Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been spending more time at home these past few months. More than I ever have before. During this time, I’ve found myself thinking about all the home improvement projects that would make our outdoor space more enjoyable. It’s something that in the extreme busyness of our “normal” life, I didn’t have a lot of time for. But being home 24/7 with two energetic and loud little boys has meant a lot of outside time. As a California native, I am grateful to be able to enjoy beautiful outdoor weather most of the year. I love being outside with my family, hanging out in the backyard, escaping all the tempting electronic devices that are constantly pulling us in. And now, more than ever, while sheltering –in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m so thankful for a backyard that we can enjoy. So, topping my backyard home improvement project list: adding a shade structure, like a pergola or pavilion.
Fortunately, in the past few years, Simpson Strong-Tie has added the Outdoor Accents® line of decorative hardware that is tested and code-listed. The connectors are made of G185 ZMAX® galvanized steel with a black powder-coat finish that provides corrosion protection as well as enhances the look of the structure. The Mission Collection® was launched in 2016 and just this year, the new Avant Collection™ was added to this line of strong yet stylish connectors and fasteners. The new Avant connectors feature straight lines and chamfered corners for the more contemporary style I like.
An outdoor connector solution with tested decorative hardware is something our customers have been asking us about over the years. I started at Simpson Strong-Tie nearly 10 years ago as a branch engineer, and over the years I fielded inquiries from customers asking which connectors should be used outside on a pergola. I would advise them on the many hot-dip galvanized or stainless-steel products that would hold up well against exterior elements, but couldn’t offer solutions that were both structurally load rated and also nice looking. That problem is now solved with both collections of Outdoor Accents.
The engineering that has gone into these products is extensive. All of the angles, plates, straps, clips, beam-to-column connectors and post bases have been designed, calculated and tested per the appropriate Acceptance Criteria in order to establish the published allowable loads. We talk about the testing of these parts in more detail in a previous Outdoor Accent post. Here in this photo you can see the APB44R post base installed on a wood post. The wood post is being pulled up while the APB44R is being held down by the anchor bolt and the steel bar. This tension test is done to determine the uplift load capacity of this product. As we do with all our wood connectors, we tested these products per ASTM D7147 requirements. The How We Test blog post is great if you want to read more about how we test products.
Based on this ASTM standard, the allowable loads are determined as the lowest of the following:
- Lowest ultimate load of three tests (or average of 6) with a safety factor of 3
- Average load at 1/8” deflection
- Calculations per the American Wood Council National Design Specification for Wood Construction (NDS)
These connectors are designed to support the loads that these structures inevitably experience, including gravity, wind, earthquake, loads added by people or furniture, or whatever the specific case may be. People tend to easily understand why you need connectors that are tested and load rated when you are building a home or commercial structure that will have occupants inside. Sometimes, though, it is more difficult to see the value in building an outdoor pergola or pavilion using load rated and tested connectors. Cost and the lack of code enforcement with these types of structures are real considerations. But as a property owner, we should want to make sure that our family and guests are safe both inside and outside of our homes. Hurricanes and earthquakes don’t discriminate according to cost or whether codes will be enforced!
One of the things I really like about working at Simpson Strong-Tie is the drive to innovate. Of course, right? I am an R&D engineer so developing new products is at the core of what I do. But it’s engrained in the culture of our company too, and recently we’ve really expanded our innovation efforts beyond our traditional product lines to greatly increase our software offerings as well. One of the newest of these is Pergola Planner Software™, and I’ve already started using it to design my desired pergola.
Pergola Planner Software is a free online application for planning and designing a strong, beautiful pergola to help create a customer’s dream backyard. The software enables a customer to design a pergola in just a few minutes using the prebuild templates or custom dimensions. Customers can visualize the pergola, choose between multiple style options, and even add furniture or plants in order to see their vision come to life. After finishing the design, users can print out the plan view and materials list and they’re ready to go.
In the past, so much of what Simpson Strong-Tie developed to help build safer structures has been hidden within the walls of the homes that we live in. Now, with Outdoor Accents, we get to see these beautiful connectors in action! I love this product line and, while so far I‘ve only used it to construct smaller projects (a garden box and bench), I can’t wait to build something bigger and even more beautiful with it. Some of my friends have started using it, and I love seeing what they create (@tylerf28 on Instagram).
Exterior projects like this can often be done as DIY projects — and that’s another reason why I love that these products are tested and load rated. If you find yourself at home a lot lately (like everyone else) and are inspired to tackle a backyard project, I highly encourage you to check out the free project plans on our website or open the Pergola Planner Software™ app and see for yourself how amazing a pergola using the Avant Collection™ could look and feel in your space.