Specifying Flagpoles: Exploring standards and common errors

A series of 12-m poles has been mounted on Yas Marina Circuit Grandstand nearby.

Nonetheless, for locations outside the United States, the owner project requirements or schematic design documents should indicate design wind speed. This is to facilitate structural calculations outlined in NAAMM FP1001, and to be consistent with local building codes and other conditions unique to the property. The flagpole design must account for the wind speeds in the location at which the flagpole is to be installed, and the NAAMM FP1001 only lists wind speeds for locations in the United States. Regardless of location, if a larger-than-normal flag (as indicated in Appendix B of the NAAMM standard) is anticipated or required to be flown, then this should also be noted in the owner project requirements, as it also affects the design and structural calculations of the flagpole.

The loads as determined by the calculations using the methods of NAAMM FP1001 will also determine appropriate mounting strategies, regardless of whether the pole is to be mounted on the ground or to a building structure such as a roof or wall. Foundations and concrete bases are a structural consideration, based on soil conditions. NAAMM FP1001 references American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standard Specifications for Structural Supports for Highway Signs, Luminaires, and Traffic Signals (current version is 2013 6th Edition, with 2015 Interim Revision) to inform its design calculations for mounting flagpoles on the foundation or building structure to which it is secured.

Challenges with specifications
Commercially available master specifications typically provide for several different materials or types for the flagpole. As such, specifiers should be attentive in project specifications, so they can tailor or customize the master specification guide to specify which option or feature is actually desired by the project requirements. In other words:

  • specify aluminum, fiberglass, or steel type—not all of
    the above;
  • specify internal halyard or external halyard—not both; and
  • specify a single finish (e.g. brushed satin, clear anodic, color anodic, or powder-coated), not more than one finish, and ensure it is consistent with the material of the flagpole.

There are several other areas of confusion, inconsistencies, or errors the authors have encountered with master specifications. For example, some specs have confused ASTM B221-14, Standard Specification for Aluminum and Aluminum-alloy Extruded Bars, Rods, Wire, Profiles, and Tubes, with ASTM B241/B241M-16, Standard Specification for Aluminum and Aluminum-alloy Seamless Pipe and Seamless Extruded Tube. The latter refers to aluminum piping for pressure applications, and is not generally intended for structural applications. The correct standard for flagpole specifications is ASTM B221—
the common reference for structural tubing.

The Delaware Bridge Memorial Veterans’ Memorial Park features a flag for each brand of the United States military, standing as tribute to the diverse span of men and women who have served in the armed forces. Erected in 1993, these flags were dedicated to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. The larger American flag that stands proudly in front represents unity and patriotism.
Photo courtesy Delaware River and Bay Authority

The authors have also seen specifications unnecessarily complicating and over-specifying the choice of aluminum finishes—that is, calling out multiple finishes. The Aluminum Association (AA) has published DAF 45, Designation System for Aluminum Finishes (reaffirmed January 2009), to help specifiers name a finish, but DAF 45 should not be construed as a performance specification. A typical standard mechanical finish for aluminum flagpoles is “Natural Satin Finish,” specifically AA-M33 Coarse Satin Directional Textured. AA-M33 is considered the standard for flag shafts and light poles; by way of example, it allows for an aluminum oxide grit finish of 80 to 100 size, accomplished by wheel or belt polishing. Specifying finish designations such as AA-M20 Buffed [Unspecified] or AA-M32 Medium Satin Directional Textured [aluminum oxide grit finish of 180 to 220 size], is useful for small-scale projects like handrails, but is unnecessarily expensive for flagpoles.

Some specifiers incorrectly require sealing of flagpole and flagpole component aluminum surfaces with clear hard-coat wax. This might be suitable for handrails and signage, but not flagpoles in an exterior environment. In those circumstances, the wax quickly degrades and must be reapplied at regular intervals to maintain a seal. The authors know of no flagpole manufacturers or consultants in the United States or Europe that can present a sound cost/benefit analysis for sealing a flagpole with a hard-coat wax.

Some specifications needlessly increase the cost and complexity of a flagpole. One example of this would be a requirement for a “Winch System: Manually operated winch with control stop device and removable handle, stainless-steel cable halyard” for small flagpoles (i.e. those shorter than 12 m [40 ft]). While taller flagpoles typically come with a manually operated winch system (with a break/stop device and removable handle) and aircraft-grade stainless steel wire rope due to the size and weight of the flag being flown, it is not recommended for smaller poles. While this may be a subjective matter, in the authors’ opinion, the weight of the flag for smaller poles is not heavy enough to need a winch mechanism, and the winch provides little benefit in assisting with raising and lowering the flag. It is technically feasible to put a winch and stainless-steel cable halyard on these smaller flagpoles, but this increases the cost of the pole significantly with little overall benefit. It is more economical and practical to use a standard polypropylene halyard with a jam cleat (still a high-quality internal halyard system), since the low weight of the flags on smaller poles make it difficult to get the wire rope to spool properly on the winch.

Flagpoles are beautiful in their own right. They are constructed to provide for the dynamic visual effect of flying a flag that evokes an emotional response. As an architectural centerpiece, they should enhance the landscape of the property. Flagpoles do not need cellular antennae, weathervanes, or other distractors from their inherent aesthetics and functionality, but they do need to be designed and installed to be structurally sound and safe. Careful design and installation of an appropriately sized flagpole will enhance building occupants’ and visitors’ satisfaction for years to come.

Joseph Scarpa, CSI, CCCA, CPSD, CPSM, GGP, LEED AP O+M, SCIP, is a specifications project manager with Conspectus—the largest independent specifications consultant firm in the United States. Prior to joining Conspectus, he served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years as a supply corps officer, with subsequent careers in commercial real estate and capital construction management. Scarpa can be reached at JScarpa@ConspectusInc.com.

Marc Summers is the co-owner and director of Trident Support Corp. in San Diego, and Trident Support Flagpoles LLC in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). A retired U.S. Navy supply corps officer having served 30 years of active and reserve duty, with a background in contracts management and logistics support, he helped form Trident in 1999. Summers has built six of the tallest flagpoles in the world, as recognized by Guinness World Records. He can be reached via e-mail at marc.summers@trident-support.com.

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