Tag Archives: Lightweight Wood Construction

AIANJ Lightweight Task Update

AIAeagle_2016AIA NJ President Justin Mihalik, AIA, was interviewed on May 25 on News 12 NJ regarding the AIA-NJ Taskforce on Lightweight Construction.  The task force issued it’s findings, hoping for positive changes that foster greater public safety.

Read the full article here –

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AIA New Jersey Creates Task Force on Lightweight Wood-Framed Construction

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TRENTON, N.J. (March 2015) — In the aftermath of the Avalon Edgewater Building Fire, the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-NJ) has announced the formation of a task force of member architects to review possible improvements to design practices and building codes and standards in order to enhance building safety in New Jersey.

The Task Force will examine various issues specific to lightweight wood-framed buildings and make recommendations that, if implemented, could reduce property damage, provide additional time for people to reach safety, and allow the fire service more time to effectively address these emergencies.

Justin Mihalik, AIA

Justin Mihalik, AIA

Chaired by Justin A. Mihalik, AIA New Jersey President-elect, the AIA New Jersey Task Force will build upon its standard code advisory processes and conduct these additional meetings to review lightweight wood framing design issues and formulate recommendations to assist New Jersey policymakers in promulgating regulations that will make buildings of this type safer.

“Improving building safety through smarter design has always been a priority of architects,” said Justin A. Mihalik, AIA. “AIA-NJ is prepared to further assist public safety officials in this shared goal with the creation of this task force.”

The Task Force will make advisory recommendations on containment methods and use of lightweight wood-framed construction materials. These recommendations will be formulated into a written report to be presented to official agencies with the intent of improving building safety in the Garden State and around the country. Task force members will include David Del Vecchio, AIA, Robert M. Longo, AIA, Jason Lutz, AIA, William J. Martin, AIA and Yogish Mistry, AIA. The Task force is expected to complete this work in the coming months.

Lightweight Construction Materials – the Public’s Perception

Mihalick_2014Submitted by Justin A. Mihalik, AIA 
2015 AIANJ President-Elect

As a result of the AvalonBay fire in Edgewater, I was interviewed by PIX 11 news and Al Jazeera America as a representative of AIANJ, for the Architect’s perspective on lightweight wood construction materials.  Architects understand that the building code takes into consideration the use group of a building as well as the construction type of materials in order to determine how then to protect the materials being used in order to meet a minimum standard and to be considered “safe”.  But what is the public’s perception of “safe”?  After all, as Architects, it is our responsibility to design “safe” buildings.  In watching many Youtube videos and reading white papers on the subject of lightweight construction as I prepared for the interview, I found that the public’s perception of engineered lightweight materials, mainly wood I-joists, is that they are “cheap”.

 

There are a few reasons for this that I can understand from a lay person’s perspective.  One being that the material used for the web of the I-joist, which is oriented strand board or OSB, appears to be a cheap wafer board.  A second one is that after a fire, not much of a structure built with these materials is still standing.  Being interviewed at the AvalonBay site, it did not take an experienced eye to see that the stair towers and elevator shafts that were constructed of masonry concrete block were the only structures standing amongst a sea of wood debris.  It was clear to the eye that the masonry concrete block was far superior to the wood because it had survived the fire.

Architects also understand that the building code does not require the building to fully withstand a fire but only that it withstands the fire long enough for its occupants to escape in a safe manner.  The public does not understand that this is in fact the way the building code works.  It is up to the Architect and the owner of the building to design it in such a way that it potentially can withstand a fire and the effects of fighting the fire in order to minimize the reconstruction.  So is the public wrong for having the perception that engineered lightweight wood materials are cheap?  Or is it the industry’s fault for allowing this perception to exist?

There is one other party that should be involved in this conversation and that is the insurance industry since they are making the payouts on policies to then reconstruct these buildings.  Fortunately, no lives were lost in the AvalonBay fire.  So do we then believe that the building code was sufficient?

Any Architect that has been involved in repairing/reconstructing a building after a fire understands that it is a liability nightmare and that the best approach for the owner is to rebuild the structure.  Rebuilding instead of repairing should not be a problem since the insurance policy covers for the “replacement value”.  Well, anyone who has worked on a fire job also knows that the term “replacement value” is vague and does not guarantee that this “value” will in fact cover the full cost of the reconstruction.  A question for Architects to consider is the following: how sustainable or resilient are the current practices in constructing single or multi-family buildings if they cannot withstand a fire?

Recently legislation was proposed by Republican Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, bill A4195 (http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A4500/4195_I1.HTM), and if approved it would impose a two year moratorium on the use of lightweight construction materials in multi-family buildings.  The proposed bill not only includes engineered wood, but also traditional nominal wood and steel bar joists.  If approved, this bill would be devastating to the construction industry and would affect not only job creation, the housing market, but also architectural firms.  Safety is ultimately the most important issue when it comes to buildings.  Does this bill take this too far?

AIA New Jersey Interviewed by WPIX TV Regarding Lightweight Wood Construction

edgewater-fire-chopper-2In the wake of the tragic events of the Avalon at Edgewater fire, Justin Mihalik, AIA, the newly elected President-Elect of the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was recently interviewed by WPIX TV regarding the use of lightweight wood construction.  You can see the WPIX report here. The report is 5:26 in length.  Justin’s comments start at approximately the 1:59 mark and run through the 3:00 mark.

Granted, the conversation is far more complex than can be explained in one minute of TV time. And, the issue has received significant attention, including legislation proposing mandating fire sprinklers in all residential construction (Bill A1698) and a proposed two-year moratorium on all lightweight wood construction. Given the severity of the event and the public attention, it is more important than ever that architects and AIA New Jersey have a voice in this discussion.

This issue is being actively addressed by our Codes & Standards Committee, chaired by Robert Longo, AIA, our Legistative & Government Affairs Committee, chaired by David Del Vecchio, AIA, our Public Awareness Committee, chaired by Bruce Turner, AIA, our President, Kimberly Bunn, AIA, our Executive Director, Joe Simonetta, and the Executive Committee. Therefore, please make sure you share your opinions with your leaders of AIA New Jersey and your political representatives. Architects cannot stand on the sidelines while others determine the shape of the built environment.

Bruce Turner, AIA
Public Awareness Committee Chair