by Gary Higbee, CSI, AIA
Designing proper construction details is an important part of architecture and engineering practice that involves more than just a grasp of building technology. If designers are not also alert to market conditions, then their details—no matter how elegant—can be ineffective and hinder the pace of a project. Overlooking the complications surrounding the specification of adhesive anchors is a prime example, as recent code changes regarding their use threaten to stall building projects in some of the United States’ largest jurisdictions.
The complications stem from the International Building Code (IBC) referencing a provision in American Concrete Institute (ACI) 318-2011, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete, requiring workers installing adhesive anchors in certain orientations to have ACI certification. In big construction markets poised to enact the provision, such as New York City, contractors are finding a lack of opportunities for their installers to become certified places them in an impossible position. They cannot use adhesive anchors on jobs unless their installers are certified, and if they install without certification, they risk a violation or stop work order.
How did this problem arise? It seems the only path to certification is by completing ACI/Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI) Adhesive Anchor Installation Certification Program—a two-day course costing from $500 to $900 per person and requiring success in both written and skills tests.
The hurdle is ACI restricts the training and testing to entities it designates. Typically, these are ACI chapters, which, in the larger construction markets are ill-equipped to handle the volume of requests. In New York City, the group tapped to provide this training (one of only three sponsoring groups throughout the state) is only able to certify 15 to 20 installers each month.
With many building trades installing adhesive anchors, this will only produce a small percentage of certified installers needed in the city for projects getting underway in 2015. Solutions such as sending installers to programs out of the city for certification are unlikely to make a dent in the need and only add to the training’s cost. Since ACI developed the certification requirement in response to the anchor failures that caused the collapse of several ceiling panels in the Boston Tunnel of Big Dig infamy, it is surprising this deficiency has not received more attention.
Impact on the industry
The bottleneck resulting from this shortage of training opportunities has the potential to interrupt construction schedules citywide. In correspondence with Louis J. Coletti, president/CEO of the Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA), the author was warned “at least 40,000 tradespersons must be certified by the effective date of the new code if we are to avoid stalling major public and private projects in the city.”
For specifiers, steering clear of adhesive anchors in favor of other types is a way to elude this glitch. However, in some applications, these products may be the preferred, or only acceptable, anchorage method because of the superior holding power in cracked or damaged concrete. Thus, it is important to clarify not all adhesive anchor installations require the installer to be certified. Only when anchors are installed in a horizontal or overhead orientation and under a sustained tension load is the ACI requirement applicable.
Due to the history of failures in these orientations, ACI requires special inspection. This adds to both the project team’s responsibilities and expenses. The architect and engineer must identify on plans filed with a building department those adhesive anchors for which special inspection is required. Subsequently, the owner must engage an independent testing laboratory to perform the inspections, which ACI 318-11 requires to be continuous—meaning no drilling and installing of adhesive anchors should occur unless an inspector is observing the installers’ procedures.
The special inspector must furnish a report to the engineer of record and to the building official affirming whether the installation procedures and materials covered by the report conform to the approved contract documents and the manufacturer’s printed installation instructions. However, before any installation is performed—and this is critical—the inspector must verify the installer’s certification. This circles back to the original problem: limited opportunities for installers to get certified.
While the designers and owners incur added costs and responsibilities, only the contractors are accountable for maintaining certified personnel to perform the installations. If construction activity is to move forward without expensive delays, these contractors must be able to find certified installers.
Until alternatives—such as moratoriums on enforcement, and permitting other qualified entities to conduct the certification training—are in place to address this looming problem, designers should be alert to the potential for added costs and delay when specifying adhesive anchors for installations requiring special inspection.
Gary Higbee, CSI, AIA, is the director of industry development for the Steel Institute of New York (SINY) and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York (OMINY). Formerly the assistant director for technical services with New York State’s Building Codes Division and in architectural practice for three decades, he served in various capacities throughout this period on NYS, HUD, and ICC code drafting and development committees. Higbee is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), along with other national associations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.