Home Innovation Insights

Bob Hill, PE
March 21, 2013

Attention to Detail Pays Off in Product Testing

Every month we have a number of visitors that come through our testing facilities at Home Innovation Research Labs — either stand-alone tour groups or those who are here as part of other meetings and want to get a better sense of what we do. Most are highly impressed by our range of testing capabilities and equipment, and sometimes even a little jealous that we get to build and break things as part of our day-to-day activity. The bigger the structure we break, the more impressed our visitors are! Most recently we've been breaking some 20-foot long shear wall panels as part of a multiple wall test plan following a cyclic shear wall protocol. It is pretty impressive to see what kind of force it takes for massive structural pieces like that to crumble.

Often during a lab tour we get comments on our construction details as visitors watch technicians carefully measure the distance between fasteners. A typical framer on a construction site fires up a nail gun, usually using whatever type of nail happens to be in the gun, and gets to work getting about the right number of nails in about the right location as quickly as possible — after all, time is money on the job site. Due to the inherent safety factors designed into today's fasteners, a few more or a few less in an overall wall section or roof is not a big concern. We go about our laboratory construction projects in a vastly different way.

There is a time and place for taking shortcuts, but doing research to establish design values or following an ASTM test method is not the time, and our labs are certainly not the place. Precision in the construction of our test specimens is critical. This goes not only for nail location and quantity, but also for the specific fastener type, wood species, hardware, installation technique, etc. If nails are supposed to be 3/8” from the edge of the sheathing panel, we strike a line 3/8” from the edge. If nails are supposed to be 6” on center, we measure and mark every 6-inch increment to be sure the nails go in the exact correct location. We carefully adjust the setting on our nail guns to ensure that the nails are driven just flush, not overdriven. We also need to be sure we have the exact type of fastener that is specified in the test plan or building code, which often requires significant searching to find a source for the proper diameter, length, head type, etc. Once we have a test specimen constructed, similar attention to detail is required for instrumenting the test specimen for documenting our results. We use various load cells, displacement sensors, data acquisition systems, and photos/video to document the testing activity. And all of our instruments are calibrated traceable to NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology). While all these exacting practices might seem to take some of the "fun" out of our build-it-break-it cycle that so many visitors have envied, it is this type of attention to detail that allows us to produce valuable, actionable results for our clients through our testing and research.

In our labs, we can test building products for a wide range of attributes including structural, thermal, durability, and physical properties. Our door is always open for product manufacturers or designers to see for themselves how we can help successfully bring products to market, without fear of not meeting the applicable codes and standards. Do you have a building product, material, or system that you'd like to have tested? I'd love to hear from you.

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