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Standards Writing with a Purpose

How Committee C11’s Gypsum Standards Are Used in Construction

by Robert A. Wessel

Committee C11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems has jurisdiction over standards governing gypsum board (drywall), gypsum plaster, light-gage steel framing, metal lath, and certain aspects of portland cement plaster and exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS). At the time of this writing, the committee maintains 46 active standards and has three new standards under development. The 46 standards include specifications for raw materials and additives, specifications for manufactured products, test methods, and specifications for the installation of manufactured products in construction. With fewer than 150 voting members serving on four classified subcommittees, the committee is firmly committed to allocating its limited resources to the development of only those standards that have potential for the broadest use in the industry.

In addition to developing standards for the purpose of widespread use, the committee has a policy of actively promoting its standards in the construction industry. To achieve this objective, the secretary of the committee is specifically charged with the responsibility of assuring that the most current C11 standards are referenced in the model building codes. Committee officers and subcommittee and task group chairmen actively monitor codes and other standards to determine where C11 standards under their specific jurisdiction can be referenced. In addition, individual members of the committee have assumed the responsibility for assuring adoption of specific C11 standards within and throughout their respective industries and industry associations. For example, committee members representing gypsum board manufacturers have taken on the task of including the appropriate ASTM standards as reference documents in their respective companies’ product literature. Representatives of steel framing manufacturers assure that the standards on steel framing are properly referenced in company and industry publications; committee members from the EIFS and portland cement industries do likewise.

The committee has the luxury of having members from major industry associations that also develop standards for products and systems under C11 jurisdiction. These associations take the initiative to see to it that their respective industry standards include appropriate references to the standards produced by ASTM Committee C11. Several of these industry groups have the capability of developing new standards more quickly than ASTM and do so to fill a gap when one is identified. However, once an industry standard “hits the street,” it is common practice to immediately submit the industry document to Committee C11 for incorporation into an existing ASTM standard or, in some cases, for use as the starting point in the development of a new ASTM standard. Once the committee has worked its magic, the industry association documents are generally correlated to the end result of the ASTM work and revised to reference the appropriate ASTM standard. Although the industry association document may continue to exist, it becomes a tool to proliferate the use of the associated ASTM standards.

Balancing Competitive Interests

Bringing together diverse interests from the steel industry, the gypsum industry, the portland cement industry, and the EIFS industry is no mean task for a relatively small committee, particularly when one considers that components of these different industries are often fierce competitors in the marketplace. The competitive nature of the products represented on Committee C11 carries over into the work of the committee and creates an overt system of checks and balances that assures the development of competitive standards. What this means is that each industry works hard to make its own standards as useful as possible. The members of the committee realize that good standards in the field translate into better product acceptance by those who use the standards. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the committee members to not only work toward producing the best standards possible, but to make sure that those standards are used as widely as possible in the construction industry.

The desire to produce and disseminate good standards is partly due to the fact that although the diversity of Committee C11’s membership spans several manufacturing industries, the end users of the products fall into a narrow band of construction professions, trades, and specialties. Many of these end users are also represented in the voting membership of the committee, thereby adding another layer of checks and balances to the system and assuring usable standards.

The standards developed by Committee C11 represent all aspects of the life cycle of the products under the committee’s jurisdiction. The standards create a complete package, linking together to form a continuum from raw material to end use and inspection. A series of examples from the gypsum board industry will illustrate the point. Although the example is gypsum board, the same can be said for gypsum or portland cement plaster, light-gage steel framing, metal lath, and most of the other materials under C11 jurisdiction.

Use by Manufacturers

Manufacturing begins with the selection and testing of raw materials. Specification C 22/C 22M, Specification for Gypsum, is the standard for the raw gypsum used to manufacture gypsum board or gypsum plaster. It provides the benchmark for evaluating gypsum ore, synthetic gypsum, or gypsum from any other source (including recycled gypsum board) for use by the gypsum board or plaster manufacturer. Compliance with C 22/C 22M is assessed by using test methods such as C 471, Test Methods for Chemical Analysis of Gypsum and Gypsum Products, also developed by Committee C11.

Manufacturers’ literature, as well as the marking on the product, states compliance with the appropriate ASTM standard. In the case of gypsum board, all manufacturers in the United States and Canada label the product as complying with ASTM C 1396/C 1396M, Specification for Gypsum Board. Compliance to C 1396/C 1396M is confirmed by the manufacturer by using many of the test methods in C 473, Test Methods for Physical Testing of Gypsum Panel Products, as part of its routine quality control program.

Use by Specifiers

Architects and engineers who specify gypsum board rely on either manufacturers’ literature, “off the shelf” generic construction specification products, or industry association documents for assistance in specifying products. References to ASTM standards in manufacturers’ literature virtually assures that the specifier will call out the product based on its ASTM specification when manufacturers’ literature is used. The appropriate C11 standards are referenced in all the off-the-shelf specification documents published by organizations such as the American Institute of Architects and the Construction Specifications Institute. Industry association documents published by organizations such as the Gypsum Association or the Steel Stud Manufacturers Association also include the references to the pertinent ASTM standards. These organizations (AIA, CSI, and industry trade associations) actively promote the use of their respective documents, thereby keeping the appropriate ASTM standards in front of the specifier.

Manufacturers’ literature and the “canned” documents not only identify the appropriate product by its ASTM designation but also identify the ASTM standard that specifies how the product is to be installed on the construction project. For example, the AIA MasterSpec® section for gypsum board calls for gypsum board complying with ASTM C 1396/C 1396M and that it be installed in compliance with ASTM C 840, Specification for Application and Finishing of Gypsum Board. If the project involves light-gage steel framing it will specify ASTM C 645, Specification for Nonstructural Steel Framing Members, for the materials and C 754, Specification for Installation of Steel Framing Members to Receive Screw-Attached Gypsum Panel Products, for their application. The job specification will also call for finishing (taping and finishing) the wall and ceilings in accordance with C 840, using materials complying with ASTM C 475/C 475M, Specification for Joint Compound and Joint Tape for Finishing Gypsum Board. Specifiers, designers, and architects would have to go out of their way to not specify using ASTM standards produced by Committee C11.

Use by the Purchaser and Contractor

Bid documents are based on compliance with the ASTM standards contained in the specification from the designer or architect. They provide a level playing field for the estimator to prepare his or her company’s bid. Once the project is awarded, the materials are purchased by referencing the appropriate ASTM designation and the instructions are given to the subcontractors and job superintendent in terms of the appropriate ASTM standards for each material and application. Every step of the application, from materials storage and job site preparation to applying the final decoration, is covered by one or more of the ASTM standards referenced for the job.

Use by Code Officials

Members of Committee C11 have long recognized the importance of considering the needs of the building code official in its deliberations during the development of its standards. All of the industry recommendations and ASTM standards for products and the installation of those products will be of little value unless they are recognized by the building code official. For this purpose, the members of Committee C11 made a conscious decision years ago to charge the committee secretary with the responsibility of submitting the code changes necessary to assure that its standards are properly referenced in the codes.

The result is that close to 80 percent of the standards written and maintained by the committee are included as reference standards in the International Building Code and the International Residential Code, as well as in the codes and standards of the National Fire Protection Association. Prior to the development of the International Codes and the NFPA Building Code, the committee’s standards were referenced in the Uniform Building Code, the Standard Building Code, and the National Building Code. The effort to promote the use of the committee’s standards extends beyond the model codes and into local and state codes wherever they are used. Recently the effort has been extended to include the National Building Code of Canada.

Code officials rely on standards produced by Committee C11 during all phases of construction involving materials or systems under C11 jurisdiction — from plan review to final inspection. This has been the norm for more years than anyone on C11 can remember.

How Does This Happen?

Widespread use of the standards produced by Committee C11 did not just happen by accident. Nor is it a result of aggressive marketing of the standards to the industry. The broad use of standards produced by the committee is a result of a deeper conviction by the members of the committee to produce standards that dove-tail together to produce a package of documents that effectively and completely meet the needs of the industry.

Every new standards activity that is undertaken is judged at all points during development as to its utility in the industry. Conscious consideration is given to how the new activity “fits” with the committee’s existing standards. There is no special subcommittee or task group charged with the responsibility to assure a good fit for each new document or for revisions to existing documents. Nor is it magic. Committee C11 has a committee “culture” that serves as a backdrop to its activities that either rejects or modifies items as they filter through the process of development into a standard.

The members of Committee C11 consider their time to be valuable and have, either consciously or unconsciously, decided not to waste time on developing standards that have limited application and use outside of the committee membership. Virtually 100 percent of the committee’s standards are referenced somewhere, by someone designing, doing, or inspecting construction. Not every committee will share C11’s goal of having its standards broadly adopted across the construction industry, but for those that do, recognize that it takes a commitment to action throughout the committee to get the job done. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Robert A. Wessel is assistant executive director of the Gypsum Association. He is secretary of Committees C11 and a member of nine other ASTM committees and a past member of the ASTM standing Committee on Technical Committee Operations. He is also a member of several committees of the National Fire Protection Association. He was awarded the 2000 ASTM Award of Merit by Committee C11.