Women in Construction Roundtable

Standardization News

Women in Construction Roundtable

An Interview with Margaret Farabaugh, Emily Lorenz, Helene Hardy Pierce, and Michelle Wilson

Q. Why are ASTM International standards so important to the field of construction?

Margaret Farabaugh: I think ASTM standards really affect almost every aspect of construction. There are standards for steel studs, steel joists, decking, roofing, concrete, insulation, fire-resistant materials, and more — the materials themselves, their coatings, and the testing of those materials. And those are just the areas I think of immediately with regard to construction. ASTM standards have implications for all of those materials. I don’t think there’s a standalone construction material impacted by just one ASTM standard. I think there are always going to be multiple standards that are referenced. 

Emily Lorenz: Development of standards through the ASTM process ensures that all voices are heard and considered. Because construction has the potential to impact the safety of workers, occupants, and the public, it is crucial that the process used to develop construction standards is unbiased and technically rigorous.

Helene Hardy Pierce: Standards in our industry allow for construction that meets the needs of the property owner in a fair and competitive manner. ASTM standards are used to define the products/systems that are acceptable in construction documents, such as design specifications and drawings. Standards are used to define the performance that is required of those products and systems, both by the property owner and by the building code, such as fire- and wind-resistance standards. And there are standards that specifically address the installation of some products and systems. All of these uses of ASTM standards are key to the construction of buildings that will perform and meet the needs of the property owner.

Michelle Wilson: Without standards there would be no measure of quality. Standards provide the minimum bar for materials compliance and performance requirements for all aspects of construction. Without standards, our health, safety, and welfare would be at risk. Standards also allow a path for new materials to be safely accepted into the marketplace. In the case of concrete, it is a very highly technical, well-developed material. Standards provide the acceptable criteria for allowable materials in concrete, and also establish the testing methods to determine a mixture’s performance. Concrete will not meet the end user’s needs in the field if it doesn’t have the right requirements in a standard.

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Q. What changes have you seen in the industry since you’ve been involved in ASTM, and how has the standards landscape changed as well?

Margaret Farabaugh: Today I see more emphasis on safety aspects, the reduction of hazardous substances in materials, and recyclability. I also see creating and revising standards to be more user-friendly for people who may not be as scientifically minded and do not use standards on a daily basis. I see streamlining standards by trying to make tables more readable and understandable, and make overall language more understandable to the layperson. I’ve also seen more mention of, for example, things like hexavalent chromium and components in zinc from an environmental point of view, which people would be more interested in and concerned about now.

Emily Lorenz: I began actively participating in ASTM committee weeks 15 years ago, around the time the committee on sustainability (E60) was formed. I was interested in the development of standards related to sustainability, and that has been my primary focus. It has been interesting to see the cross-collaboration that is required by ASTM committees when it comes to sustainability. The E60 committee considers itself a collaborator with other committees that want to incorporate sustainability. A good example of this is the green roofing standard that was developed initially under E60 but which, once complete, was transferred to the roofing and waterproofing committee (D08) for maintenance. 

Helene Hardy Pierce: Our industry has changed significantly in the past 38 years, both in commercial/low-slope roofing and in residential/steep-slope roofing. For example, thermoplastic polyolefin membranes now comprise more than 50% of the commercial roofing market, yet they didn’t even exist until the late 1980s.  

In the past 20 years, we have witnessed a shift in product standards from those that define the “recipe” of a product to standards that are more focused on defining product performance requirements. Instead of prescribing what raw materials must be used, the focus is more on how the product should actually perform, with a keen focus on long-term durability. This has resulted in significant additions to product standards that include artificial aging and fatigue and stress testing of products, and this evolution has greatly enlarged the product-development opportunity for product manufacturers. Simply put, performance standards, when properly developed, should increase the probability of long-term durability and allow the use of newer materials that can demonstrate their performance through compliance with ASTM standards.

Similarly, there has been a demand to define roofing system performance, and the reliance on ASTM standards for system testing has greatly increased. Standards to predict material and installed system performance are being used across the roofing industry, particularly in areas where there is a heightened risk of extreme events, such as high wind/hurricanes, hail, and fire.

Michelle Wilson: I’ve been involved in the concrete industry and standards development for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of changes in materials and technology that have directly impacted standards. This is in part due to sustainability efforts, but also due to drivers in improving concrete performance and productivity. Standards have been updated or developed for each new material introduced to ensure they are compatible for use in concrete. These include portland limestone cements (C595), ground glass pozzolans (C1866), and recycled aggregates (C33).  

New ASTM subcommittees have also been established as necessary to vet new construction applications, such as that for self-consolidating concrete (subcommittee C09.47). Also, new test methods have been developed to provide alternatives for performance criteria. The C09 committee has also established new standards that aid in reducing deterioration in concrete, such as ASTM C1778, which is a guide for identifying and mitigating alkali-silica reaction
in concrete.

Q. How would you encourage other women to become involved in the field of construction?

Margaret Farabaugh: I’m seeing more women in construction engineering, but that’s just one part of construction. There’s drafting and safety — being a safety engineer or safety technician is something that is really a great fit for women in construction as well as in sales. I think we need to make more women more aware of the opportunities in the field. 

I’ve taken one of our engineers under my wing to be part of our young professionals, as ASTM does with emerging professionals. I brought her to one of the meetings to acquaint her with the process. It would be nice to have this person ready to take over at some point, at least from my company’s perspective. We need to do more of that. Theoretically, it would be nice if every year I could introduce another engineer to ASTM. 

Emily Lorenz: I have three brothers (no sisters), and I went to school in the upper peninsula of Michigan (go MTU Huskies!). So, when I started my career in the construction industry, I was used to being one of the few women in the room. For some, it may seem intimidating or unwelcoming, but I honestly didn’t really notice. However, what I have noticed is that it is now much more common to have multiple female colleagues in meetings. I have found that there are many opportunities to use critical thinking and analytical skills in the field of construction, regardless of your gender. And especially as sustainability has played a bigger role in the construction sector, I see more women involved in finding solutions to the issue of climate change and promoting adaptation strategies in the construction sector.

Helene Hardy Pierce: There are endless career opportunities in the construction industry, and they are available to people with very diverse backgrounds and abilities. Whether classically trained in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] field, holding a general degree, or no degree at all, there is room for everyone in our industry. From product support to marketing to product sales, from project design to project management to construction work, from site preparation to interior finish, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who work in the construction industry, all working to provide shelter and comfort.  

With my career spanning 40 years, it is easy for me to say that our industry offers so very much. I can literally point to buildings around the country that were once “projects” I was involved with — real buildings protecting real people. Our industry is one where if you show up, work hard, and respect and help others, your efforts will be appreciated, and you will find yourself a part of something larger.

READ MORE: Building to Weather the Storm

Michelle Wilson: I see a lot more women in the construction industry, and it is a wonderful thing. The cement and concrete industry is wide open for women, with lots of opportunities for women working at plants, in laboratories, as contractors, or as designers. The most important thing for them to succeed is that they know their subject matter. When women are confident and have something to contribute, they can find a place at the table. 

It is also important to find a mentor. There are many willing to contribute to the next generation of our workforce. One of the best places they can find a mentor is through joining a professional association such as ASTM International. By participating in standards development, they can get a great perspective on the construction industry. They will be learning from different viewpoints and gaining technical insights. 

Younger professionals have much to bring to the table and should have industry support to be involved in ASTM. COVID, while it has brought us to a more virtual arena, can have a silver lining for younger members who may be able to attend ASTM meetings more readily in a virtual world. But there still is no substitute for in-person meetings and the ability to network with your peers and those industry leaders that blazed trails for them. ASTM’s Emerging Professionals Program can provide an opportunity for young members to attend an ASTM committee week.

What innovations is your committee (metallic-coated iron and steel products, A05) and the steel committee (steel, stainless steel, and related alloys, A01) currently working to incorporate in standards?

Margaret Farabaugh: We’re developing alternate coated materials. Many may think of coated steel as being galvanized steel, but there are really many hybrids of steel and alternate coatings as well, and they all have different attributes and different costs. This makes for a customer-friendly environment because you can at times find a more cost-effective material that still works for your end use. Or you can get a more high-performing material than may have been available before. I’m also seeing more onsite test methods where you can go to a job site and test for hardness or material type to verify that it’s the right material rather than completely relying on lab-focused work. I’m also seeing that structural members of a house may be used, and they’re typically coated materials that also are being looked at for our standards. I think there are always going to be multiple standards that are referenced. 

Q. Why is sustainability in building construction important?

Emily Lorenz: The climate is changing, creating more intense and more frequent natural disasters, making potable water more scarce, impacting crop production, and having many other effects. By thinking and constructing more sustainably, we can help mitigate these effects and assist in the adaptation needed to respond to these changes. 

Q. How have sustainability and severe weather impacted roofing and related standards? 

Helene Hardy Pierce: To the degree that there is much more interest in the inclusion of performance requirements within product standards, there has been a significant impact. There is much more information available today about the impact of weather events on building components, including roofing systems, and this furthers the need to consider not only the metrics of sustainability but the real need for resiliency in building design and construction. This, for example, has resulted in standards that address impact resistance and refined wind-resistance testing, both of which can greatly improve the long-term performance of a roof even when subjected to extreme weather events.

What has been the evolution of the ready-mix concrete standard (C94), and what are some of its more significant revisions in recent years?

Michelle Wilson: As the specification for ready-mixed concrete, C94 sets the minimum requirements for producing and delivering ready-mixed concrete and is one of the most widely used standards in concrete construction.  

C94 was originally approved in 1933. The standard has evolved greatly as changes in concrete materials and production have advanced. One recent notable change was removing the default for potable (drinkable) water and referencing a separate mixing water standard (C1602). This allows for more sources of mixing water to be used that are deemed suitable for use in concrete with proper qualifications. Other work on C94 has also led to a separate standard, C1798, on using returned fresh concrete in a new batch of ready-mixed concrete, which impacts concrete sustainability. We are also continuously working to improve performance-based options in the specification and recently have balloted changes to the requirements for establishing the delivery time. ■

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