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FIELD TECHNIQUES - Behind The Scenes

   Author: MetalMag

ALL BUILDING COMPONENTS are assumed to have specific dimensions, and the locations of the components are dimensioned on drawings to a theoretically exact position relative to each other or relative to one or more datum points. In reality, all component dimensions and positions vary somewhat. The acceptable amount of this variation is the tolerance of the component dimension or installed position.

In 1999, the National Frame Builders Association (NFBA) published a document titled "Accepted Practice for Post-Frame Building Construction: Framing Tolerances." This document, which is available for purchase from NFBA or free for NFBA members (, contains recommended tolerances for the position/placement of footings, posts, trusses, girders, girts and purlins.

During the 2005 Frame Building Expo in Columbus, Ohio, I spoke about the development of an NFBA document titled "Accepted Practices for post-Frame Building Construction: Metal Panel and Trim Installation Tolerances." This document, which now is complete, contains recommended tolerances for metal panel positioning, metal trim positioning, fasteners installation, and surface and edge blemishes.

Like its predecessor, the new construction tolerances document does not list reasons for its development, nor does it detail the process or any of the research involved in its development. Consequently, this article will focus on reasons behind document development (Bohnhoff, D.R. 1999. NFBA Publishes Post-Frame Tolerances. Frame Building Professional. 11 (5):49-54), as well as the developmental process. A brief overview of the document contents will appear in Part 2 of this article in the March/April issue.

Numerous construction tolerance documents have been developed by various organizations and associations throughout the country. This includes documents for framing elements in concrete-, steel- and wood-frame buildings, as well as documents applicable to siding and flooring systems, roofing materials, insulations, windows and doors, interior finishes, and numerous other components and systems. Although the contents of these documents may differ, virtually all have been developed for the same reasons, which include the need to establish standards of professional conduct, enhance professional reputation, minimize costly litigation and maintain regulatory control within the profession.

Since its inception in 1971, a primary purpose of NFBA has been "to emphasize the importance of achieving and maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct within the industry, to the end that continuing consumer faith and trust in NFBA members is perpetuated" (NFBA Constitution, Article III, Section 1 (5), 2005a). To promote this constitutional purpose, NFBA developed a code of ethics under the title "Standards of Professional Conduct for Members of the National Frame Builders Association." This code of ethics contains seven canons, including:

  • Each NFBA member shall abide by present and future standards of NFBA.
  • Each NFBA member shall promote professionalism within the industry and shall work diligently to establish and perpetuate consumer faith and trust in NFBA.
The task of developing and updating NFBA building standards is the responsibility of the NFBA Technical and Research (T&R) Committee. This long-standing committee, which originally was called the Recommended Practices Committee, was renamed the Education and Research Committee before receiving its current designation. Major documents the committee has developed to date include NFBA's "Recommended Practices for the Design and Construction of Commercial and Agricultural Post-Frame Buildings," "Post-Frame Building Design Manual" and the aforementioned "Accepted Practice for Post-Frame Building Construction: Framing Tolerances." Simply stated, the mission of the T&R Committee is to ensure a level of construction quality that will perpetuate consumer faith and trust in NFBA.

Quality construction work is assumed and/or expected by two groups of people: consumers who never have been involved in construction and builders who pride themselves on the quality of their work. In between these two groups are builders with little or no experience--individuals who may lack the necessary skills and knowledge to consistently produce a high-quality product. It is these builders who can benefit most from documents produced by the T&R Committee.

Like all other types of construction, there are procedures unique to post-frame construction that, when learned, not only enhance quality but also speed construction and provide a safer working environment. This includes procedures that detail, for example, what dimensions are critical to hold at each phase of construction, where and when bracing should be installed, when temporary bracing can be removed, where temporary connections should be used, when permanent connections should be made, etc.

Following established construction procedures is no guarantee of quality construction. Such quality requires a certain degree of individual skill, as well as a commitment to quality. To quickly and accurately assess construction quality generally requires reference to a written standard, that is, a set of construction tolerances. Unfortunately, prior to last year, no construction tolerances existed for the installation of metal paneling and trim. Consequently, there was no quick and easy way for builders to gage the quality of their finished work or that of others.

Because they can be used to differentiate quality construction from poorer construction, construction tolerance documents are used at several different levels to establish standards of professional conduct. At the highest level, they are used to evaluate companies for inclusion or exclusion from an association. At an intermediate level, they are used by building manufacturers to establish standards for those erecting their buildings. At the lowest level, they are used by contractors to reassure clients. This occurs when a contractor includes a construction tolerances document directly or by reference in a contract. As a guarantee of quality, a construction tolerance document reduces a client's anxiety upon the purchase of a new building.

At a local level, the reputation of a company determines how other companies, governmental agencies and consumers interact with the company. A firm that has a reputation of unethical practices will, in time, lose the support of subcontractors and suppliers and be subjected to increased scrutiny by building inspectors and other regulatory enforcement agencies. In addition, the firm can expect to lose repeat customers and add fewer new clients.

The reputation of an association is defined by the reputation of its members. When comprised of builders of integrity that are committed to quality, the reputation of the association is significantly enhanced to the benefit of the entire industry. NFBA was founded as an organization of builders who voluntarily agreed to adhere to the highest ideals of honesty, courtesy and integrity and evidence these ideals in the conduct of their business. The end result has been recognition and acceptance of post-frame buildings at a level greater than envisioned when the organization was originally founded. This reputation will continue to benefit all post-frame builders as they work with state and local code officials and planning commissions.

Construction tolerance documents help define what is and what is not acceptable. In the absence of such documents, differences that could be resolved after brief mediation end up in arbitration and even more costly and time-consuming litigation.

Because most clients are familiar with their contractors prior to entering into contract, one would expect most clients' expectations are met or exceeded by their contractors. On the other hand, because no contractor truly knows the expectations of each client, disagreements are bound to arise sooner or later. When you, as a contractor, feel you've done your best but your best isn't good enough for your client, what are your alternatives? What do you tell your client? What industry standards do you have to support your position?

Every profession must deal with clients who refuse to pay for services rendered no matter how good the service was they received. In the case of construction, many of these clients are hoping their contractor will simply walk away from the project because the cost for them to collect what's owed is likely to exceed what they actually are owed. When these delinquent clients are called on the carpet, some will produce an extensive list of concerns, of which the vast majority may be nonexistent problems. Regardless of whether the problems are real or imagined, they must each be addressed. In the absence of applicable standards, the cost and time to address each problem can increase substantially, and the entire process becomes more frustrating and stressful.

The need to minimize costly litigation was a major goal of the founders of NFBA. One of the original standing NFBA committees was the Arbitration Committee whose responsibility was to "formulate and disseminate information on arbitration procedures for voluntary use of the NFBA membership in handling problems as they may arise between member companies and their clients" (Committee structure & responsibilities for 1989. Frame Building Professional. 1 [1]:28-29). The committee was chaired by Freemon D. Borkholder, the Indiana builder responsible for organizing the meeting that resulted in the formation of NFBA. Borkholder also was involved in the development of a document titled "Indiana Chapter NFBA: Approved Standards 1981." This document, which was introduced at the 1981 annual meeting of the Indiana Chapter of NFBA, included common building defects and problems, acceptable tolerances on these defects and builder repair responsibilities for each specific defect/problem. The primary purpose of the document was to enable arbitrators and experts to follow a pattern of consistency and/or provide assistance in determining if proper materials were utilized in construction. Despite the fact that it was developed for use in Indiana, the document appealed to NFBA members in other states. Although some of these members openly discussed its modification for use nationally, the document never was rewritten for a broader jurisdiction.

The original formation of NFBA can be attributed to an explosion during construction of the Coliseum at the Indianapolis fairground. This explosion led the Indiana legislature to take a closer look at the state's building codes and consider adoption of the Building officials and Code Administrators International code or Uniform Building Code. Because adoption of either code would have required all wood-frame commercial buildings to have a continuous concrete foundation, it would have had a negative impact on the post-frame building industry. This led Borkholder to organize a meeting of post-frame builders operating within the state. About 20 builders attended the meeting that led to the formation of NFBA. As one of its first major actions, the association hired architect Merrill T. Jones to draft new specifications about post-frame construction for commercial buildings. Jones' specifications, which were submitted to and subsequently adopted by the Administrative Building Council to the State of Indiana, helped legitimize post-frame building in the eyes of Indiana's code officials.

The circumstance behind the founding of the NFBA points out the advantage of organization in addressing regulatory issues. No single builder has the time and resources to adequately address every issue critical to his/her business. However, when individual builders are properly organized to address problems, many critical issues can be addressed with just a small contribution from each builder. There is little doubt the concerns of a person who represents a thousand other people carries considerably more weight than the concerns of a person who speaks only for himself/herself.

Potential code issues are most effectively addressed before they become major issues. This more proactive approach generally involves the development of consensus documents within an organization. By developing its own documents, an association of builders has more control over the codes, regulations and other specifications that govern its industry. In addition, through such self-regulation, an industry invites less outside regulation and control.

Most trade associations and organizations develop construction tolerance documents for individuals who are not part of the association or organization. Specifically, the documents are intended for use by architects, engineers and building designers who write the building specifications and assemble the contract documents that dictate how association members must perform their work.

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