Keith Robinson, FCSC, RSW, CCS, LEED AP
We take it for granted written words have our same interpretation when read by others. However, meanings change, depending on the reader’s familiarity, convenience, or assumptions.
A drawing note interpretation I recently encountered provides a nice example—“Extend fire walls to underside of structure.” The walls were constructed to the underside of the steel trusses, when the note actually meant the underside of the deck. The installer had an entirely different interpretation of ‘structure’ than the note-writer; consequently, the fire walls did not meet the code requirement.
Admittedly, this disconnect would not have happened if someone had asked, “What does ‘underside of structure’ actually mean?” An appropriate detail or timely interpretation could have solved the issue in the first place.
In this case, the word “structure” is troublesome because it is open to interpretation. As an additional example, manufacturers of suspended products indicate their components are “suspended from structure”—in this instance, the structure is whatever construction is above the ceiling, but ceilings are often suspended from steel roof decking, which is not structural. After all, manufacturers of steel roof decking have clear instructions to design professionals stating attachments directly to steel decking are not permitted.
As a community of specifiers, design professionals, technical representatives, and constructors, we each have a role to play in the interpretation of the documents. Design professionals and specifiers rely heavily on implicit meanings, whereas technical representatives and constructors look to explicit interpretations of the written word.
Solutions in these cases are simple—drawing notes should indicate the exact meaning of the intent (that being to extend the fire wall to the underside of the deck). Appropriate technical literature solutions for suspended products would be to define an acceptable structure, and identify appropriate fastening systems given the limitations of the “structure” into which they fasten.
The steel decking prohibition can be addressed when manufacturers set limitations of fastening types based on not only the practicalities of construction, but also recognition there are appropriate attachment devices available.
As it stands, change does not happen as a result of each contributor standing in isolation. The attitude of “we’ve always done it this way” means barriers to effective solutions remain unaddressed. Fortunately, CSC is all about bringing the design/construction community together for collaboration, education, and communication.