Conference offers launch pad for Build With Strength roundtable schedule

Eric Coleman

The 2016 International Concrete Sustainability Conference offered the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association a backdrop to debut a design/build community roundtable discussion series highlighting the strength and durability of cast-in-place concrete in low- to mid-rise buildings. Moderator and NRMCA Senior Vice President, Structures and Sustainability Lionel Lemay invited panelist perspectives on value engineering; life-cycle considerations and project specifications; plus, the limits of building code trade-offs and combustible building materials:

Concrete as a developer’s choice.

“The nature of concrete in construction offers advantages beyond strength and durability,” said Eric Coleman, development coordinator of EYC Cos., a Charleston, S.C.-based builder answering more stringent building codes with insulating concrete form assemblies for multi-story developments. “Concrete’s composition and mass means heat moves more slowly through the material, keeping buildings warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This energy efficiency translates directly into cost-savings over the long-term.”

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Randy Kirchan

As a developer, he added, “We want a long-term investment. A wood structure is 50 to 75 years at best. As soon as you put up an envelope stronger than wood, you have more like 100 years. The asset holds better.”

Projects’ embodied carbon.

“Architects must consider the full life-cycle costs of buildings during development,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology Principal Research Scientist Randy Kirchain, a contributor to the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT (CSHub). “Thinking long term—beyond the initial phase where we look at construction and materials—is critically important.”

Dr. Kirchain co-authored two ICSC presentations with CSHub Director Jeremy Gregory: “Streamlined Building Life-Cycle Assessment” and “Context-dependence of Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Building Case Studies are the U.S.”

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Jon Narva
Wood building fire hazards, from groundbreaking forward.

“In many instances, especially during construction, wood frame buildings are more susceptible and vulnerable to fire damage than similar concrete structures,” said National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Director of External Relations Jon Narva. “Because of this, first responders approach fires in these structures differently than they would a less vulnerable concrete structure.”

Project FAIL-SAFE.

Occupant and first responder considerations in the face of building fires is a principal focus of NASFM Research & Education Foundation’s Project FAIL-SAFE, short for “Factually Analyzing Integrated Layers of Safety Against Fire’s Effects.” Investigators will examine how buildings constructed to code minimum or higher perform as a whole in the event of fire and what are their “fail safe” characteristics. In the face of code trade-offs—such as increasing active fire protection measures, like automatic sprinklers, and reducing the amount of passive fire protection measures, namely the use of noncombustible materials like concrete and masonry—Narva observed, “We don’t know the cumulative effects. What happens to a building holistically when we put all those trade-offs in a building? There is no science behind most of those trade-offs.”

The NRMCA-affiliated Ready Mixed Research and Education Foundation, along with Portland Cement Association, recently announced a $200,000 commitment to Project FAIL-SAFE, citing among key objectives, “To understand how active and passive fire protection features are interdependent in providing the level of safety the public and the fire service have come to expect. A series of coordinated research projects will be conducted in an effort to provide quantifiable data to better understand the relationship between multiple layers of fire safety features and occupant survivability. The research will also provide critical insight into methods of increasing building and business resiliency when exposed to the effects of a fire event.”

Project FAIL-SAFE research will continue through fall 2017. RMC Foundation and PCA participation dovetails NRMCA’s Build with Strength campaign, launched in mid-April. The ICSC roundtable was the first public event tied to the multi-year effort, which NRMCA President Robert Garbini notes is aimed at helping “architects, designers, city planners and elected officials better understand how concrete construction leads to stronger, safer and more durable homes that can save lives while cutting cost over time … In the Washington metro area we constantly see cheap wooden frames being erected for low- to mid-rise residential projects. Knowing what we know about the sustainability and resilience of concrete versus wood, it’s our responsibility to educate others.”