Paul McEntee

About Paul McEntee

A couple of years back we hosted a “Take your daughter or son to work day,” which was a great opportunity for our children to find out what their parents did. We had different activities for the kids to learn about careers and the importance of education in opening up career opportunities. People often ask me what I do for Simpson Strong-Tie and I sometimes laugh about how my son Ryan responded to a questionnaire he filled out that day:

Q.   What is your mom/dad's job?
A.   Goes and gets coffee and sits at his desk

Q.   What does your mom/dad actually do at work?
A.   Walks in the test lab and checks things

When I am not checking things in the lab or sitting at my desk drinking coffee, I manage Engineering Research and Development for Simpson Strong-Tie, focusing on new product development for connectors and lateral systems.

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and I am a licensed Civil and Structural Engineer in California. Prior to joining Simpson Strong-Tie, I worked for 10 years as a consulting structural engineer designing commercial, industrial, multi-family, mixed-use and retail projects. I was fortunate in those years to work at a great engineering firm that did a lot of everything. This allowed me to gain experience designing with wood, structural steel, concrete, concrete block and cold-formed steel as well as working on many seismic retrofits of historic unreinforced masonry buildings.

Q&A About MPBZ Moment Post Base

This week’s post was written by Jhalak Vasavada, Research & Development Engineer at Simpson Strong-Tie.

This past December, Simpson Strong-Tie hosted an interactive webinar in which product manager Emmet Mielbrecht and I discussed the development, testing, evaluation and applications of our new moment-resisting MPBZ moment post base. During the one-hour webinar, we explained the testing and evaluation criteria for new product development, test procedures, installation recommendations, allowable loads and the rotational stiffness of the connection. We also included a design example. In case you missed the discussion, you can watch the on-demand webinar and earn PDH and CEU credits here.

As part of the live webinar in December, Emmet and I led a lively Q&A session with the attendees. What follows is a curated selection of those questions and answers. Click here for more answers to participant questions. 

What is the most common ultimate failure mode?

It is concrete breakout.

How is wood shrinkage addressed?

We have evaluated wood shrinkage by testing, however, it is in review with ICC-ES. Additional information shall be made available upon approval from ICC-ES.

What was the actual strength of the concrete being used in the test (not the design value)?

It was 2500 psi, +/- 10 percent.

Breakout/pryout failure seems to govern allowable loads. Are there plans to test connection with adequate reinforcement to ignore breakout failure and achieve higher allowable moment loads?

Based on the overwhelming requests for higher loads we will be testing MPBX for:

  • Higher strength concrete
  • Reinforced concrete
  • Greater edge distances

Given overlap of steel, is one direction stronger than the other and Simpson uses the weak direction for tbl?

Yes, one direction is stronger than the other and the weak direction allowable loads are listed.

Technically, the stand-off tabs and side friction will also aid in the vertical load transfer, just extremely minimal.

Correct. Our tested loads are actually higher than the screw calculations. The code requires we use the lower of the two loads, so we use the SDS screws calculated capacity only.

Why is the 4×4 stiffer than 6×6?

The stiffness in the graphs is relative to the stiffness of the post. The 6×6 post is much stiffer, so the post base is less stiff as a percentage of the 6×6 post stiffness. The actual stiffness of the MPB66Z is stiffer than the MPB44Z.

Why a F1 value for wood? And you can use the higher wood values with a proper concrete design?

The F1 values listed in the allowable load tables are the lowest of concrete and wood assembly allowable loads.

Why aren’t uplift loads for the wood connection published?

The uplift loads are limited by the lesser of the wood or concrete capacity. We lumped those together under the concrete. This will be clarified in future publications.

Relative to deflection associated with rotation at the base is that considered elastic? In other words, when the load is removed will the deflection return to zero?

Yes. Deflection associated with rotation at the base due to applied loads within allowable load range is considered elastic.

Ready to learn more about MPBZ moment post base? See the rest of the Q&A questions here and you can watch the on-demand webinar and earn PDH and CEU credits here.

Watch a free MPBZ webinar.

Join Simpson Strong-Tie R&D engineer Jhalak Vasavada, P.E., and Simpson Strong-Tie product manager Emmet Mielbrecht for a lively and informative discussion of MPBZ.

Simpson Strong-Tie® SET-3G™ Adhesive Offers a Ductile Solution for Post-Installed Anchorage near a Concrete Edge

Designing post-installed anchorage near a concrete edge is challenging, especially since the ACI provisions for cracked-concrete anchorage went into effect. In the following post, one of our field engineers, Jason Oakley, P.E., explains how SET-3G™ and Anchor Designer™ software from Simpson Strong-Tie make it easier to design a ductile anchor solution.

Engineers often provide holdown anchoring solutions near a concrete edge to help prevent overturning of light-frame shear walls during a seismic (or high-wind) event. Sometimes a post-installed anchor must be used if the cast-in-place anchor was mislocated or misinstalled, or is located where a retrofit or addition is needed. Since the cracked-concrete anchorage design provisions went into effect more than a decade ago, it has been challenging for engineers to offer a near-edge post-installed anchoring solution. This is especially true for structures subject to earthquake loads in seismic design category (SDC) C through F. Simpson Strong-Tie’s new SET-3G epoxy is the first anchoring adhesive in the industry to offer exceptionally high bond-strength values that permit ductile anchorage in concrete near an edge. This blog post will cover a specific example that focuses on Chapter 17 of ACI 318-14 to design a threaded rod, anchored with SET-3G adhesive, used to secure a holdown located 1 3/4″ away from a single concrete edge (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Design Example for SET-3G Adhesive Anchor Used to Secure a Holdown near a Single Concrete Edge

Before proceeding with our design example, some background information will be helpful. Section of ACI 318-14 provides four options for designing anchorage in concrete base material. This post will address the two most commonly chosen options for holdown anchorage, (a) and (d). Information on options (b), (c) and more can be found in one of our previous blog posts.

Option (a) requires the anchor system to behave in a ductile manner. To accomplish this, we must meet the following ACI 318-14 requirements:

1) Both the nominal concrete breakout and adhesive bond (pullout) strengths must be great enough by a certain margin to allow a ductile steel insert to exhibit sufficient axial plastic deformation before rupture (

2) The insert must be classified as ductile. A threaded rod conforming to ASTM F1554 Gr. 36 is one example of an insert that meets the ACI 318 requirements to qualify as a ductile steel element (see Ch. 2, definition for steel element, ductile).

3) The insert must have enough stretch length to achieve a meaningful level of axial deformation under tensile loading (

In many cases, engineers have used option (d), which requires that the earthquake force be amplified by an over-strength factor, Ωo. Option (d) makes ductility irrelevant by ensuring that the anchor system behaves in a linear elastic way during an earthquake. For light-frame shear wall construction, Ωo is 3, but it can be reduced to 2.5 for a structure having a flexible diaphragm. Unfortunately, choosing option (d) often results in an amplified earthquake force far greater than the post-installed anchor design strength. This has caused some engineers to resort to expensive solutions such as anchoring through an existing footing into a new reinforced footing underneath.

Anchor Design Software Can Help
The free Simpson Strong-Tie Anchor Designer software for ACI 318 makes it easy to design a ductile anchor system using SET-3G anchoring adhesive. Figure 2 is a screen shot of our design example. Here is a list of some input information, some of which is shown in the calculation summary and 3D-model tab of the software:
• Strength-level tensile demand load: Nu = 7,700 lb.
• Anchor: 5/8″-diameter ASTM F1554 Gr. 36 threaded rod (Fu = 58,000 psi)
• Embedment depth: 12 1/2″
• Single-edge distance: 1 3/4″ (typical for 2×4 stud wall)
• Concrete strength: f’c = 3,000 psi normal-weight concrete
• Cracked concrete
• Hole condition: dry

Figure 2. Simpson Strong-Tie Anchor Designer Software SET-3G Design Example Summary Output

Conveniently, the design strength value for each of the following failure modes — steel, concrete breakout and adhesive bond (pullout) — is summarized on the left. The 3D-model tab shows the anchor located 1 3/4″ away from a single edge with all other edges assumed to be infinite. Note that the adhesive bond (pullout) design strength governs. Before proceeding further, try to answer the following question: Is this anchor system ductile?
To see whether this anchor system is ductile, we first must determine the nominal strength for each failure mode. The nominal strength provides a better representation than the design strength of the relative expected tensile limit of each failure mode. To qualify an anchor system as ductile, section of ACI 318- 14 requires that the following relative strength conditions be met:

1.2 Nsa < Ncb and Na

The nominal steel strength, Nsa, is multiplied by 1.2 to account for the possibility that the ultimate tensile strength of the insert (threaded rod in our case) could be larger than expected. This check is important as it helps to increase the probability that non-ductile failure modes — namely, concrete breakout (Ncb) and adhesive bond (Na) — will not occur. The nominal strength for each failure mode can be calculated backwards from the design strength as follows:

Because the steel failure mode governs (1.2Nsa = 15,732 lb.) and the steel in this design example is ductile (ASTM F1554 Gr. 36), the anchorage is considered ductile. It’s important to note that the nominal strength does not include the material reduction factor, φ, which is 0.75 for steel and 0.65 for breakout and adhesive bond. It also does not include the 0.75 reduction factor for anchorage located in SDC C – F. This reduction factor accounts for the possibility of increased cracking and spalling in the concrete caused by seismic activity.

Next, the threaded rod must have a stretch length of eight times the nominal diameter of threaded rod (8d) according to — or, in our case, 5″. In our example, the sill plate is 1 1/2″ thick and the distance between the anchor nut and HDU5 base, SO, is 1 3/8″. SO will vary according to the holdown model and is published in the Simpson Strong-Tie Wood Construction Connectors catalog. To meet the 8d stretch length, the holdown will need to be raised 5″ – 1 1/2″ – 1 3/8″ = 2 1/8″ above the 2x sill plate (Figure 1). If the anchor needs to be extended with a coupler nut to reach the holdown, then the 8d stretch length should (1) only apply where the threaded rod is continuous and (2) never include the length of the coupler nut. Simpson Strong-Tie HDU holdowns can be raised up to 6″ (2 1/2″ for the DTT1 and 4 1/2″ for the DTT2) above the concrete surface (measured to the holdown nut) without having to consider additional rod elongation.

A nice feature of the Anchor Designer software is that it performs the ductility check and conveniently shows the results, highlighting in bold font which failure mode governs (Figure 3). The software will show you whether the anchor system, based on the design information entered by the user, is ductile or not.

Figure 3. SET-3G Ductility Check

We see that the anchor system, rated for a governing design strength of 7,727 lb. (adhesive bond), can resist the demand load of 7,700 lb. Dead load is not addressed here, but it should be included in the design because it reduces the net uplift force, Nu.

Next, we must choose a holdown. Since ASD values are listed for Simpson Strong-Tie holdowns, we must convert our demand load to an ASD level load. To simplify, we assume 100% seismic loading.

ASD level tensile demand load = 7,700 x 0.7 = 5,390 lb.

Figure 4 shows a list of predeflected holdowns that can be found in the Wood Construction Connectors catalog. For a DF/SP wood post, we find that the HDU5 is the best choice. This holdown is rated for 5,645 lb., exceeding the design load of 5,390 lb.

Figure 4. Simpson Strong-Tie Predeflected Holdowns
(HDU5 highlighted in yellow)

There you have it! A ductile anchor solution near a concrete edge is possible because SET-3G adhesive achieves some of the highest bond-strength values on the market. Ever since the building code started referencing the ACI anchorage design provision more than 10 years ago, engineers have been struggling to make concrete anchorage work for holdowns located near an edge. But now engineers have the option of designing with an adhesive anchor for a more cost-effective solution.

Additional information about Simpson’s newest adhesive, SET-3G, can be found at

What Building Professionals Need to Know About Construction Loading

This week’s post was written by Shawn Overholtzer, ICS Business Manager
at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

Understanding construction loading is important as it relates to the acceptable practices in terms of staging and storing construction materials prior to installation. What does “construction loading” mean? This term describes materials and people that are present during the course of construction. It refers to any construction material that is stacked and/or staged on the trusses for any length of time prior to the installation of said materials. This also includes those individuals that are working or walking on the trusses during the course of construction.

One of the most important concepts to understand is that before any construction materials can be loaded on roof or floor trusses, the trusses must be adequately restrained and braced. This must be done in accordance with BCSI-B1 and BCSI-B2. Loading material on trusses prior to adequate restraint and bracing can lead to failure, collapses, injury and even death. This is especially important when structural elements such as roof or floor trusses are involved.

The Truss Plate Institute, along with the Structural Building Component Association, provides guidelines (BCSI-B4) for the amount of material that can be stacked on a roof or floor along with the proper placement and orientation of this material, and the length of time the material can be staged. Additional guidelines include the following:

  • Do not position material so that it creates excessive load over a single truss or small group of trusses, but rather, place the material so that the load can be distributed over multiple trusses
  • Material should be placed perpendicular to the trusses.
  • Furthermore, it is optimal to position the material along interior or exterior supports or bearings.

It is imperative not to overload trusses, because this can have long-term effects on their structural performance. Even after the loads from building materials have been removed, the deflection or sagging in the roof or ceiling often remains.

As a component manufacturer, you have probably heard or read all of this information before. It’s important that component manufacturers are educated in the best practices and guidelines defined within the BCSI. However, it cannot end there. These guidelines have little value if they are not correctly implemented on the jobsite.

How can you, as the component manufacturer, help promote jobsite safety and ensure that trusses retain their structural integrity? First, it’s vital that you send BCSI summary sheets with your jobsite packages. Second, use this as an opportunity to educate your customer, contractors and sub-contractors. Third, ensure that your staff is familiar with current information and facilitates preconstruction meetings with your customers. A little upfront work can save a lot of headache and cost throughout the construction process. Simpson Strong-Tie is committed to offering sound structural solutions and providing education to help people design and build safer, stronger structures.

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Good Ideas Come from Many Places — “Necessity Is the Mother of Invention”

You never know where the next great product idea or innovation is going to come from — some of our best new ideas originate with the customers who use our current products. At Simpson Strong-Tie, we welcome any inspiration that can help us serve our customers’ needs even better. With so much competition, however, and because so much research and testing are entailed in developing each new product, the criteria that an idea must meet to gain eventual acceptance are necessarily quite rigorous. In this post, Steve Rotzin, Manager of Intellectual Property and Legal Services at Simpson Strong-Tie, outlines some of these criteria for your consideration.

All of us, at one time or another, dream up a product idea of some sort. My wife was once sanding the tongue-and-groove boards of our living room ceiling and she thought of a very cool idea of gloves that had Velcro on them and users could interchange sandpaper of various grit on any finger of the glove. If you’ve ever sanded anything, this actually made a lot of sense especially for complex shapes and tough to reach spots. I researched it and found out that someone had already thought of it and “patented it.”

We are no different here at Simpson Strong-Tie Company. We are constantly thinking of ways to make the very best products, incorporating innovative features to make the installation as easy and cost effective as possible. We also strive to exceed the performance requirements of the application in order to help build the strongest, safest possible structures. While these ideas are something we think about day in and day out, we also know you think about solutions as well. It’s you who encounter circumstances where our parts may not work as needed or fail to meet a specific need or application. These are the times we receive ideas from customers hoping we might adopt or develop an idea to meet their needs.

Annually, we receive a number of ideas from outside the company, even though they’re not something we actively solicit. The truth is that product ideas from consumers, especially ideas that come from consumers who work in the construction industry, are often relevant and timely. To make it easier for you to share feedback and ideas, we’ve set up a process whereby anyone who has an idea they’d like to share, can submit it to us for evaluation.

Here are some tips to help your product idea receive our fullest consideration, :

  1. Do Your Research — Has someone invented this before? You might be surprised by how many ideas have come and gone. Ideas that we think are novel and have never been attempted by anyone else have often been manufactured, sold and put out to pasture years before we thought of them. So do some research. Also, just because you don’t see the exact same thing doesn’t mean the elements which could be patented, or protected, in your device haven’t been claimed before in someone else’s patent.
  2. Protect Yourself — Make sure you’ve taken steps to ensure you are protected. Did someone else help you? Could someone else claim ownership? Have you filed for a provisional application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office? We cannot offer legal advice, but seeking legal advice from a patent professional is always a good idea.
  3. Cost Considerations — When we receive ideas, often those ideas overlook cost. Yes, they serve a need, but they’d probably never be manufactured or purchased because they would cost several times more than the market will bear. You can build a better mousetrap, but that doesn’t mean anyone will buy it. Be sure you’ve considered how much steel or material your product is using. Also, consider that things like “door hinges” and secondary manufacturing processes are steps that add cost and most likely will make the product too expensive to the end user. A product that significantly increases a structure’s overall volume or thickness isn’t advisable, either. Those are just a few factors you may want to consider.
  4. Approvals — Please consider what approvals your product might require. Products that arrive at Simpson Strong-Tie with ICC code reports, UL listing, IAPMO or other approvals or that are already patented receive the highest attention.
  5. How to Submit — if you’re still interested in submitting to Simpson, please visit Print the documents, fill them out and return them to the name at the bottom of the form. Please be sure you’ve included pictures or drawings of your product or application.
  6. Timing — It may take some time for us to review your idea. Simpson does review most ideas, and those ideas that have all the elements discussed above usually receive the quickest response. If you have any questions, you are welcome to reach out to us.

Thank you for considering Simpson for your ideas.


What You Should Know About the New DGH Fire Wall Hanger Options

Does everyone do year-end performance reviews to discuss how you did on your project objectives and professional development goals? I love meeting with my team to recap all their amazing accomplishments for the past year, discussing long-term career plans and figuring out the steps we will take to implement those plans over the next six months, year, and beyond. I hate, hate, hate, hate doing all the paperwork that HR requires – but I am done with it now, so I’ll get over it.

One of our new product objectives for 2017 was to create a new fire wall hanger that could be installed before the drywall. Creating a joist hanger that can span a gap while still meeting the target loads was a challenging task. We released the DG series of fire wall hangers in July. I discussed the use of fire wall hangers in Why Fire-Rated Hangers Are Required in Type III Wood-Frame Buildings.

Before we finished developing the DG series of hangers, we had already started design and testing for skewed and offset top-flange options. As much as engineers love buildings that look like rectangular boxes, the real world isn’t always square, and framing isn’t always perpendicular.

My colleague, Randy Shackelford, did a series of blog posts about how to specify a hanger, which covered joist hangers, truss hangers and custom hangers. Among the many issues Randy discussed, an important one for engineers is that customized hangers with skews or offset flanges have load reductions. Some reductions are small, and some can be large. One thing the reductions have in common is they are determined through testing.

Like other skewed or offset top-flange hangers, modified DGH hangers have load reductions due to differences in performance when compared to the standard versions. With many of our hanger options, we provide adjustment factors, which Randy covered in his posts mentioned above. Since there are only four loads for the skewed or offset DGH hangers, we tabulated and published the allowable loads in a new flier, F-C-DGHSKEW.

I am still adjusting goals for my team for 2018. Maybe we’ll see about proposing a building-code change to require buildings to be square. Until then, Simpson Strong-Tie will keep your hanger options open.


How Computer Simulation Can Power Innovation

This week’s post was written by Frank Ding, Engineering Analysis & Technical Computing Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

Computer-simulated product testing is being used increasingly in modern engineering and manufacturing because it provides a low-risk, time- and cost-efficient means of modeling system performance using a wide array of variables before a physical prototype has been created. The following Blog post outlines some of the uses and advantages of integrating this technology into the product development process.

The role of test simulation in product design might not be the general focus of the Structural Engineering Blog. However, you may have noticed that computer simulation plots have been cited in a few previous postings. Nowadays, it’s rare to talk about product development without mentioning computer simulation at some point. The aim of this post is to give you a better sense of how test simulation can benefit product development and innovation.

Simpson Strong-Tie is a manufacturing company specializing in structural product solutions. Product innovation has been key to the company’s success ever since the production of the first joist hanger in 1956 by the company founder, Barclay Simpson. And with increasing competition and market pressure, product innovation becomes ever more critical to the company’s bottom line.

The ultimate goal of product development is to produce the best design as efficiently as possible. At Simpson, physics-based computer numerical modeling and simulation already form a key tool in our design process. Research published by the Aberdeen Group in 2014 reported that best-in-class companies were leading the way in utilizing simulation software to arm their employees with the insight needed to develop and optimize today’s products.

Finite element analysis (FEA) tools have been an essential component of any engineer’s toolbox for years. The ability to create a virtual prototype or realistic representative model of a part or assembly before physical prototyping offers companies a much faster product development path than was previously possible. Most of the time, simulation is used early in the design cycle to investigate a set of predetermined candidate designs — in which it has proven to be a more efficient method than running physical tests alone for isolating the best design. At other times, simulation is used alongside physical validation tests to determine whether the design meets specifications and to explore potential failure modes.
How can simulation power innovation?

When Thomas Edison was asked about finding success amidst failure, he stated, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

With computer simulation, one can evaluate many design concepts in a shorter time than one can with physical prototyping. A virtual test workflow drastically reduces the design, prototype and test cycle that are required in a typical product innovation process. For example, a typical concrete product development cycle involves a long process of concrete pouring, curing and producing physical prototypes. The physical design iteration cycle could take months, whereas a simulation design cycle may take only a couple of weeks.

Another key part of the virtual design process is to try out many variations of design parameters in “what if” scenarios once the computer simulation model is validated and designers have the confidence to use simulation results to guide design decisions. With more and more affordable, high-performance computing power available from cloud or onsite servers, more complex simulations can be performed at a given time. As a result, a faster cycle of virtual trials speeds up the entire product innovation process. In many cases, hundreds of design concepts are virtually tested before physical prototyping begins.

Besides improving the speed of development and cutting costs, simulation also helps improve product quality. For example, the global and detailed aspects of product performance can be identified and measured easily using simulation. The insight gained from simulation can be used to troubleshoot product failure and optimize the design.

Simulation enables us to develop new products in a virtual environment built on real-world data with much lower cost or risk. Simulation is already an essential part of the innovation process. Simulation is powering modern manufacturing innovation. We will see this trend accelerate further in the future.

My Engineering Adventures with Build Change

This week’s post was written by James P. Mwangi, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. – our first annual Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. 

Let me start by wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

My fellowship activities started in July 2017. I spent two weeks in New Jersey getting oriented to the Build Change organization and engineering activities around the world. I then spent two days in Pleasanton getting to meet the engineering team and getting updated on Simpson Strong-Tie products and the team leaders.

In August, I headed to my first assignment in Indonesia. My tasks were:

  • Work with the Build Change technical team in Indonesia to review the school building design guidelines and make recommendations to the government on their adherence to the design codes.
  • Prepare construction documents for a retrofit of a typical five-classroom school building.
  • Visit school sites and select a school building that is a typical candidate for retrofitting whose retrofit scheme can be replicated at other school sites.
  • Work with the Better Building Materials team to find out ways to make quality clay bricks economically.
  • Provide mentorship (in capacity building) to the engineering team.

The first thing I had to do was to translate the documents to be reviewed from Bahasa Indonesia (a language I had never heard spoken before) to English – Thanks to Google document translator! I was based in Padang, West Sumatra. I am used to long flights from California, but getting to Padang (+14 hour time difference) was very long. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India and USA), comprising more than 17,000 islands of which only 6,000 are inhabited.

My team accomplished the following during the two months I was in Indonesia:

  1. Reviewed and provided comments on the Ministry of Education’s School Construction Guidelines for both new and existing buildings and included sketches, details, supporting calculations, etc.
  2. Reviewed and provided comments on the National Disaster Risk Management Agency’s School Design Guidelines.
  3. Reviewed the Minister of Public Works No. 45 / PRT / M /2007’s Technical Guidelines for the Development of Buildings.
  4. Reviewed the National Standardization Agency (SNI) Planning Procedures for the Earthquake Resistance of Buildings and Non-Building Structures in order to ascertain that the SNI’s school building design requirements are incorporated in the design guidelines of items 1–3 above.
  5. Provided a Report of Build Change comments and suggestions, with explanations, on the Ministry of Education’s School Construction Guidelines for both new and existing buildings and the National Disaster Risk Management Agency’s School Design Guidelines.
  6. Provided construction documents, materials list and cost estimate for a typical example new school building. This was a prototype classroom building that incorporated the comments from the reviewed school building design guidelines.
  7. Provided construction documents, calculations, bill of quantities and cost estimate for the retrofit of the five-classroom building in SD42 school.
  8. Visited and selected a possible school for the next retrofit project. The schools visited were the ones with highest need (most vulnerable, have most students, representative of most common school buildings). Fundraising efforts are underway to finance the retrofit of the selected representative school building.
  9. Went to the field with the Better Building Materials team and visited the clay brick making and firing kilns. Suggested possible changes in the kilns and alternative fuels (from firewood) to make better-quality bricks and make the process more environmentally friendly, more sustainable and more economical.
  10. Conducted hands-on brick wall sample construction activity for the Build Change technical team to illustrate quality mortar mix and the correct mortar thickness for both bed and head joints.
  11. Moderated technical team presentations given to the communities and made suggestions on how to improve the technical content of those presentations.

The climate in Padang was humid, hot and rainy almost every day I was there. I was amazed by how friendly the people were, even though I could not communicate with them directly (very few speak English). If you think you can handle spicy food, you have not tasted Padang food. Most of the food is served cold, but everyone sweats a lot as they eat. I was also lucky to have time to visit historical Minag chief’s palace and enjoy great snorkeling in one of the private islands.

James with school children

James with school children

James with school children

James with school principal

Poor wall construction method

Poor wall construction detail and use of smooth rebar

James making clay bricks

Brick kiln

Brick kiln

Inside brick kiln collecting samples for testing

Sample brick-wall building

James at Minag Chief’s palace

James at Cubadak Island

My second country and current assignment is Colombia. I arrived here in mid-October, having spent two weeks in California after Indonesia. I spent one week in Bogota, and now I am in Medellin, which is going to be my base for the next few months. The food here is not very different from what I get in my home town of Paso Robles, California. The climate in Medellin is pleasant and sightly warmer than in Bogota, which is at a much higher elevation. In both Bogota and Medellin, more than 80% of the respective city populations live in informal housing. These are homes built with low-quality materials, are not engineered and follow no building design or construction guidelines. The informal housing sector is mostly located in very steep mountain slopes and the homes are constructed over time, sometimes reaching four or five stories using unreinforced masonry clay tile blocks.

I have embarked on the following activities:

  1. Review and comment on Build Change’s Manual of Evaluation and Seismic Strengthening for Vulnerability Reduction in Housing. This manual has been approved by the building departments in Bogota and Medellin for evaluating existing informal housing and as a guide to retrofitting vulnerable buildings and reducing their damage in future earthquakes.
  2. Coordinate with three universities (two in Bogota and one in Medellin) on full-scale testing of the wall systems used in the informal housing in order to get correct design parameters to use in the Build Change manual update. The walls will be tested for in-plane and out-of-plane (shake table) load conditions. Different wall conditions such as plaster on one or both sides, plaster with wire mesh on one or both sides, etc., will also be tested. Nonlinear building analysis will be carried out using results from the tests in order to access the effectiveness of incremental retrofit schemes such as only adding a ring beam, only providing plaster on one side, etc.
  3. Help with the training of building professionals (civil engineers, architects, project managers) from the Medellin Social Institute for Housing and Habitat (ISVIMED) on how to implement the Build Change Manual both in the classroom and in the field as a form of capacity building in the two cities.

The work has started, and it keeps us very busy. But I have also had a chance to get out of the city and scale all 747 steps of the 650-foot-tall Piedra del Peñol, “Rock,” in Guatapé, located 50 miles east of Medellin.

James at Julio Garavito University, Bogota

James at Julio EAFIT University, Medellin

Urban housing in Bogota

Urban housing in Medellin

James on his way to the “Rock”

James at the “Rock”

If you’re curious, don’t hesitate to contact me at before my Fellowship year ends to find out what part of the world I’m in at the time.

Simplify Access to Your Drawings with the Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD® Plugin

This week’s post was written by Carolyn O’Hearn, Software and App Marketing Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie.

Accessing engineering drawings, determining whether you have the right ones and loading them into AutoCAD can seem like an exhausting endeavor. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an application that does everything you need in one package? An application that will also save you time, on both retrieval and installation, and give you access to additional applications? Simpson Strong-Tie has developed a new tool that can take care of all these needs.

Figure 1. Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD Plugin — Drawing Finder.

We want to make it easier for you to retrieve your drawings without using up valuable design time switching applications. We’ve made substantial improvements to our AutoCAD tools by creating a plugin that now integrates the familiar functionality of our Drawing Finder into our legacy AutoCAD Menu so you can now download drawings, and store only the drawings you need, without ever leaving AutoCAD.

From the menu, the Downloaded drawings area allows you to quickly view all the drawings that you’ve previously downloaded. (See Figure 2.) We’ve also built in a feature that will allow you to customize our drawings and save them to this area as well.

Figure 2. Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD Plugin — Menu.

Need to use some other Simpson software in your design? Click the Other applications button in the menu to be taken to our Software and Web Applications page on our website.

The AutoCAD Plugin also solves installation problems you may have experienced with the AutoCAD Menu. We understood it was a time-consuming process to download all of our drawings and that the installation wasn’t as easy as we would like it to be. We’ve eliminated that barrier by building a plugin that connects you directly to the Drawing Finder from inside of AutoCAD with an installer that works the way you would expect. This allows you to download only those drawings that are applicable to the design you are working on. And every drawing you download is automatically stored for quick reference later. With these features combined, your design process is now streamlined!

One more benefit of the AutoCAD Plugin is our ability to add or change drawings in Drawing Finder and update them dynamically on both the tool and our website immediately. You no longer have to install and update a new version with every change. And if you ever run into an issue or need to request additional drawings from the website, you can now use our Help button on the tool to send a request directly to the support team for this specific application.

AutoCAD LT does not support the installation of plugins, therefore our Plugin cannot be installed in LT versions of AutoCAD. However, the content available in our browser based Drawing Finder is the exact same as in the plugin.

Start experiencing our new AutoCAD Plugin today at to experience the ease of use and faster designing process we now offer.

If you have questions, please use this simple form to send the team your input.

Turkeys and Gratitude

This week’s post was written by Kari Martin, Marketing Communications Content Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

There are a couple of turkeys that like to hang out around our home office in Pleasanton and, no, I’m not referring to any of my colleagues — we actually have a gang of wild turkeys that comes up from the creek behind the office. Almost every day, these colorful birds feel safe enough to stroll onto the office walkway pecking for food outside our office windows and doors. It’s surprising to me that these beautiful creatures could be so fearless (or is it simply naïve?), especially around Thanksgiving time. Their presence reminds me that being fearless is important, because nothing new would ever be discovered if we were too afraid to venture outside our comfort zones.

The beauty and strangeness of the turkeys also remind me to be thankful, because everything we have in life is ultimately a gift. Their consistent return to our office is a gentle reminder as I walk into work to give thanks to you, our readers, our customers and our partners every day. Thank you!

We hope you enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. We’ll be back with another post next week.

A New Way to See Whether FRP Is Right for Your Project

This week’s post was written by Griff Shapack, FRP Design Engineer at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

Specifying our Composite Strengthening Systems™ (CSS) is unlike choosing any other product we offer. In light of the unique variables involved with selecting and using fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) solutions, we encourage you to leverage our expertise to help with your FRP strengthening designs. To get started, we first need to determine whether FRP is right for your project. The fastest way to do that is for you to fill out our Design Questionnaire. Our new Excel-based questionnaire collects your project information and helps you use the existing capacity check to evaluate whether or not FRP is suitable for your project per the requirements of ACI 562-16 Section 5.5.2. After the feasibility study, the questionnaire creates input sheets specifically for your project.

Getting Started

Step 1

Open the FRP Design Questionnaire spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel. If a yellow warning appears at the top of the sheet, click “Enable Content” to ensure that the workbook will function properly. You will start on the worksheet tab named “Main”. “Main” will be the only worksheet tab when you begin, but more worksheet tabs will be created as you use the spreadsheet.

Step 2

Enter the project information and your contact information in Section 1 of the worksheet. The contact information should be for the Designer that you would like Simpson Strong-Tie to work with for this project’s FRP design. See Figure 1.

Step 3

Enter the FRP strengthening information in Section 2 of the worksheet. If the application will require an existing capacity check, an input form requesting the information needed for the check will appear in Section 3 of the worksheet.

Figure 1. Project information and FRP strengthening information.

Step 4                                                                                                                        

For members that support gravity loads, an existing capacity check must be performed to verify that FRP strengthening is suitable before a design can be generated. For these members, the spreadsheet will generate a check table for you in Section 3 of the worksheet. Enter the number of members to be checked and the dead load (D), live load (L) and snow load (S) for each member. Use consistent units for the input. See Figure 2. The spreadsheet will calculate the demand-to-capacity ratio (DCR) for each member. The ratio must be less than or equal to 1.0.

  1. A result of “OK” means the existing capacity check is passed. Proceed to Step 5 below.
  2. A result of “NG” (no good) means the existing capacity check is failed and FRP strengthening is not likely to be suitable. However, consider contacting Simpson Strong-Tie about your design condition to ensure that this is the case.

Figure 2. Existing capacity check.

Step 5

You are now ready to create an element input worksheet for those members that passed the existing capacity check. Click “FRP Questionnaire” from the Excel menu bar. Then click the “Input Sheet” button in the ribbon bar. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. “Input Sheet” button.

This will create an element input worksheet as a new worksheet tab. See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Element input worksheet.

Enter the number of elements to be checked and fill in the design information for each member. The “No. of elements” cell features a drop-down menu with the numbers 1–5, but any number can be typed into the cell. (Each member should have passed the existing capacity check in Step 4.) See Figure 5.   

Figure 5. Element input worksheet.

Step 6

If you would like to add different member types that need to be strengthened, click “Another Type of Strengthening” button in the ribbon bar. See Figure 6. This will create a new “Main” worksheet. Repeat the steps above, until all strengthening types and member data have been entered.

Figure 6. “Another Type of Strengthening” button.

 Step 7

When you have finished inputting all required data, save the spreadsheet file and email it to You should expect confirmation of receipt from us within one business day.

From there, if FRP is a viable option, you can decide to utilize our no-cost, no-obligation design services. Our team will design a unique solution specifying the most cost-effective CSS products that address your particular needs. The design calculations, drawings, notes and specifications are prepared by Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Services and can then be incorporated into the design documents that you submit to the building official.

Don’t know which FRP solution is the right one for you? We do. Give our new Design Questionnaire a try, and let us be your partner during the project design phase. Our new Excel-based questionnaire collects your project information and helps you use the existing capacity check to evaluate whether or not FRP is suitable for your project per the requirements of ACI 562-16 Section 5.5.2 or AASHTO FRP Guide Spec Section 1.4.4. After the feasibility study, the questionnaire creates input sheets specifically for your project. For projects in Canada designed per the requirements of CSA S806 or CSA S6, please use our fillable PDF questionnaire to collect your information.

Learn more at

Learn more: Webinar – Introducing Fabric-Reinforced Cementitious Matrix (FRCM)

In this free webinar we dive into some very important considerations including the latest industry standards, material properties and key governing limits when designing with FRCM.

Continuing education credits will be offered for this webinar.
Participants can earn one professional development hour (PDH) or 0.1 continuing education unit (CEU).