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Put the Flashlight Away

Q: We just applied a 3/8-inch layer of light-weight Sprayed Fire-Resistant Material. This is not a wet-mix or high-bond material; it’s the material made from cement and metal slag similar to mineral wool. We are certified applicators and have used this product successfully many times without a problem from the inspector so far. On this most recent job, the building official, who is not the third-party inspector, looked the job over, and using a flashlight, decided that because some light was reflected by the metal, that our inspection was likely to fail. Is there any protocol in AWCI’s Technical Manual 12-A or an ASTM standard that includes the use of a flashlight to determine whether an SFRM application passes?

A: AWCI’s “Technical Manual T12-A, Standard Practice for the Testing and Inspection of Field Applied Sprayed Fire-Resistive Materials; an Annotated Guide” contains several passages for different inspections.

The first mention is in Section 3. Substrate Conditions, which states: “3.1 Inspection. Substrate conditions shall be inspected and deemed acceptable by the SFRM applicator and/or a representative of the manufacturer prior to the application of the SFRM.”

Section 4 is all about inspection procedure and who does the inspecting. Highlights include the following: “4.3.1. Qualifications. Personnel testing SFRM shall be familiar with the application and use of these products, shall be thoroughly trained in the test methods and shall be experienced in conduction field or laboratory testing procedures.” And “4.3.2. Testing Experience. Personnel responsible for the execution of the field inspection procedures and test reports shall have a minimum of three years of testing experience.” (I somehow doubt most building officials have these credentials.)

Section 5 has a section titled “Void Inspection,” but it describes inspecting voids that are created by the intersection of a fluted deck and a beam—not exactly the kind of inspection we were looking for.

Section 6 offered the most promising passage: 6.1. Visual Inspection, which explains that “SFRM applied to structural members shall not, upon complete drying or curing, exhibit deep or wide cracks, voids, spalls, delamination or exposure of the substrate. The surface appearance of spray-applied SFRM can be described as a rough texture when compared to the smoother surface of trowel-applied SFRM. Minor Surface irregularities of spray-applied SFRM are inherent with spray application and shall be deemed acceptable.” No mention of a flashlight reflecting off the metal either way, but clearly there is some discretion left to the inspector on what constitutes proper application.

After that thorough review, I was unable to find any passage or reference to a flashlight for evaluating an SFRM application in T-12-A. I also searched the ASTM online database for such a standard and if it is there, it eluded me. So, I did what anyone with an unanswered technical question is likely to do: I called the product manufacturer to ensure that I had not missed a well hidden protocol that has cropped up since we last updated T12-A.

The technical representative I spoke to assured me that because of the nature of the material, it is not uncommon to be able to see metal peeking through in a 3/8-inch application. He also confirmed that to his knowledge there is no standard, certainly not in the manufacturer’s literature, that includes a flashlight for the inspection of material.

Q: What are some of the key points that a job estimator needs to keep in consideration? How does this differ from the considerations of the project manager?

A: In a recent webinar of the AWCI Project Manager Development Series, we touched on the estimating aspect of project management. While the project manager not is necessarily the job estimator (although in some cases there is overlap), the PM needs to know what the estimator’s job is, and to know before and after the bid is submitted what is in the estimate and how it was developed. Here are several of the points discussed in the estimating module of the new program that struck me as especially important:

• All work should net a profit. All other considerations in an estimate are subsidiary to it and are simply a means of obtaining it. Profit is in the details because the details make the difference.

• The amount or percentage a project is marked up cannot be more than the market will bear.

• No estimator should begin a take-off without first flipping through and “discovering” all of the information on plans that is pertinent to his or her trade. No stone should be left unturned during the discovery phase of estimating.

• The most important part of an estimate is the checking phase, which should never be omitted or rushed through. Checking gives an estimator his/her final chance to spot errors, change his/her mind or make necessary adjustments.

• Common methods of estimating include historical data estimating, square foot floor area estimating and time method estimating. The square-foot estimating method is often used as a means to check estimates derived by other methods to ensure they are close to the correct number.

This is just a sampling of the one module. There are many more to come, and when appropriate, I will be passing along similar points.

Lee G. Jones is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to, or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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