In many of the ASTM committees meetings I hear someone say that we have to write standards to fend off the lawyers. My response is, “make the lawyers work for their fees.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against lawyers. Some of my best drinking buddies are lawyers. My problem with this mindset is that we should not be addressing construction as a science. Most aspects of construction do have a scientific basis, but in the field of interior construction and some aspects of exterior work, construction is an art. The point that is painfully clear to me is the art of plastering. I have watched many plasterers at work. At one of AWCI’s conventions there was a competition for apprentices from the plasterer’s union. These folks were amazing to watch, just the same as watching a superb athlete perform. I have tried many times to trowel a finish coat of plaster, and it always looks very amateurish.
We depend on many skilled tradespeople to perform what to the untrained eye appears to be very simple work. I’m reminded of the time I was installing wood flooring. I noticed out of the corner of my eye the owner watching me as I was nailing the wood strips together. I looked up and he said “you make that look easy.” I responded by asking him if he would give me more money if I made it look harder. Well, we all know the answer to that question. Skilled labor is in some cases difficult to find and in today’s economy even harder to keep. I know most of you have been faced with this kind of decision in the past few months.
There are several issues in the form of standards and building codes that are making life difficult for both you and your mechanics and the construction industry as a whole. The biggest threat looming over us is the International Energy Conservation Code. By the end of October, after the final comment hearings, we will have a clear idea of the full impact of the continuous insulation requirement. As you are aware, AWCI is meeting this challenge head on by way of our Stucco Energy Code Task Group. The task group is not waiting for the final approval of IECC 2012. We are moving ahead with proposed changes to ASTM C1063 to bring it into line with the anticipated code changes. The task group is looking at potential designs of wall systems that will successfully incorporate continuous insulation outboard of the framing members. In the past our segment of the industry has had the luxury of not being inundated with numerous code requirements. However, with the adoption of the new model codes that incorporate consensus standards into the body of the code, we now find ourselves under more pressure to perform. Under the legacy codes there were options that could be used that reflected regional practices. This is no longer the case. The consensus standards were revised to reflect what the International Code Council considered mandatory code language, and options were removed from the standards. Rigid code language does not always reflect the tried-and-true methods used to construct a building, and this impacts the ability of an artisan to perform his magic.
What can you do to help change this mindset? In rather simple terms, get involved and make your voice heard. One of the easiest avenues open is to become a member of ASTM. Unless you want to, you do not have to attend meetings. But since the meetings move around the country on a regular basis, there will be one held close to you, so the impact on time and money will be less. All ballots for revisions are posted on the ASTM website, and many of the subcommittees and task groups employ electronic meetings and collaborative work sessions on the Internet as well as meeting face to face. Yes, it will require a commitment of time on your part, but not as much as you may think.
Bringing influence to bear on changes to the ICC model codes is another subject and quite different from ASTM. While the ICC holds regular hearings to consider changes, I feel that your personal efforts would be better applied on the local and state level with the ICC committees and boards and commissions that adopt the ICC model code for local jurisdictions, both city and state. I know that your contribution on this level would be appreciated by your local code officials.
Now back to participation in ASTM. In this last month’s AWCI Members Only mailing was an application to join Committee C11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems. (If you are not an AWCI member and did not receive the newsletter, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.) The cost for membership is $75 per year. The benefits include the opportunity to influence the consensus standard process and bring the art of construction back into the standards. In addition, you receive a copy of Volume 04.01 Construction that contains most of the standards you will need, as well as a membership discount for standards not included in Volume 04.01.
Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to email@example.com or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.