embarrassment, and perhaps even a legal complication.

Another document, ACI 301 - Specifications for Structural Concrete, also contains requirements for "architectural concrete." ACI does not offer guidance for coordinating specifications where loadbearing (structural) concrete must also meet rigorous appearance requirements (architectural). Having identified this conflict, my client can now help their clients by offering guide specification language that reconciles the conflicting documents.

Requirements for concrete pigments are defined in ASTM C979. Yet ACI 303.1 adds requirements that are not in the ASTM standard. The added requirements are not representative of industry practices and can actually be a detriment to successful concrete work. One suspects the committee was influenced of the one manufacturer that benefits from the added requirements; my client did not have a representative at the table. My client's revised guide specification explains the rationale for sticking to the ASTM requirements, and tries to paint their competitor into a corner.

I now serve on an ACI committee that is updating some of the outdated standards. While I am there to represent my client's interests, I must always work towards the goal of advancing the entire industry.

Life-cycle assessments of products

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 20 years ago. To a limited extent, increased attention to environmental sustainability have increased focus on life cycle performance of buildings. LEED, for example, requires buildings to be commissioned to ascertain that mechanical systems perform as required. Also, the "cradle-to-cradle" concept encourages examination of the flow of materials from extraction to re-purposing.

Operational costs typically, 
exceed construction costs.

Tools that can help architects make life-cycle assessments of products

The architectural community too often disregards the life-cycle costs and operation of buildings. This attitude is not expressed overtly but nonetheless permeates architectural practice:
  • We grovel before a project's bid price and all but disregard a building's cash flow, the streams of operational and maintenance expenses, financing, revenue and tax consequences, which spell economic success or failure to a building owner. 
  • When designing an addition or renovation, we too often fail to involve the building's maintenance staff in a serious discussion about their resources, schedules, and experience with the building's existing materials and systems.
  • We rarely retain qualified building maintenance consultants on our design teams.
  • And frequently, we pass along a hodgepodge of submittals and call it an Operation and Maintenance Manual without considering whether the accumulation really communicates.
Over the economic life of a building, operation and maintenance costs will typically equal or exceed first costs. And when we consider how a maintenance program can affect a building's resale or salvage value, the importance of building maintainability becomes even more apparent.

Building Economics
Building design and product selection decisions should be made with benefit of life-cycle cost analysis. Recently issued ASTM standards provide the building industry with clear guidelines for performing an economic analysis of building designs and components. In a life-cycle cost study, each future cash flow must be adjusted for anticipated inflation and escalation and then discounted to a present value. When performed manually, these time-consuming calculations limit the use of life-cycle cost analysis. New computer-based programs, however, make it much easier to conduct life-cycle installations.

Even though calculations have been simplified, a building life-cycle cost investigation still remains difficult because reliable data on product longevity, maintenance schedules, and operation and maintenance expenses are difficult to obtain. How soon will a roof really be repaired or replaced? How frequently will various types of door operators require servicing? How will the selection of a sealant or weatherstripping affect energy use? Such information is not contained in the typical references found in an architectural office, but a new family of facility management publications and references is beginning to fill this gap. For example, Means Facilities Maintenance Standards [now out of date] discusses the mechanisms that contribute to building deterioration, and building maintenance scheduling and management.

Architects must also take more initiative to discuss maintenance issues with their clients and consultants and to collect and analyze the maintenance history of their buildings. This information must then be transmitted to the drafters and specifiers who actually make product decisions.

Product Data
Although building product manufacturers and trade associations are a primary source of product information, few offer well documented data on their product's life-cycle performance, offering only inconclusive laboratory testing or anecdotal case studies to document their claims. They claim they are unable to predict a product's life-cycle because of conditions beyond a manufacturer's control, such as environmental conditions or maintenance procedures. Yet these variables can be quantified and applied to a sampling of historic product performance data. The resulting analysis could be used as a valid basis for predicting product performance and comparing product alternatives.

Some manufacturers have responded to the need for better information about product life-cycle costs. USG Interiors, Inc., for example, offers a computerized comparison of relocatable partitions and drywall partitions. called DesignAid for Walls, the program enables a designer to consider the economic impact of partition relocation, financing alternatives, tax benefits and accelerated depreciation, and the escalation of waste disposal costs associated with drywall partition remodeling. A similar USG DesignAid program compares several floor construction and wire distribution systems to determine life-cycle costs vis-a-vis workstation relocation. [Chusid Associates wrote both DesignAid programs.]

Building productivity is
also a life cycle factor.

Operational Assurance
Since many architects assume "building maintenance" means "janitorial services" or occasional redecorating, it would be useful to introduce a new term into our professional patois. "Operational assurance" is a concept more familiar to industrial engineers who must assure that manufacturing equipment is kept at optimum operating capacity. An operational assurance approach to buildings must consider the building operational goals and specify systems and products in view of their longevity and the ease and cost of their maintenance, repair, and replacement. Operational assurance can be applied not just to mechanical and electrical systems, but to the building envelope, finishes, and other architectural components as well.

Capability in operational assurance planning would enable an architectural or engineering firm to differentiate itself from its competitors and position itself for growth in industrial, commercial, or institutional markets. Maintenance programming, value engineering, training of the building staff, and post-occupancy evaluation also could be lucrative extended services and could lead to a continuing relationship with a client.

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Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Progressive Architecture, ©1991.

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

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.

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.

Infographics of New Zealand Earthquakes

One of the challenges in technical marketing is to communicate complex information effectively, efficiently, and engagingly. This website has a map of recent New Zealand seismic activity that meets all these criteria.
The quake is yet another reminder of the importance of adhering to best industry practices. If New Zealand had not had rigorous building code enforcement, the death and destruction there would have been even greater.

BIM templates for building products

Specifiers' Properties information exchange (SPie) project is developing BIM templates for building products. These templates, and their related "property sets," will play a significant role in the way products are specified in the future. Building product manufacturers should get involved in developing these new consensus standards to assure that their interests are represented, and to assure that the templates that will be of most use to you and your customers.

The SPie property sets and templates will be used in BIM models to facilitate the life-cycle information needs of the project. The templates would be similar to outline specifications and could be used as facility management tools. To date, more than 450 templates have been started.

The effort is being coordinated by CSI,  National Institute of Building Science's buildingSMART alliance, SCIP, and USACE Engineer Research and Development Center.

The CSI Technical Committee is seeking members to participate in developing property sets for particular building products. If you have expertise with a specific building product, are interested in growing the profession's integration of products and specifications, have been looking for ways to push the profession forward on BIM, or have questions and would like to receive more information on SPie, contact Matthew Fochs at with a brief summary of the product group you have experience with along with a brief statement of your professional background.

If you aren't part of this effort, your competitors will be.

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.

"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.

Our Cumulative Achievement

Every time it rains heavily enough to make noise on the window – which is not very often in L.A. – I am reminded of standing on the roof of my house with my long-suffering real estate agent the day we closed escrow.  The roof had acknowledged leaks, and we were hurriedly spreading a tarp in a fierce downpour.  That was the day I learned what a tough job roofs do every day, the moment I really began to appreciate what it means to have a roof over your head.

At a time of year when thoughts often turn towards both appreciation for the blessings we’ve got, and assessment of what we’ve achieved, I would like to put in a word of praise for the blessing and the achievement represented by the Built Environment.  It’s hard to find a better example of the method by which the human race grows as a species, and how far we’ve taken that growth.

We grow by being able to accumulate knowledge and capabilities across generations, by being able to quantify and record what we learn, and transmit it beyond the span of our individual years.  From the time when people first realized that caves weren’t going to be enough, we have been accumulating the skill of transforming our environment to adapt it to us, the short-circuit of the evolutionary process.

For an illuminating example of this achievement, one could look to the great pyramid at Chichen Itza, the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo.  Standing 98 feet tall, it is actually a shell built over a previous pyramid, which itself was built over the original pyramid.

I once visited the inner pyramid.  It’s not on the regular tour, but we had heard it existed.  We were standing outside the pyramid when my wife saw a park employee going into a little door under the most fully-restored of the four grand staircases.  She ran up and asked if that was the way to the inner pyramid, and he agreed to take us up.

Within the door, we were in a dimly lit, low-ceilinged stone chamber.  The steps of the previous pyramid stretched upwards like a narrow, rising tunnel.  The stone treads were worn as deep as an inch in some places.  The walls sweated with little blobs of moisture that glistened in the light of the bare 40 watt bulbs strung along the ceiling.

We raced up the stairs like they were on fire, tremendously excited by this weirdly threatening place.  We arrived gasping at the top to realize that, while the Mexican government had done a great thing excavating this path and stringing the electric lights, they might have been well advised to install ventilation, as well.  We already used up most of the oxygen in the place. 

Soon our gasping turned to gaping.  Before us stood a large sculpture of a jaguar (one of the gods worshipped at this site during one of its several changes of ownership), colored bright red, with three large stylized spots made of a green stone that looked like jade.  Its back was flattened in a way that strongly suggested it was a sacrificial altar.

The tiny chamber we stood in had once been the exposed top platform of the previous pyramid.  The tiny room in front of us was the previous inner temple. I reflected how much grander the current top platform and inner temple – above our heads – were, how the capabilities of these people to move, shape and build with stone had advanced from one civilization to the next. Within this man-made stone cavern was the reflection of one large page in the story of civilization, written over hundreds of years.  Then, the page turned, but the building that characterized it lived on.

I looked upwards and realized we were beneath tons of stone, and I had no idea what was holding them up.  Yet I had confidently taken my life in my hands and raced up that staircase in complete faith that whatever held them up was going to perform as expected.

Not to belabor an obvious symbol, but all of the built environment is constructed on top of the achievements of the past.

One could examine the latest and greatest architectural and engineering achievements to understand how far we’ve come.  A modern building has so many different kinds of technology that make it perform.  It protects its occupants and contents against wind, water, fire, and earthquake. It provides locations for all manner of human endeavor.  It modifies the (interior) weather.  It gives light in the darkness.  It has hot and cold running water.  It transmits communications.  And there are so many levels of concept embodied in it that allow it to serve the functions required of it.  It is logical.  It is expressive.  It offers the visitor a multi-sensory experience.  It creates functional spaces.  It provides confidence, comfort, safety, and security.

I would suggest, however, that perhaps the most illuminating example of what “cumulative achievement” really means, in terms of the built environment, is the network of standards that have been developed for construction and for building materials.  Those standards represent the length, breadth, and extraordinary depth of our knowledge, but that’s not all.  They represent our commitment to accumulating, quantifying, and transmitting our knowledge and hard-won achievements.  They further represent our commitment to our fellow human beings, to provide reliable structures for today and the future. After all, we pass along not only the knowledge, but the buildings themselves.  The inner pyramid at Chichen Itza, for example, is over 1500 years old.

Construction standards are, I believe, our most sincere expression of pride in our work, our determination as an industry to do the right thing on every project, and to continue thousands of years of advancement.

People who work in the construction industry are part of one of the signal endeavors of our species.  We have a right to be proud.  We have a responsibility to be careful, thorough, and to work by the rules, because we are, quite literally, building the world.

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.


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.

Missing Standards

By Sheldon Wolfe

Although there may be a few products that require little thought in specifying, most require some minimum amount of research, comparison of similar products, and determination of the right combination of characteristics best suited to a project. Even then, the process can be straightforward and fairly simple, provided the type of product is common, governed by widely accepted standards for materials and performance, well-described in product data, and supported by reputable manufacturers and representatives.

It has been stated that industry standards are not sufficient, as they tend to reflect the lowest performance of the association members. Even if that is true, those standards still provide a valuable service by specifying a multitude of characteristics, allowing the specifier to use them as a base. After that, it is relatively easy to specify that some component be something different from that required by the standard.

By setting standards, industry organizations serve a valuable purpose, and I encourage manufacturers, suppliers, and installers to cooperate in establishing standards for their industries. And if those standards are based on analysis rather than just a consensus of what is available, so much the better.
Although there may be a few products that require little thought in specifying, most require some minimum amount of research, comparison of similar products, and determination of the right combination of characteristics best suited to a project.

Even then, the process can be straightforward and fairly simple, provided the type of product is common, governed by widely accepted standards for materials and performance, well-described in product data, and supported by reputable manufacturers and representatives. Hollow metal doors and frames are a good example. Most manufacturers produce them according to one or both of two sets of common industry standards, published by the Steel Door Institute (SDI) and the National Association of Architectural Metal Manufacturers (NAAMM). Unfortunately, not all types of building products can be specified by use of similar standards.

Before you start that e-mail telling me how difficult it is to specify hollow metal doors, let me add that the number of grades, types, options, and finishes requires the specifier to understand the hollow metal door and frame standards before making the several decisions needed to write the specifications. Each of the hollow metal standards organizations has described every component of hollow metal doors and frames, how they are fabricated and installed, and which models are suitable for a variety of applications. All of those things are well-defined in the standards, and most manufacturers indicate which doors and frames comply with which standards.

However, some products are far more difficult to specify than others, despite abundant and readily available information. One group that comes immediately to mind is coatings. Unlike hollow metal doors, coatings have little in the way of industry standards, and there are many ways of achieving the same result.

For example, say we want a waterproof coating for an indoor floor. A variety of basic chemistries are available - acrylic, epoxy, polyester, polyurethane, and perhaps others. Some of these are better than others depending on what they will be exposed to, and some are more decorative than others, but it’s likely that all would be acceptable if they need to contain only water.

Even if one type of chemistry rises to the top as being superior to the others, there may be countless varieties of that type. To add to the fun, manufacturers use different combinations of primer and top coats, have widely different test results for physical characteristics, sometimes use different test standards for the same characteristic, combine different types of chemistries in different ways, require different preparation, have different application rates, and specify different requirements for curing.

One manufacturer may claim you need 6,000 PSI compressive strength and 200% elongation, while another says you need 10,000 PSI and only 125%. One says you need a primer for a given situation, another says you don’t. One says you need to apply two topcoats, another says only one. One says you need a seal coat, another says you don’t. And so on.

All of them make logical arguments for their particular systems, and all can produce long lists of local applications. All of which makes it difficult to logically select a product to specify, and makes it equally as difficult to evaluate substitution requests.

Paints are almost as bad as floor coatings, but, because they will be repainted every few years, the performance characteristics are far less important. Otherwise, paints suffer from the same problem as floor coatings - few widely accepted standards.

I’d like to have a rational basis for making decisions about coating properties. By that, I mean a scientifically derived set of standards based on actual performance requirements. I’m fairly certain that the reason manufacturer A says you need 6,000 PSI tensile strength, and manufacturer B says you need 10,000 PSI, is that those are the values their products have. I have yet to see someone say, “Oak Ridge National Laboratory has determined that a floor coating system should have a minimum compressive strength of 4,792 PSI.”

Coatings aren’t the only problem; foam thermal insulation is another. We have specified extruded polystyrene with 25 PSI compressive strength for a long time, not because of any research, but because that’s what is required by ASTM C578 - and that is because that is what is produced and commonly used. Polyisocyanurate roofing insulation is available in 16, 20, and 25 PSI varieties. How do we compare the two types of insulation? If extruded polystyrene should be 25 PSI, should not polyisocyanurate also be 25 PSI? What is the rational basis for making this decision?

Going back to hollow metal doors, I doubt there is any research that tells us what the thickness of the face sheets should be, but in this case I don’t think it’s necessary. The gauges used probably are based on empirical evidence, but more important, one manufacturer isn’t trying to tell me that the face sheets should be one thing while the other manufacturers are saying something else.

It has been stated that industry standards such as those published by SDI and NAAMM are not sufficient, as they tend to reflect the lowest performance of the association members. Even if that is true, those standards still provide a valuable service by specifying a multitude of characteristics, allowing the specifier to use them as a base. After that, it is relatively easy to specify that a hinge reinforcement or some other component be something different from that required by the standard.

By setting standards, industry organizations serve a valuable purpose. While I encourage coating manufacturers, suppliers, and installers to cooperate in establishing standards for their industry, I also encourage the same for other products that suffer from missing standards. And if those standards are based on analysis rather than just a consensus of what is available, so much the better.

Written by Sheldon Wolfe
See Sheldon's other work at: Constructive Thoughts.

New Testing will lead to New Opportunities

New testing procedures can lead to new opportunities for innovative building products. With that in mind, I an eager to see what emerges from the new research facility being built by the Institute for Building and Home Safety. Their laboratory is large enough to test complete buildings to measure their performance under hurricane, tornado, fire storm, and other destructive forces.

Under typical testing conditions, individual materials or small assemblies are tested separately. This complicates the assignment of blame when a building failure occurs. More critically, designers, builders, and code officials often have to guess about the best details to use in construction, By instrumenting and testing entire buildings under controlled, repeatable conditions, the industry should be able to obtain more holistic data about design requirements and material performance.

Armed with this information, manufacturers will be able to develop better materials, and will have convincing performance documentation for suspicious customers.

The facility will also be able to capture high speed video of building failures. This will have a profound impact on consumers, presenting them with clear information about how better materials save lives and property.

An article on the project was published in ENR.

Trade Association Antitrust Guidelines

When called upon to participate in trade associations, employees and agents of building product manufacturers must understand and comply with antitrust laws.

Antitrust laws prohibit firms in the same industry from conspiring to restrain trade. There are potential civil and criminal penalties for violations under United States antitrust laws. Potential consequences of violating or appearing to violate antitrust laws can be severe for trade associations, member companies, and their employees.

When attending trade association meetings and other activities, you must follow general guidelines in order to avoid violations of antitrust laws.

Topics that must be avoided include:

  1. Pricing: This includes current or future prices or costs; what is a fair profit level; increases or decreases in price; standardizing or stabilizing prices; and pricing procedures.
  2. Sales Territories: Dividing customers or allocating sales territories or markets.
  3. Limiting Supply: Agreements encouraging or discouraging members from purchasing equipment, supplies, or raw materials from any supplier or from dealing with any supplier or restricting the volume of goods produced or made available for sale.
  4. Boycotts: Restricting the purchasing or dealing with particular outsiders.
  5. Discussions concerning specific agreements or disputes,  past or present, between members.
Administrative guidelines include the following recommendations:

Meetings must have an agenda that should be strictly followed. Minutes of each meeting should be prepared. The minutes should accurately reflect the subjects discussed and actions taken at the meetings.

Members should not hold informal gatherings. No substantive discussions should take place outside official meetings.

Association membership should not be arbitrarily awarded. It is assumed that members derive an economic benefit from being association members; therefore denial of membership to an otherwise qualified applicant can be seen as restraint on trade since it might limit the ability of the applicant to compete.

Specifications or standards developed shall not be based on any anticompetitive purpose. Adherence to specifications or standards shall be voluntary.

Please note that these guidelines are recommendations and are not comprehensive. Legal counsel should be contacted when potential antitrust issues arise.

Chusid Associates has worked with many building industry trade associations to develop promotional, technical, standards writing, educational, and marketing programs. We also serve on industry committees to serve our clients' interests. Contact Michael Chusid if we can be of assistance to you.

Wingspread Precautionary Principle

Designers are often faced with a dilemma when considering adoptions of a new product with putative environmental advantages instead of an established product with known environmental detriments. Even if the new product manufacturer has conducted extensive testing and offers independent verification of claims, the new product cannot match the track record of a product that has been proven in the field and tested by time.

I have recently become familiar with the Wingspread Conference, a gathering of scientists, philosophers, lawyers and environmental activists, that reached agreement on the necessity of the "Precautionary Principle" in environmental decision-making. The key element of the principle addresses the trade-offs that designers face in the absence of certainty about long term performance:
"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."
The Principle suggests that it can be acceptable to use a new product, even if there is no certainty about long term performance.

Note that this is not a free ticket to use to market any new product. The Principle also states:
"...the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof."
This means that the manufacturer of a new product must provide rigorous and transparent evidence that the new product does indeed have a lower environmental impact than the one it is attempting to supplant.

The full text of the statement follows:

The Precautionary Principle
Wingspread Consensus Statement on Precautionary Principle
The release and use of toxic substances, the exploitation of resources, and physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended consequences affecting human health and the environment. Some of these concerns are high rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects and species extinctions; along with global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and worldwide contamination with toxic substances and nuclear materials.

We believe existing environmental regulations and other decisions, particularly those based on risk assessment, have failed to protect adequately human health and the environment - the larger system of which humans are but a part.

We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles for conducting human activities are necessary.

While we realize that human activities may involve hazards, people must proceed more carefully than has been the case in recent history. Corporations, government entities, organizations, communities, scientists and other individuals must adopt a precautionary approach to all human endeavors.

Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.

ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility

ISO has been developing a new standard for organizations, ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility. In principle, because it defines and applies international norms of behavior, this could be a breakthrough document for international companies. It could help a company demonstrate that it rises above the endemic corruption of the countries in which it manufactures its products. As the public becomes ever more aware of atrocities occurring around the world, a social responsibility standard feels like a great idea that can't come soon enough. The draft standard, ISO/FDIS 26000, will be discussed in May in Copenhagen and will be finalized for a vote. It could be approved as an international standard by the end of 2010.

However, the document is only a guideline. It states, "It will not include requirements and will thus not be a certification standard." Because an organization can't be certified under ISO 26000, it is effectively only a best practices guide. Even a company that diligently uses it for self-examination and prioritizing its actions must find some other way to announce its work, in order to get public credit for those actions. There's no "Look for the ISO 26000 Label" opportunity here, and probably won't be for many years.

The draft sets forth seven principles of social responsibility and seven core subjects for organizations to examine. The principles are based upon international documents such as the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. As a new lens for looking at a company's actions, it could be very revealing.

The most useful part, though, may be the appendix. Annex A contains a list of potential activities in which an organization could participate, in order to address core subjects and practices of social responsibility. (For instance, a company committed to fair trade could join the Ethical Trading Initiative.) This list, while informative and perhaps inspiring, is not exhaustive. Rather, it cross-references actions with the priorities a company might identify using ISO 26000.

As a marketing or public relations opportunity, ISO 26000 is premature. An organization for whom social responsibility is already a key principle could use the standard as a structure for self-reporting its practices and priorities. Such an organization could also use Annex A to identify a cause or movement with which to align itself; if the cause carries sufficient visibility and respect, the alignment could have positive PR effects. For most other companies, ISO 26000 is interesting, but neither serves an immediate need nor grants any special status.

In the future, building product manufacturers will want to keep an eye on certification opportunities under ISO 26000. Someday, certification will serve a need in the industry to demonstrate companies' ability to rise above the practices of the countries in which they do business. Perhaps that day can't come soon enough, but it hasn't come yet.