What Is Your Best Source for Product Research?

Because of discussions about a current project, I got to thinking: Just what is the best product research source? Since there are so many sources, what can you believe?

In this particular case, the architect was discussing using ipe, a South American rainforest hardwood, for exterior finish carpentry because of its exceptional natural resistance to the harsh environmental exposure and planned daily power washing to keep the facility clean. There is a local stigma when it comes to ipe. The public usually protests its use because of the rainforest destruction to harvest the wood. So I suggested a domestic wood, instead - black locust. Locust is a naturally resistant wood with properties similar to, but not quite equaling, ipe.

The contractor for the project solicited pricing and product information from one lumber mill that could supply ipe and black locust. The information reported to the architect indicated that locust was only available in random lengths, and that it would be delivered with defects such as bark, rot, and splits. Plus the price was reported as 25% greater than ipe. The contractor recommended the architect consider preservative treated southern yellow pine (SYP) because black locust's softness would present maintenance problems.

Who is checking the facts?
The contractor's information seemed credible. After all he did contact a lumber source. But is it factual?

Here's what caught my attention: random lengths, only, and softness. I called another regional lumber mill and confirmed locust is available in specified lengths. It is also available in two grades. The better grade will eliminate bark and minimize splits in delivered material.

The softness is another matter that can be determined by facts. Wood hardness is measured using a standardized test, ASTM D1037. The test presses a steel ball into the surface of the wood, until half of the ball is embedded in the wood. The force required to embed the ball is reported as Janka hardness, the greater the number the harder the wood.

Species Janka
Ipe 3684
Black Locust 1700
Red Oak 1290
Southern Yellow Pine 870

Black locust is twice as hard as southern yellow pine. But, the contractor believes black locust's softness will present maintenance issues compared to pine.

The CSI Position
Recently, Randal Reifsnider, Cliff Marvin, and I taught the CSI Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) exam prep webinar series. During the presentations, I showed a slide indicating sources for product research. The bullet list contained all the items shown in the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide (PDPG). The Practice Guide series serves as the manual of practice for the construction industry - its advice should be reliable.

There were the obvious sources: the internet (today, is there another source?), product representatives, local suppliers, installers, and others. There were a total of 15 bullet items with 30 potential sources provided.  If you want to know all of them see the PDPG section 10.4.

What about your specifier?
Specifiers are the one resource that the CSI Practice Guides overlook. Specifiers deal in data gathering and analyzing, daily. Specifiers sort through piles data seeking relevant facts, used for initial product comparisons and ultimate product selections.

Take advantage of your specifier's research skills and product experience. You may save hours or days of research time by tapping an individual who already completed the same research or who can jump-start your research with valuable background information

Start with your specifier. If you are the default project specifier, make friends with another local specifier. Experience says specifiers are willing to share, to educate, and to talk with anyone that bothers to call. Why? It's often a lonely job - individuals working alone. So help break the routine with an occasional question. I guarantee you will be pleased with the result.

Due diligence and second opinions are always appropriate to separate opinions from facts.

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