Revisiting Spanning the Gap

Three years ago, we created this blog post based on a technical support question we often receive about allowable fastener loads for ledgers to wood framing over gypsum board. Given that this is still a frequent question and a relevant topic, we decided to revisit the post and update it.

Drywall. Wall board. Sheetrock. Sackett Board? A product called Sackett Board was invented in the 1890s, which was made by plastering within wool felt paper. United States Gypsum Corporation refined Sackett Board for several years until 1916, when they developed a new method of producing boards with a single layer of plaster and paper. This innovation was eventually branded SHEETROCK®. More details about the history of USG can be found here.

No matter what you call it, gypsum board is found in almost every type of construction. Architects use it for sound and fire ratings, while structural engineers need to account for its weight in our load calculations. A common technical support question we receive is for allowable fastener loads for ledgers to wood framing over gypsum board.

Ledger over Gypboard

Ledger over Gypboard

One method to evaluate a fastener spanning across gypsum board is to treat the gypsum material as an air gap. Technical Report 12, General Dowel Equations for Calculating Lateral Connection Values, is published by the American Wood Council.

Technical Report 12

Technical Report 12

TR12 has yield limit equations that allow a designer to account for a gap between the main member and side member of a connection. With a gap of zero (g=0), the TR12 equations provide the same results as the NDS yield limit equations.

Technical Report 12 Yield Limit Equations[1]

Technical Report 12 Yield Limit Equations

The equations are fairly complex, but it should be intuitive that the calculated fastener capacity decreases with increasing gap. Engineers are often surprised to see a 40, 50, even 60% drop in fastener capacity with one layer of 5/8” gypsum board. So what else can you do?

Testing, of course! In So, What’s Behind a Screw’s Allowable Load? I discussed the methods used to load rate a proprietary fastener such as the Simpson Strong-Tie® Strong-Drive® SDS or SDW screws. To recap, ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria for Alternate Dowel Type Fasteners, AC233, allows you to calculate and do verification tests, or load rate based on testing alone. We develop our allowable loads primarily by testing, as the performance enhancing features and material optimizations in our fasteners are not addressed by NDS equations.

So to determine the performance of a fastener installed through gypsum board, we tested the fastener through gypsum board. This is easier to do if you happen to have a test lab with a lot of wood and fasteners in it. We did have to run down to the local hardware store to pick up gypsum board for the testing.

SDWS Over 2 Layer Gypboard

SDWS Over 2 Layer Gypboard

SDWS-Over-2-Layer-Gypboard-Failure

SDWS Over 2 Layer Gypboard Failure

A full set of allowable loads for Strong-Drive SDWH and SDWS are available on strongtie.com. The information is given as single fastener shear values for engineered design, and also screw spacing tables for common ledger configurations. As much fun as writing spreadsheets to do the Technical Report 12 calculations is, having tabulated values based on testing is much easier.

Fastening Systems

In the fastener marketplace, Simpson Strong-Tie stands apart from the rest. Quality and reliability is our top priority.


5 Steps to a Successful Soft-Story Retrofit

Last year, I gave a presentation at the annual National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) Summit in Orlando, Florida, titled “Becoming a Trusted Advisor: Communication and Selling Skills for Structural Engineers.” As this was a summit for the leaders of the structural engineers associations from across the country, I wasn’t sure how many people would find it valuable to spend their time learning about a very nontechnical topic. To my surprise and delight, the seminar ended up being standing-room only, and I was able to field some great questions from the audience about how they could improve their selling and communication skills. In the many conversations I had with the conference attendees after my presentation, the common theme was that engineers felt they needed more soft-skills training in order to better serve their clients. The problem, however, was finding the time to do so when faced with the daily grind of design work.

Structural Engineers In a Training for Seismic Retrofits

Presenting at the NCSEA Summit, I’m the tiny person in upper left hand corner.

When I started my first job as a design engineer at a structural engineering consulting firm straight out of school, I was very focused on improving and expanding my technical expertise. Whenever possible, I would attend building-code seminars, design reviews and new product solution presentations, all in an effort to learn more about structural engineering. What I found as I progressed through my career, however, was that no matter how much I learned or how hardworking I was, it didn’t really matter if I couldn’t successfully convey my knowledge or ideas to the person who really mattered most: the client.

Contractors discussing building plans with an engineer.

Contractors discussing building plans with an engineer.

How can an engineer be most effective in explaining a proposed action or solution to a client? You have to be able to effectively sell your idea by understanding the needs of your client as well as any reasons for hesitation. The importance of effective communication and persuasion is probably intuitive to anyone who’s been on the sales side of the business, but not something that occurs naturally to data-driven folks like engineers. As a result of recent legislation in California, however, structural engineers are starting to be inundated with questions from a group of folks who have suddenly found themselves responsible for seismically upgrading their properties: apartment building owners in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Imagine for a moment that you are a building owner who has received a soft-story retrofit notice under the City of Los Angeles’ Ordinance 183893; you have zero knowledge of structural engineering or what this term “soft-story” even means. Who will be your trusted advisor to help you sort it out? The City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) has put together a helpful mandatory ordinance website that explains the programs and also offers an FAQ for building owners that lets them know the first step in the process: hire an engineer or architect licensed in the state of California to evaluate the building.

Simpson Strong-Tie Structural Engineer Annie Kao at a jobsite.

Checking out some soft story buildings in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times has a great map tool.

I’ve had the opportunity to be the first point of contact for a building owner after they received a mandatory notice, because it turns out some relatives own an apartment building with soft-story tuck-under parking. Panicked by the notice, they called me looking to understand why they were being forced to retrofit a building that “never had any problems in the past.” They were worried they would lose rent money due to tenants needing to relocate, worried about how to meet the requirements of the ordinance and, most importantly, worried about how much it was going to cost them. What they really wanted was a simple, straightforward answer to their questions, and I did my best to explain the necessity behind retrofitting these vulnerable buildings and give an estimated time frame and cost that I had learned from attending the first Los Angeles Retrofit Resource Fair in April 2016. With close to 18,000 buildings in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles alone that have been classified as “soft-story,” this equates to quite a number of building owners who will have similar questions and be searching for answers.

To help provide an additional resource, Simpson Strong-Tie will be hosting a webinar for building owners in the Los Angeles area who have received a mandatory soft-story retrofit notice. Jeff Ellis and I will be covering “5 Steps to a Successful Retrofit” and helping to set a clear project path for building owners. The five steps that Simpson Strong-Tie will be recommending are:

  1. Understanding the Seismic Retrofit Mandate
  2. Partnering with Design Professionals
  3. Submitting Building Plans with the Right Retrofit Product Solutions
  4. Communicating with Your Building Tenants
  5. Completing Your Soft-Story Retrofit

We encourage you to invite any clients or potential clients to attend this informative webinar, which will lay the foundation for great communication between the two of you. As part of the webinar, we will be asking the building owners for their comments, questions and feedback so we can better understand what information they need to make informed decisions, and we will be sure to share these with the structural engineering community in a future post. By working together to support better communication and understanding among all stakeholders in retrofit projects, we will be well on our way to creating stronger and more resilient communities!

For additional information or articles of interest, there are several resources available:

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill 2016

The Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill is an annual opportunity for people in homes, schools and organizations to practice what to do during earthquakes and improve their preparedness. In a post I wrote last October about the Great ShakeOut, I reminisced about the first earthquake I had to stop, drop and cover for – the Livermore earthquake in January, 1980. This year got me thinking about how our evacuation drills work.

At Simpson Strong-Tie, we use the annual Great ShakeOut drill to practice our building evacuation procedures. Evacuation drills are simple in concept – alarms go off and you exit the building. We have volunteer safety wardens in different departments who confirm that everyone actually leaves their offices. There are always a few people who want to stay inside and finish up a blog post. Once the building is empty and we have all met up in the designated meeting area, we do a roll call and wait for the all-clear to get back to work.

Several years ago the alarms went off. While waiting for the drill to end, we were concerned to see fire fighters arrive and rush into the building. Realizing this was not a drill, there were some tense moments of waiting. The fire chief and our president eventually walked out of the building and our president was yelling for one of our engineers. Turns out the engineer (who shall remain nameless) was cooking a chicken for lunch. Yes, a whole chicken. The chicken didn’t make it – I’m not sure what the guilty engineer had for lunch afterwards. At least we received extra evacuation practice that year. We aren’t allowed to cook whole chickens in the kitchen anymore.

Simpson Strong-Tie is helping increase awareness about earthquake safety and encouraging our customers to participate in the Great ShakeOut, which takes place next Thursday on October 20. It’s the largest earthquake drill in the world. More than 43 million people around the world have already registered on the site.

On October 20, from noon to 2:00 p.m. (PST), earthquake preparedness experts from the Washington Emergency Management Division and FEMA will join scientists with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network for a Reddit Ask Me Anything – an online Q&A. Our very own Emory Montague will be answering questions. The public is invited to ask questions here. (Just remember that this thread opens the day before the event and not sooner.)

Emory Montague from Simpson Strong-Tie

Emory, ready to answer some seismic-related questions.

We’re also providing resources on how to retrofit homes and buildings, and have information for engineers here and for homeowners here.

Earthquake risk is not just a California issue. According to the USGS, structures in 42 of 50 states are at risk for seismic damage. As many of you know, we have done a considerable amount of earthquake research, and are committed to helping our customers build safer, stronger homes and buildings. We continue to conduct extensive testing at our state-of-the-art Tye Gilb lab in Stockton, California. We have also worked with the City of San Francisco to offer education and retrofit solutions to address their mandatory soft-story building retrofit ordinance and have created a section on our website to give building owners and engineers information to help them meet the requirements of the ordinance.

Last year, Tim Kaucher, our Southwestern regional Engineering Manager, wrote about the City of Los Angeles’s Seismic Safety Plan in this post. Since that time, the City of Los Angeles has put that plan into action by adopting mandatory retrofit ordinances for both soft-story buildings and non-ductile concrete buildings. Fortunately, California has not had a damaging earthquake for some time now. As a structural engineer, I find it encouraging to see government policy makers resist complacency and enact laws to promote public safety.

Participating in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill is a small thing we can all do to make ourselves more prepared for an earthquake. If your office hasn’t signed up for the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill, we encourage you to visit shakeout.org and do so now.

Facebook Tips for Structural Engineers

facebook-logoIn our last social media–related blog post, I shared the Top 5 LinkedIn Groups to Follow for Structural Engineers. Following groups on LinkedIn allows you to share content, post or view job openings, network and help establish yourself as a key opinion leader in your industry. But what about critical design questions or help? How do you deal with office dynamics or a difficult client as a structural engineer?

LinkedIn groups may assist with questions like these, but there are other social media platforms that might make it easier to have a more in-depth discussion about issues that you face. While LinkedIn is certainly an important social media platform for professionals such as structural engineers, it is not the largest social media platform. That title goes to the social media giant Facebook. Facebook has the social advantage of engaging more than 1.7 billion active users.

You are probably using Facebook already for personal social networking. However, there are some professional applications for structural engineers on Facebook that you may not have heard about. Here are some Facebook tips for structural engineers that you can use to jumpstart your professional social media arsenal:

Follow Industry-Related Pages

There are a variety of pages that you can follow on Facebook to give you an idea of what is happening in the industry. Following and engaging with pages like Structural Engineering World for design inspiration or Civil + Structural Engineer magazine for project management ideas allows you to have a more professionally focused newsfeed around content that matters to you (while still allowing time for cat memes and Buzzfeed quizzes if you want those, too). One useful page for engineers is the Autodesk Revit page, because it has things like tips on how to share large BIM files.

Join Structural Engineering Groups

Groups are a great way to connect with other Facebook users. As a structural engineer, you are bound to come across an issue that you would like some advice on. By joining a group of other structural engineers, you can ask design questions, questions about calculations and get tips on the best tools for your profession. I would ask your colleagues which groups they recommend joining.

Jumpstart Your Job Search

If you are looking for a new position, I am sure that you already know about LinkedIn. But did you know that there are things like the Career Center App on Facebook pages like the ASCE? The app works for employers looking to hire, too!

Do you have Facebook tips that would you recommend for structural engineer? Let us know in the comments below.

More Fun with Testing

A couple of years back, I did a blog post with a video of a bowling ball exploding. It’s a fun test to show guests who visit our connector lab. Of course, we also do a joist hanger or holdown test to demonstrate a real test used to load rate our products. The problem is some of our tests just aren’t too exciting to the general population. It’s a bit anticlimactic when the wood slowly crushes or the fasteners withdraw until the test specimen just can’t take any load. But bowling balls explode, and explode fast!

In the last couple of months, our connector test lab ran a number of built-up post compression tests. We were looking for data to compare the performance of built-up posts whose members were fastened with connectors (nails, screws, or bolts) to posts that were glued together.

Southern Pine Built Up Setup

Southern Pine Built-up Setup

 

Southern Pine Built Up Failure

Southern Pine Built-up Failure

 

Spruce-Pine-Fir 2x6 Built Up Post

Spruce-Pine-Fir 2×6 Built-up Post

 

Spruce-Pine-Fir 2x4 Built Up

Spruce-Pine-Fir 2×4 Built-up Post

Our test presses have compression capacities ranging from 100 kips to 200 kips. While we have tested some really heavy connectors, most of our tests are under 50 kips ultimate load. The built-up post testing was exciting to watch as loads got as high as 180 kips and had some very dramatic failures. More fun than the bowling balls, but a little more difficult to contain the explosions.

I have no numbers to share from this testing, as design procedures exist in the code for built-up posts. A few non-technical things we learned from doing this built-up post testing include:

  • Short posts can take a lot of load
  • Regular wood glue requires careful application to get good bond over the full area of a board
  • We haven’t mastered glue application
  • Posts can explode
  • Heavy steel plates go flying when posts explode

Not scientific, but fun to watch. The videos were captured on an iPhone by R&D Lab Testing Technician Steve Ziagos. Steve also blogs about Do-It-Yourself projects on our DIY Done Right blog. Enjoy the video.

 

 

Ten Apps for Engineers

Shane Vilasineekul

Guest blogger Shane Vilasineekul, engineering manager

When Simpson Strong-Tie began supporting the use of iPads by employees, it was about the same time my Blackberry contract was expiring, so I decided to go all-in with Apple® and get an iPhone® 4s and an iPad®. Since mobile devices will not replace the heavy lifting required from most engineers’ computers, I wanted to find some apps that complemented my PC use and made me more efficient when I was away from my desk.  After reading reviews and trying out a few, I eventually came up with a list of apps that I recommend. None were developed for engineers, but they are the ones I use most often. Let me know what you think of these or any of your favorites that I missed.

DropBox

DropBox

Google Drive

Google Drive

1. File Sharing Apps: My initial search was for a way to share files between my Apple devices and my PC. Since there is limited space in the free cloud services, I use two: Dropbox (free) for work files and Google Drive (free) for home files. Install the apps on your mobile devices and the software on your computers, create and log into your account, and you are ready to access/modify/share any of these files on any device. Both of these apps are seamlessly integrated into many other apps.

Notability

Notability

2. Organization: I am not the most organized person, so I wanted an app that would help me keep track of my many notes. After trying a few different ones, I settled on Notability ($3). I can take handwritten or typed notes, insert a picture of things like a jobsite photo or a paper handout, draw a sketch, or even insert an audio recording. Best of all, I can organize the notes in folders within the app and also back them up as PDF files to Dropbox.

SlideShark

SlideShark

3.  Presentations: I regularly give PowerPoint presentations, so I started using an app called SlideShark (free) and got hooked. It is simple and remains true to the look of the original PowerPoint program. With the current version, I can access files on my DropBox account, play embedded videos, and use my iPhone as a remote when my iPad is connected to a projector. Although I still present with my trusty laptop most of the time, SlideShark is also great for practicing a presentation on a mobile device anywhere you find yourself with a few spare minutes.

MyScript Calculator

MyScript Calculator

4. Calculator: I was shocked to find that my iPad didn’t have a built-in calculator app. I tried a few free ones, but never really liked them. Then MyScript Calculator (free) came out last year, which solves handwritten equations like the one shown in the icon. Now I look for reasons to use it. It won’t ever replace my TI-85, but I am not sure I want it to.

 

iBooks

iBooks

iBooks Shelf

iBooks Shelf

5. Reference Guides: I like the idea of having electronic versions of my codes and referenced standards all saved in my iPad. Some of the PDF files I purchased allow me to save them in iBooks (free); others shown in the screenshot are just covers. On a side note, ICC has all of their codes online, broken into sections (as opposed to a single PDF). It’s great for sending links of specific code language to people that don’t own the code.

GoodReader

GoodReader

6. Editor Apps: There are tons of PDF editing apps out there. I asked around to see what other engineers use and decided on GoodReader ($5). I have been pretty happy with it, mostly using it to mark up PDF files I am reviewing.

 

PhotoSynth

PhotoSynth

7. Photos: When out on a jobsite, there is no better way to capture information than with a picture. But when everything can’t fit inside the viewfinder, PhotoSynth (free) is a great tool to capture the surroundings. Immersive 360° images  can be posted online, shared, or viewed within the app. Here are links to a couple of mine: Hurricane Sandy, Columbus Test Lab.

SnapSeed

SnapSeed

8. Photo Editing: While on the topic of photos, I use Snapseed (free) whenever I need to edit them. It is simple and intuitive, but powerful enough to get the job done.

 

 

Scanner Pro

Scanner Pro

9. Scanner Pro ($3) turns your camera into a scanner. Take a picture of a paper document, then locate the corners of the paper within the app and turn it into a PDF file that scales and stretches it to look like a scan instead of a snapshot.

 

Paper

Paper

Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook Express

10. Sketch Apps: My favorite apps for sketching a new connector idea, illustrating a concept or just doodling, are Paper (free) and SketchBook Express (free). Paper is more free-form and natural, while SketchBook has more tools and provides more precise control. They are free, so give them both a try.

*Apple, the Apple logo, iPhone and iPad are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.*

So. . .What Do You Love About Structural Engineering?

A few years ago, we hosted a Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work® Day at our home office in Pleasanton, CA. During introductions, several parents told the children what they did and how they chose their particular profession (you can see what my son thinks I do in my bio). At our home office, we have accounting, finance, product management, IT, administration, marketing, and a few others I’m probably missing, so it is a diverse group the kids heard from that day.

And the careers were often not what people had originally planned for. Many shared wonderful stories about the twists and turns their careers took until they finally discovered their passion and job satisfaction. Often, this was a career that they didn’t even know existed when they chose a major in college or first entered the workforce.

So, what was my story?

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