A Tale of Two Houses: Design Loads for Metal Plate Connected Wood Trusses

two-houses-trusses

Take two trusses with identical profiles and environmental surroundings, and they should have the same design loads, right? Early in my career, I recall hearing a story about two identical buildings right next to each other that were designed for two different magnitudes of environmental loads. I remember wondering – how do the loads know which building is which?

There used to be a time when it was not uncommon for 5 substantially different wood truss designs to come from 5 different companies – all designing to the exact same spec.  Whereas some differences are always to be expected (manufacturer-specific plate design values and proprietary analogues come to mind), the truss design disparities that used to exist from one company to the next were compounded by variations in something which really shouldn’t vary at all – the application of the specified loads to the truss. Differences in loading can occur whenever there is room for interpretation. In cases where the loading specs for fabricated wood trusses are not very detailed, there is a lot of room for interpretation. And when that happens, everyone knows how many different answers you get when you ask 5 different engineers!

IBC-2012-ASCE

Fortunately, the truss industry has come a long way in this area. In some cases, the codes and standards that govern the loading of structures have improved and helped the cause. But the truss industry also made a concerted effort to minimize these loading differences. Everyone agreed that a truss bid shouldn’t be won based on “less loading,” so they set out to change that. One of the best efforts in accomplishing this was the development of the SBCA Load Guide entitled “Guide to Good Practice for Specifying & Applying Loads to Structural Building Components.” Produced by the Structural Building Component Association (SBCA) in cooperation with the Truss Plate Institute (TPI), the Load Guide was developed with the stated goal of “helping everyone that uses it to more easily understand, define and specify all the loads that should be applied to the design of each structural building component” and “to help assure that all trusses will be designed using a consistent interpretation and application of the code.”

If you are an architect, engineer or a Building Code Official who deals with trusses and you don’t already have the current SBCA Load Guide, I strongly encourage you to check it out (free downloads are available from the SBCA website here.) When fielding questions about loading on trusses, I inevitably refer the inquiring party to the SBCA Load Guide not only for the answer to the question, but for future reference as well. The SBCA Load Guide isn’t just a handy reference to read, it also offers a spreadsheet tool that can be used to calculate loads as well as output the load calculation worksheets. The worksheets can be submitted with the construction documents for plan approval or submitted to the truss manufacturer to be used in the design process.

Worksheet from the SBCA Load Guide

Worksheet from the SBCA Load Guide

In addition to providing all of the code and standard loading provisions that apply to metal-plate-connected wood trusses, the SBCA Load Guide also presents the truss industry’s consensus positions and interpretations on provisions that are either unclear as to how they apply to trusses or that have resulted in loading inconsistencies in the past. With the many truss-specific examples and applications covered, it leaves very little room, if any, for further interpretation or question as to how the various code provisions should be applied to trusses.

Take wind loads, for example. Wind loading on trusses has been a heavily debated topic over the years, such as whether a truss should be designed for Components & Cladding (C&C), Main Wind Force Resisting System (MWFRS) or both. In fact, wind loading used to be one of the main sources of inconsistencies in truss designs from one company to another.  The truss industry has since established a consensus position on this matter and the SBCA Load Guide presents it as follows:

SBCA-load-guide-consensus

The SBCA Load Guide also pulls information from a variety of resources to help provide more insight into some of the code provisions. For example, in the wind loading section a graphic is reproduced from a Structural Engineers Association of Washington’s handbook (SEAW RSM-03) to clarify the effect of wind directionality on C&C wind pressures for gable/hip roofs, since this consideration is not made clear in ASCE 7.

Graphic from SEAW RSM-03 As Reprinted in the SBCA Load Guide

Graphic from SEAW RSM-03 As Reprinted in the SBCA Load Guide

This clarification is further illustrated in the example wind loading diagrams, which show how wind pressures are evaluated when taking the directionality of the wind into account, i.e., by evaluating the pressures separately with the wind from the left and from the right.

Example Wind Loading Diagrams in the SBCA Load Guide

Example Wind Loading Diagrams in the SBCA Load Guide

Of course, the SBCA Load Guide is only a guide and is NOT intended to supersede a Building Designer’s design specification. As specified in ANSI/TPI 1, the Building Designer is responsible for providing all applicable design loads to be applied to the trusses:

ANSI-TPI1-text

If you are an architect or engineer who specifies detailed loading schedules for truss systems, great!  Your specifications may not need the SBCA Load Guide to ensure that the trusses are accurately loaded as intended in the design of the building. But the SBCA Load Guide still provides a lot of insight as to how the truss industry – and anyone who uses the Load Guide – applies various code provisions to trusses. It might even be an interesting study to see how your specified loads compare to the loading examples in the SBCA Load Guide.

wind-zone-diagram

For everyone else who isn’t well-versed in the application of code provisions to wood trusses, the SBCA Load Guide is an invaluable tool. Building Designers, building code officials, truss technicians and truss Designers can all benefit from the Load Guide. As stated in the SBCA Load Guide, one of the industry’s goals is to achieve a greater level of consensus among the largest audience possible on how to load trusses and other structural building components. The more people who read and use the SBCA Load Guide, the more consistency there will be in the interpretation and application of code provisions pertaining to wood trusses, which will help make projects run smoother and most importantly, improve building safety. At Simpson Strong-Tie, we are big fans of tools that work to do that.

If you’ve had experience using the SBCA Load Guide, we’d love to hear about it – please let us know in the comments below!

 

Treated Lumber and Trusses (and the One Condition Under Which MPC Wood Trusses Shouldn’t Be Used)

What do a chicken house, a water treatment plant and a raised wood floor system all have in common?  Very likely, they all involve preservative-treated lumber.  They’re also all examples of common environments in which preservative-treated, metal-plate- connected (MPC) wood trusses may be specified.

Although trusses are successfully used in a variety of environments that require treated lumber, the first mention of “treated lumber” usually sends up a red flag in a truss design office. While the corrosion protection of truss plates is no different from the corrosion protection of any other steel fastener or hanger that comes in contact with treated lumber, there are a few more considerations that come into play whenever treated lumber is going to be used in a truss application.

Raised Wood Truss Floor System

Raised Wood Truss Floor System

When fire-retardant-treated lumber or preservative-treated lumber is specified, the first (and easiest) step is to determine whether standard G60 truss plates are acceptable for use with the treated lumber, or whether the chemical treatment requires additional protection of the plates. Recent blog posts have discussed how fasteners are evaluated for corrosion resistance and how the Corrosion Resistance Classifications in our catalog help facilitate selection of hardware and fasteners for different types of treated wood and environmental conditions.  Similar guidelines are also available for determining the proper metal connector plate for different wood treatments. For example, when using the sodium borate–based preservatives and fire retardants, standard G60 galvanized metal connector plates are acceptable. However, ammoniacal/alkaline/amine copper quaternary preservative types require more protection, such as G185, ASTM A153 galvanized- or stainless-steel truss plates. The complete guidelines – Quick Guide for Alternative Preservative Treatments with Metal Connector Plates – are available from the SBCA website.

Truss Plate Corrosion from Treated Lumber

Truss Plate Corrosion from Treated Lumber

When trusses are used in particularly corrosive environments such as coastal environments or salt storage buildings, the ANSI/TPI 1 standard lists coatings that will provide increased corrosion protection for the plates (see insert, below).

raisedtruss3

The paint coating systems listed in (a) and (b) have been specified in the TPI standard since 1985. These paint coatings, which are applied to the truss plates after the trusses are manufactured, provide alternatives to the double-dipped galvanized or stainless-steel plates used in coastal high hazard areas. In fact, the ANSI/TPI 1 Commentary states that one study – SSPC Report 87-08, Evaluation of Coatings for Metal Connector Plates – concluded that the paint coating systems over standard galvanized plates would be expected to outperform the double-galvanized metal connector plates in field use.

Coal Tar Epoxy-Coated Metal Connector Plate

Coal Tar Epoxy-Coated Metal Connector Plate

Once the necessary corrosion protection of the plates has been addressed, the next consideration is the effect of certain lumber treatments on the truss plates’ lateral resistance, or tooth-holding capacity. Fire-retardant treatments generally require strength reductions to be applied to both the lumber and metal connector plate design values. The proprietary treatment manufacturer specifies these design reductions. As soon as the specific treatment is known, the appropriate design reductions can be easily applied by the truss design software and noted on the truss design drawing accordingly.

Besides lumber treatment, there may be other reasons for plate design reductions whenever extra galvanization or special coatings are required. While extra galvanization itself does not necessarily require a reduction in plate values, if the treated lumber’s moisture content (MC) exceeds 19% at the time of truss fabrication, then a 20% reduction to the tooth-holding values is required. The same 20% reduction applies if the environment for the intended end use of the trusses is expected to result in wood moisture content exceeding 19%.

Special Considerations and Red Flags

One corrosive environment that requires special consideration is an enclosed swimming pool. ANSI/TPI 1 requires that trusses be separated from the pool environment by a vapor barrier and be separately ventilated from the pool environment. The exception to this requirement is if the truss plates are made with a stainless steel that is not susceptible to stress corrosion cracking (SCC), i.e., not Types 304 and 316.  Since truss plates made with SCC-resistant stainless steel are not readily available (if at all), a vapor barrier is basically required anytime trusses are used over enclosed swimming pools.

Another important consideration in roof truss applications involving treated lumber is the effect of elevated temperatures. For example, when FRT lumber is going to be used in an environment where high moisture content will exist, an FRT formulated for exterior use may be specified. However, if the exterior FRT has not been tested with elevated temperatures as specified in TPI 1 Section 6.4.9.1, it should not be used in a roof application.

raisedtruss5

But the biggest concern when treated lumber is specified for use in metal-plate-connected wood trusses has nothing to do with corrosion at all.  When a truss Designer gets a job that calls for a preservative treatment for exterior use or an exterior FRT, the very first question will be why is an exterior treatment required/what is the application? Although trusses can be adequately designed for many types of environments, there is one environment that does not mix well with metal-plate- connected wood trusses – exposed exterior applications. The TPI/WTCA Guidelines for Use of Alternative Preservative Treatments with Metal Connector Plates concludes with the following statement:

raisedtruss6

When trusses are exposed to repeated wetting and drying, the corresponding swelling/shrinkage of the wood causes what is commonly referred to as truss plate “back out”.  Since the ability of a truss plate to provide lateral resistance depends on the teeth having adequate embedment into the wood members, any plate “back out” or withdrawal from the lumber due to weathering has an adverse effect on the load capacity of the truss plate.

raisedtruss7

Example of a truss plate that has “backed out”

For this reason, MPC wood trusses must be protected from the elements, from the time they are built and stored through the extent of their life in service. High moisture content that is consistently high can be accounted for; but if the trusses will be exposed to moisture cycling, then it is time to consider something other than a metal-plate-connected wood truss.

What are your experiences with treated lumber and/or corrosive environments and wood trusses? Let us know in the comments section below.