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    Michael Ermann

    Why do most architecture firms register as an LLC? 

    Sole proprietorships offer little protection if sued; If you start a lemonade stand in your front yard today without registering as a corporation, your business defaults to a sole proprietorship. General partnerships, where you and your siblings start the lemonade stand together, also offer little liability protection; Limited liability companies are registered with the state and separate the firm’s finances from the firm owner’s finances. If an LLC’s owner is successfully sued, the owner is unlikely to lose his house in the settlement—that’s what makes a corporation a corporation. If you start a small architecture firm, an LLC filing is typically the way to go. Limited liability partnerships can limit the liability of a silent partner: if your rich uncle, who has nothing to do with architecture or the running of your firm, invests in your firm in hopes of seeing a return in the form of distributions paid out from annual firm profits, and you design a roof that collapses, he has more legal protection than you in an LLP because, while he is an owner, he is not running the business like you are. S-corporations: Like an LLC but there are sometimes tax benefits for S-corps because the owners are paid as owners (and owners are taxed at a lower rate than salaried employees). Many architecture firms are registered as LLCs and then switch to filing with the IRS as an S-Corporations as they become more profitable for this tax advantage. C-corporations: Not for small or mid-sized architecture firms (more for Google and Pepsi). These are publicly traded in stock exchanges, have more than 100 owners, and are “double taxed.” B-corporations allow a company to set goals other than profitability (environmental responsibility, social responsibility, etc.).

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    Michael Ermann

    Acoustics: NRC vs STC

    Noise reduction coefficient (NRC) measures sound absorption inside a room and goes a long way to determining room acoustics. If a racquetball court sounds excessively reverberant, it is because it has a low NRC, so very little of the sound energy made in the room is absorbed or transmitted, and more than 99% of the sound energy impinging on room surfaces is reflected (for an NRC of 0.01). If you are reading this in your plush, velvet-covered smoking room, then most of the sound impinging on room surfaces is absorbed or transmitted by the room’s surfaces and very little is reflected. Maybe only 15% of the sound energy impinging on the surfaces is reflected (for an NRC of 0.85). It’s just the way you would think: thick, squishy, fuzzy materials with interconnected air pockets absorb more sound; massive, hard, dense, smooth materials reflect more sound. See this graphic.

    By contrast, sound transmission class (STC) measures sound transmission between rooms and goes a long way to determining sound isolation. If you live in an apartment and can easily hear your neighbor snoring, then you might have a wall STC of only 25. If you can’t hear her even when she’s hosting party and has the stereo cranked, you may have a wall STC of 65. Massive, airtight, and structurally discontinuous (like double-walled) barriers perform best at maintaining sound isolation.

    Click here for an image of discontinuous assemblies (bottom two rows)

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    Michael Ermann

     

     

    While both NRC and STC are measures of acoustics, they measure different things, just like temperature and windspeed are both measures of weather, but they measure different things. Generally, materials like glass fiber with high NRC values have interconnected small cells where air can pass through. The friction inherent when sound energy passes through that kind of material structure reduces the strength of the sound before it is reflected back into the room it came from. But if you separated two different rooms with only a fiberglass batt blanket for a barrier. . . you can see how those interconnected cells would allow you to hear your neighbor and your life experience tells you that a blanket isn’t a good barrier to sound transmission.

    Of course, you could design an assembly with both a high NRC and a high STC, but that would not likely be a homogeneous single-material assembly. Picture a wall with glass fiber panels mounted over 8 inches of concrete. Sound created inside the room that “sees” the absorptive panels would die quickly and be less likely to excessively reverberate. But the concrete part of the wall assembly would prevent your neighbor from hearing the argument you had with your roommate last night.

    Both NRC and STC are single-number measurements that combine low-frequency (bass content: mechanical noise, transportation noise, bump’n bass from amplified music, vowels) and high-frequency (high-pitched: hissing pipes, truck backup beepers, consonants). Because humans are less sensitive to low-frequency sound, NRC and STC give varying weights to the performance of the assembly across the frequency spectrum, bass to treble. These single-number values make for easy comparisons: acoustical ceiling tile A has an NRC of 0.75, acoustical ceiling tile B has an NRC of 0.95 so B absorbs more sound. . . floor-ceiling assembly A has an STC of 35, floor-ceiling assembly B has an STC of 55 so B is more robust at keeping the room upstairs quiet while the room downstairs has the TV blasting. But, while these single-number ratings make it easy, they gloss over the importance of knowing how a material will behave at a given frequency. This is especially problematic in the presence of low-frequency sound like an orchestra (NRC doesn’t account for how much low-frequency tuba sound is being absorbed. . . just a single number for all sound), and it doesn’t account for low frequency noise (STC is unable to tell you if you will be able to hear the roar of an air handling unit in the adjacent room, because it is just a single number). Many, but not all, materials absorb high-frequency sound much better than low-frequency sound, and many, but not all, assemblies prevent high frequency sound from passing through (speech) but don’t do well at mitigating low-frequency sound (a bus passing outside).

    So what is an architect, or acoustician, to do? If they want more detailed frequency-level information, the absorption coefficient (denoted by a lower-case alpha) measures the absorption at each octave band so we can know if the tuba’s energy will be absorbed in the concert hall when we specify a certain weight of velour curtain. And if we want to know if the window will sufficiently block the low-frequency roaring sound of the passing bus accelerating outside, looking at transmission loss (TL) will give us data at the low-frequencies and high-frequencies and everything in between.

    And while NRC measures room absorption as a convenient single number, and absorption coefficient measures it at each octave band for more detailed analysis. . . and while STC measures airborne sound attenuation between rooms, and TL measures it at each octave band for more detailed analysis. . .  impact noise measures a floor-ceiling assembly’s response to structure-borne noise. Specifically IIC measures how well the floor-ceiling mitigates impacts from footfall on the surface above. If you took no measures to address impact noise, your assembly might earn an IIC rating of 35, and most reasonably-minded downstairs occupants would judge that as unacceptable.  And if you took exhaustive steps and achieved an assembly with an IIC-65 rating, most reasonably-minded downstairs occupants would judge that as acceptable. If IIC was a person in your office, you wouldn’t like him very much. Not only is he piss-poor at rating wood frame floor-ceiling assemblies, but the code requires IIC of at least 50 for multi-family housing, and many reasonably-minded downstairs occupants would find that unacceptable.

    An assembly could have a high IIC and a low STC, meaning you can’t hear the person walking upstairs, but you can hear their stereo. And an assembly could have a high STC and a low IIC, meaning you can’t hear their stereo, but you can hear them puttering around.

    Hope that helps. –Michael Ermann, creator and author of Architectural Acoustics Illustrated , Wiley 2015. (like a Ching book for architectural acoustics. . . That illustration above was one of hundreds like it from this book)

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    Mark Baker

    Thank you Michael!

    Penn State University has several an-echoic chambers.  I was able to spend some time in one for one of the architecture classes. I must say, these are super eery / creepy spaces where NO SOUND is reflected.  Its like a space that EATS sound.

    I also must say that your arrow scale graphic is SUPER clear and helpful in explaining the understanding needed about NRC and how it applies in real life for the architecture exams.

    Mark

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    Michael Ermann

    Failing is a Feature, Not a Bug

    At the time I write this, pass rates for ARE divisions range from 42% (PPD) to 70% (CE). (You can see up-to-date pass rates for each division here.) Let’s say you’ve studied enough to achieve an 80% likelihood of passing EACH of your six exam divisions, which is exemplary and far exceeds the average test-taker. Even in that high-achiever example, with an 80% likelihood of passing EACH division, you still have less than a one-in-three chance of passing ALL the divisions on the first try. Failing some divisions is part of the process, not a detour from it. For this reason, think of failing a division not as failure, but as an expensive, but very accurate, practice test—part of the process of moving toward licensure, and nothing to be dejected about for more than a day. Unless your score suggests you failed spectacularly, sign up right away for the next available to re-test that same division. If you are a football fan, think of it as a holding call: not optimal, but a part of the game. If you are not a sports fan, think of failing a division as a long queue at airport security. It makes you feel bad, it delays you, but you usually make your plane in the end. Go here and watch what I mean.

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    Michael Ermann

    Partnerships

    General partnerships: Two or more people get together to start a firm. Partnership agreements are very important to establish who will do what, who gets credit, how profits are divided, who can put the firm into debt, what happens when one person decides to leave the firm, etc..

    Limited partnerships: partial owners in a firm with limited management roles. Your rich aunt wants to invest in your idea to start a firm, but knows nothing about architecture. You take her $15,000 to start your firm and give her 10% ownership. She's entitled to 10% of future dividends paid to owners from profits, and as a limited partner, she's not (much) liable for civil damages when the building you designed burns down and hurts someone. If you sell the firm in 20 years, she gets 10% of the sale price (after expenses); if you list it on a public stock exchange, she gets 10% of the stock; if you go broke, she gets nothing back.

    Don't confuse partnerships, which happen when people couple-up to start a company, with the ways that  firms couple-up. . . Strategic alliance is two companies hanging out together to land or execute a job; joint venture is two companies making a new baby company to land or execute a job and each one has ownership in the baby; a merger is a total combining of the two companies into a single company that now shares everything as a single, larger, firm.

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    Michael Ermann

    Are Courtyards Good for Humid or Arid Climates?

    Courtyards are a good fit in hot arid climates. where air movement (cross ventilation) is not beneficial. Let's go backward for a minute, then we'll come back to courtyards. . . 

    In hot-HUMID climates, air movement helps sweat evaporate from the skin, and evaporation makes everything around it cool so evaporation of sweat is a good thing. In those climates, because the air is already saturated with moisture, evaporation is stymied. The "sponge" that is the atmosphere is full of water and doesn't want to take any more sweat in from your skin. Air movement helps overcome the problems with evaporation in humid climates (think of a fan placed to more rapidly dry a wet floor). To promote air movement--and we only want to do this in humid climates-- we want large apertures on the windward and leeward sides of the building and we want to separate adjacent buildings by a distance at least equal to five times the buildings' heights. That way, your building doesn't block the breezes available to my building.

    In hot-ARID climates, we have no problems coaxing sweat to evaporate because the atmospheric "sponge" is dry, and happy to take more moisture from our skin. Our sweat evaporates easily in dry climates, which is why 94 degrees feels cooler in Los Angeles than it does in New Orleans. We actually sweat more in dry climates than humid ones. . . only in humid climates, the sweat STAYS on our skin. We don't need air movement to promote evaporation in dry climates, so we don't need large openings; large openings in arid climates only bring in hot air, which will increase the temperature inside our building. To our original question, courtyards are beneficial in hot-ARID climates because they position the other half of the building, on the other side of the courtyard, close to our half of the building. This blocks the breezes because typically, the distance across a courtyard is far less than seven times the height of the building. . . . but in hot ARID climates we don’t need breezes for evaporation. Courtyard arrangements help with shading because the courtyards are typically small relative to the building mass, so the portion of the building on the other side of the courtyard shades my half of the building, plus it shades the courtyard itself. Shading is important in warm humid climates but very important in warm arid climates.

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    Michael Ermann

    How Many Hours Does Someone Need to Study to Pass This ARE Division?

    There are so many problems with this reasonable-sounding question. It reveals a failure to think probabilistically (more on that in a later post), and it fails to account for individual prior knowledge of the material, which varies across test-takers. But mostly, it promotes over-studying. Let’s say that you have 200 hours available to study in a three-month period. Is it better to study one division and get to a state where there is a 90% likelihood of passing that one division. . . or is it better to spend 100 hours on each of two divisions and get to an 80% likelihood of passing each of those two divisions? It’s the second scenario that’s better for you. In a given window of time, better to study for two divisions and achieve 80% likelihood of passing each of those, than to study one division and get to 90% likelihood of passing only one division. This is because if you chose to study for one test, you likely could have passed two instead, and even if you failed one of the two, you still broke even in that case because you passed one test, like in the first scenario where you only studied for one test. But with the two-division option, you already have 100 hours of studying under your belt for the retake of the failed division. For too many people their goal is to pass the next division, and it is important to have microgoals for the long process of licensure so you can celebrate the interim victories. But the overarching goal should be to pass all the divisions in the least amount of time

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    Ariana Parrish

    So do you suggest we wait to take the new test with less questions/more time or try to test now before things change? - Looking at the current pass/fail rates and the post on this forum, it seems like very few people are passing right now. 

    Do you think when determining the new cut scores the 42% -70% rate will go up or do you expect things to stay the same thing? Honestly it's really hard to determine what to even do right now. I've taken the same three exams about 6 times each. I have tried just about everything. I've tried taking one exam at a time, 2 exams at a time. I've given myself more and less time to study. 

    Since you have taken this exam before, do you think you could pass it again without scratch paper, not sure if you used it at all with your exams and do you plan to take the new one in December with whiteboard? Also, I know this is a silly question, but was your previous score used apart of creating the cut scores? Honestly, im confused if they are trying to make things a bit more realistic or harder - Anything will help thanks!

     

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    Michael Ermann

    The test format isn't as important as you are led to believe

    I don't think it matters when you test, but my advice is always to test as early as possible, even if you feel unprepared, because a re-take is only a sixty day wait if you don't pass. Better to schedule the division in one month and retake it two months later (if needed) than to schedule the first attempt in three months. The cut score will be established by other people who have the same new scratch paper experience, so you will be "graded on a curve."  Focus on knowing the content. I remember folks were anxious about the addition of new question types when ARE flipped from 4.0 to 5.0, but question type doesn't matter much either. People who know the answer, or know how to derive the answer, rarely miss a question in the ARE because of test formatting (aside from running out of time). That's why realistic-looking practice tests aren't that important. . . call me at 540.558.8279 and I'll explain further.

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    Ariana Parrish

    Thanks, will give a call tomorrow!

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    Michael Ermann

    The Flavor of Question Doesn’t Matter When Studying

    If you’ve taken an exam, you’ve seen six question types: multiple choice, fill in the blank, check-all-that-apply, hotspots, drag-and-place and questions that are based on case studies, which are typically multiple choice, but may be one of the others. Do not study material based on which type of question you think will be used because, first, you can’t possibly know if you are going to be tested on plumbing valves with a multiple choice or drag-and-place . . . and more importantly, how would you study differently even if you knew which type of question was going to be used to test your knowledge of plumbing valves? The answer: you wouldn’t study differently if you knew it was multiple choice than you would if you knew it was drag-in-place. In my experience, many test-takers (and many test prep providers) unnecessarily fetishize the flavor of question delivery in study strategy. The exception to this rule: code questions are more common in the case study section, because the exam can allow you to search the building or zoning code in the case study material. This is good to know because it lowers any expectations for you to memorize code; you can search the case study code document in real time once inside the testing center.

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    Michael Ermann

    Bridged design-build

    Design architect hired to create, say, 35% of design, then drawings handed off to a design-build firm. More oversight than design-build because the bridging consultant (design architect) is independent of the design-build firm. Less risk than a design-build contract and higher quality. More expensive and takes longer.

    Need more detail?. . .

    Owner contracts with a design architect ("bridging consultant") to design the project through SD, then a "production architect-contractor team" bids to develop the documents and build the project. This contract retains some of the (good for the owner) adversarial relationship between the architect and contractor because the bridging consultant (design architect) works for the owner and has her best interest in mind; and it retains some of the (good for the owner) speed and expediency associated with design-build projects because the production architect and contractor work for a single entity and ostensibly trust one another without the blame-shifting ("It was the architects fault!") or cover-your-ass culture ("We can fix this design flaw ourselves, but send an RFI and wait for an answer anyway") associated with design-bid-build. The bridging consultant (design architect) continues to review the production architect's drawings after the hand-off, on behalf of the owner, to ensure that the design architect's intent was followed through to detailing and technical specs.
    *This type of project increases quality, lowers risk, and offers greater speed than design-bid-build (but less speed than design-build). Not good if the owner needs to have the architect "on her side" throughout the whole process.

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    Michael Ermann

    Gross Floor Area

    In matters of code, gross floor area is measured from the inside face of exterior walls. In other matters of programming and analysis (programming, pre-design, schematic design, or cost estimating), gross floor area is measured from the outside face of the exterior walls. It is a value used in the denominator of economic efficiency proportion measures like “net-to-gross” (interior area, excluding corridors, lobbies, elevators, bathrooms, and stairs, divided by gross floor area). “Usable area,” is like net area, except that it includes corridors. “Rentable area” is like usable area, except that it includes bathrooms and lobbies. “Grossing factor,” is rentable area, divided by usable area. To make these concepts even more difficult to remember, their specific definition varies somewhat by region and industry, so you might have correctly heard one of these terms used in another way. Argh. Try not to stress and do your best based on these definitions.

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    Michael Ermann

    How Do I Read My Fail Report?

    Speaking with NCARB’s Vice President for Examination. I asked him what he wanted to communicate with the testing community. His response: Looking at the testing record of individuals, he finds a pattern whereby folks sit for a few tests, they pass those tests, and then fail a division, give up, and stop testing altogether. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that failing a division is a feature, not a bug in this process, and that, unless you failed spectacularly, you should schedule a retake for the earliest possible allowed date. But what to study while you are waiting to retake? And how to use the fail report to guide that decision?

    When looking to the fail report, you’ll want to read not only the level of achievement you earned on a section, but, more importantly, what percentage of questions come from that section. That’s found in the column highlighted below. 

    So at first glance it might seem like this person should study Content Area 5, because that is where their performance was demonstrably weakest. But look at the highlighted “Section %.” Content Area 5 only accounts for 2% to 8% of the exam (maybe three to nine questions), and because your pass depends on only your total score for the whole exam regardless of the content area, and because every question is worth one point, and construction cost estimation is a large field that would take forever to study and it is one that he clearly knows little about, Content Area 5: Construction Cost Estimates is probably the last content area he should study. Likewise, looking at Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, you might assume that because he achieved a “Level 2,” meaning he did well on those sections, that those would be areas he doesn’t need to study. Yet, he actually should probably study Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, because they together account for between two-thirds and three-quarters of the questions on the division (maybe 80 or 90 questions). The irony is that he likely has far more wrong questions, and therefore more room for improvement, on the content areas where the report says he did better!

    Okay, so now you know what to study: Content Areas 1 and 2.

    No! You don’t. How do you study for a content area as large as “Content Area 1: Integration of Building Materials & Systems,” or “Content Area 2: Construction Documentation?” These areas are way too broad and not specific enough to guide you to retake preparation. If NCARB’s original sin in distributing these misleading reports is to inadvertently fool you into believing that you need to pass a certain number of content areas (rather than a certain number of questions, regardless of the content area), its newer sin, adopted with ARE 5.0, is to group content areas with language so vague an unspecific, as to render them almost useless for directing your study. So study with a test prep program that knows the test and can weight subject matter the way the exam does, and worry about learning about architectural acoustics and swales rather than spending your valuable time focusing on the way the test makers populate vague content areas.

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    Michael Ermann

    Catchment areas

    In a discussion of stormwater runoff, the catchment area is the region from which rainfall flows into a stream, culvert, catch basin, or roof drain.

    In a discussion of building feasibility, catchment areas have a useful parallel. They are the region from which residents are expected to visit your building.

    When siting a school, how many children live in an area bounded by the midway points between your site and other schools?

    When siting a hospital, what proportion of residents within X miles are over the age of 70 and how many of them have health insurance?

    For your proposed indoor pool site, it is unlikely that residents will drive past another, more proximate, indoor pool to visit your site further away.

    Your proposed corner store will have a catchment area of no more than six blocks because it relies on pedestrian customers.

    In this way, to judge the feasibility of building here, in this spot, we’ll circumscribe a catchment area based on demographics, commerce, geography, and human habit to describe the area from where your building will draw people.--Michael Ermann, Amber Book creator

     

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    Michael Ermann

    Air Films vs Air Spaces

    A thin film of air coats both the interior surface and exterior surface of your building, adding a small, but non-negligible, measure of extra R-value to your building. How we think about those is a function of how specific we want to be when calculating our insulation.

    If I ask you how long it takes drive from Richmond to Boston, you have three options:

    1. You can respond with the approximate time it takes from interstate exit to interstate exit: 8 hours
    2. You can further add the extra time that you will spend in traffic working your way through cities like Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York: for a refined total time of 8.7 hours
    3. You can still further add the time it takes you to get from your door in Richmond to the interstate exit, and from the Boston interstate exit to your cousin’s door in Boston: for an even more refined time of 8.96 Hours

    Likewise, when someone asks you for the R-value of an assembly, there are three correct answers, each one a bit higher in number, and each one a bit more specific . . . but each one a bit more tedious to compute and with marginal additional usefulness when making design decisions. So I could ask you about the R-value of an assembly and you could correctly respond with three different values.

    1. By only including the insulation. At first approximation, an assembly’s thermal resistance is mostly included in the insulation: so for this example, we’ll say R-20
    2. By adding in the value of the structure, sheathing, interior finish material, and exterior cladding: R-21.5
    3. By further adding in the air films that form at the microscopic level in the craggy surfaces of the interior finish (+0.68) and exterior cladding (+0.17): R-22.35

    So on the exam, you’ll think about the answer based on the specificity of the information provided. If they are asking for a “door-to-door time of travel,” the exam will provide you with the air film numbers (no need to memorize something like air film R-values). If they want an “exit-to-exit time of travel” they’ll simply provide the values associated with the materials in the assembly.

    Do air film insulation values change? The interior air films don’t vary that much, so we use 0.68 as a good average for an interior wall surface and R-0.61 for a ceiling surface. In practice, the values of the outside air films are always changing, primarily with the speed of the wind. In higher winds, the air molecules that hang out at the surface of the cladding are blown away quickly, so they provide a less-effective thermal insulator. We typically use the convention R-0.17 as an average for the wintertime air film, when it is often windier, and R-0.25 for the summer, when the air is calmer. I suppose that at a seaside site, where the wind blows harder, we could adjust the exterior air film R-value down accordingly, but that level of specificity isn’t appropriate in thermal calculations because when calculating conductive heat loss rates we are still making assumptions about what the exterior temperature is, how much thermal bridging there is, etc. I would argue that in the presence of an assembly with insulation, accounting for the air film at all is overly-specific: kind of like measuring the distance from Richmond to Boston in inches.

    While air films are on both sides of all building assemblies, some assemblies also have air spaces. These air spaces are different than the air films that hang out on the indoor and outdoor surfaces of the assembly and are exactly what they sound like: empty cavities in a wall or roof assembly. Again, these are different than air films. Imagine a 2x4 stud wall without cavity insulation, and with OSB on the exterior and gypsum board attached to the interior. That air space between the gypsum board and OSB has a small (R-1) value. For a detailed accounting of the assembly R-value, from outside to inside, we would add

    Exterior air film: R-0.17

    OSB: R-0.5

    Air space: R-1

    Gypsum board: R-0.5

    Interior air film: R-0.68

    Total R-value: 0.17+0.5+1+0.5+0.68=2.85

    —Michael Ermann, Amber Book creator.

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    Michael Ermann

    Shear vs Moment Connections

    Straighten out your arm and hold it horizontally. Now use that hand to grab the shoulder of a loved-one who is standing nearby. If that loved-one suddenly moves out of reach, does your arm fall or does it remain horizontal? If it falls, your shoulder was a shear (or pin) connection. If it still remains outstretched horizontally after your loved-one moved—if it remains cantilevered from your body—your shoulder was in a moment connection to its column, your torso.

    In steel, you can recognize a shear connection because (generally) the beam web is bolted or welded to the column, but the beam’s flanges are not. Shear connections resist gravity, but don’t do well in the presence of lateral forces like wind and seismic. They therefore need additional lateral resistance from cross bracing or a shear wall (rigid lateral membrane) so that a hurricane doesn’t push over the pin-connected structure. The nomenclature can be confusing: shear connections need a shear wall (or cross-bracing) to resist lateral forces. Importantly, shear walls or cross-bracing are not required everywhere—only in a few of the structural bays.

    Below is an illustration of a shear connection. Note that only the web will be bolted. Because there are four bolts, you might think that this beam can hold itself horizontal without the benefit of a column on the other end of the beam, but because all four bolts are in the web, they act as a single hinge when considered at the sale of the entire beam.

    By contrast steel moment connections (generally) bolt/weld both the flanges and web to the column and resist both vertical gravity and lateral wind/seismic. They can handle the hurricane without the benefit of shear walls or cross-bracing.

    Below is an image of a moment connection. Note that the flange and the web are both bolted.

    The additional cost of attaching the flanges doesn’t seem like it would amount to that much extra in a building’s budget, at least not relative to the extra cost of cross-bracing or building a concrete shear wall. But given the skill-level of the structural steel trades, and their location high atop steel structures exposed to the elements, the extra cost of moment connections (bolting the flanges to the beam) is surprisingly significant. Plus, code life safety requirements often dictate a concrete stair tower that can “do double-duty” as both the protected assembly and as the shear walls without extra cost. So most of the connections you see in the field when a steel beam meets a steel column are shear connections. . . which means that if the neighboring column were to suddenly jump out of the way, and there was no shear wall in the bay and no cross bracing in the bay, the beam would pivot downward.

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    Michael Ermann

    Study for All the Divisions at Once; Take All the Divisions at Once

    This advice, to study for all six divisions at once, and then take all six divisions at once, upsets many people, but I’ll defend it as good advice. There has always been overlap in content between divisions of the ARE, but in ARE 5.0, overlap of content is the defining characteristic. In the switch from ARE 4.0, NCARB resolved to rearrange what had been testing divisions based on school subjects (structures, building systems, materials and methods of construction, etc.) to a regime where divisions are based on job phases (schematic design, design development, construction documents, etc.). They explained the shift as aligning better with the way a project flows in an office. Fair enough, but I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation as to why it is better to test minimum professional and technical competency in a manner that aligns with project phases than in a manner that aligns with subject matter. Oh well, this is the established system that we find ourselves in, so how to best navigate it? Study for all six exams and then sit for all six exams at once. If you’ve already passed some of the divisions, study for the remaining ones all at once. This advice isn’t founded on pedagogical or epistemological grounds, but rather based on empirical observation. It is impossible to study the schematic design part of structures and the schematic design part of building systems and then take the division focused on early design. . . then study the design development part of structures and the design development part of building systems and then take the division focused on design development. The problem with a one-at-a-time approach is three-fold: (1) I don’t know precisely where the early design part of structures ends and the design development begins, and neither does anyone else, (2) I’ll take ownership of the design development content of structures only if I’m studying it in reference to the foundational early-design part of structures so I’ll learn structures better if I study all of it, and (3) it’s more expedient to study all of structures, then all of building systems because that’s the clearest way to teach and write about it. I’ve lived this advice myself. I took all six tests in six consecutive available time slots at the testing center, including a stint of four divisions tested in three consecutive days. I have an email mailbox full of notes from people who have thanked me for encouraging them to take all these divisions at once, and lots more from those who didn’t take this path and wish they had. But no one has ever written me to proclaim they were happy with their decision to spread these tests out. Because my study course charges tuition monthly, this advice to quickly sit for all six exams has dumbfounded my money-oriented friends, but it is advice I stand by. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of studying for all six, you can take the Practice Management and Project Management divisions together first, then study for the other four divisions and take those four in a block after you’ve passed the first two. If this 4+2 still scares you, fake courage and do it anyway.—Michael Ermann

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    Michael Ermann

    OSHA

    Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): enforces workplace safety regulations for things like construction falls, exposure to dangerous construction solvents, potentially dangerous power tools, and requirements for neon safety vests, glasses, & hardhats on site. OSHA considers office workplaces, like architects' offices, to be low-hazard but requires reporting of workplace deaths or multiple simultaneous workplace hospitalizations, even in offices.

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    Michael Ermann

    Duct Sizing

    What is the cross-sectional size of a duct?

    Given:

    1400 feet per minute duct air velocity

    2800 cubic feet per minute through the duct.

    Try to answer on your own before scrolling down to the answer.

     

     

     

     

    A: 2 sf cross sectional area of duct (so, for instance, a duct 12 in high by 24 in wide)

    CFM = FPM x cross sectional area in sq ft

    2800 cfm = 1400 fpm x cross sectional area in sq ft

    cross sectional area = 2 sq ft

    To provide enough cooling (or heating) to a space, we send a given quantity of cooled (heated) air down the duct measured in CFM.

    You don't need to memorize this formula. . . to remember it when you need it, envision a duct with a one square foot cross-section and a 2 fpm duct air velocity:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Michael Ermann

    How Do I Read My Fail Report?

    Speaking with NCARB’s Vice President for Examination. I asked him what he wanted to communicate with the testing community. His response: Looking at the testing record of individuals, he finds a pattern whereby folks sit for a few tests, they pass those tests, and then fail a division, give up, and stop testing altogether. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that failing a division is a feature, not a bug in this process, and that, unless you failed spectacularly, you should schedule a retake for the earliest possible allowed date. But what to study while you are waiting to retake? And how to use the fail report to guide that decision?

    When looking to the fail report, you’ll want to read not only the level of achievement you earned on a section, but, more importantly, what percentage of questions come from that section. That’s found in the column highlighted below. 

     

     

    So at first glance it might seem like this person should study Content Area 5, because that is where their performance was demonstrably weakest. But look at the highlighted “Section %.” Content Area 5 only accounts for 2% to 8% of the exam (maybe three to nine questions), and because your pass depends on only your total score for the whole exam regardless of the content area, and because every question is worth one point, and construction cost estimation is a large field that would take forever to study and it is one that he clearly knows little about, Content Area 5: Construction Cost Estimates is probably the last content area he should study. Likewise, looking at Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, you might assume that because he achieved a “Level 2,” meaning he did well on those sections, that those would be areas he doesn’t need to study. Yet, he actually should study Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, because they together account for between two-thirds and three-quarters of the questions on the division (maybe 80 or 90 questions). The irony is that he likely has far more wrong questions, and therefore more room for improvement, on the content areas where the report says he did better!

    Okay, so now you know what to study. No! You don’t. How do you study for a content area as large as “Content Area 1: Integration of Building Materials & Systems,” or “Content Area 2: Construction Documentation?” These areas are way too broad and not specific enough to guide you to retake preparation. If NCARB’s original sin in distributing these misleading reports is to inadvertently fool you into believing that you need to pass a certain number of content areas (rather than a certain number of questions, regardless of the content area), its new sin, adopted with ARE 5.0, is to inadvertently group the questions and title the content areas with language so vague an unspecific, as to render them almost useless for directing your study. So study with a test prep program that knows the test and can weight subject matter the way the exam does, and worry about learning about architectural acoustics and swales rather than spending your valuable time studying the way the test makers populate vague content areas.

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    Michael Ermann

    Post-occupancy evaluation (POE)

    Also called facility performance evaluation

    POE determines if the building performs as intended

    It has the side benefit of strengthening the client-architect relationship and can serve as a powerful learning tool for the architect to see what went right--and what needs improvement next time.

    Six months or a year after occupancy, the architect will go in (at an extra charge because POE is not a base service in the contract) and test the space for functionality and comfort: energy use, water use, thermal comfort, acoustics, lighting, wayfinding, workflows, user satisfaction surveys, and overall design.

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    Michael Ermann

    Column Buckling

    Structures, as it relates to the ARE. . . .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvvaCi_Nn94&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=1

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    Michael Ermann

    Is there such a thing as studying too much?

    The first hours of studying for an exam have a high yield. By that, I mean each hour significantly increases the likelihood of a pass. Eventually, you will reach a point of diminishing returns, where each extra hour of squeezing produces scant extra juice. How do you find that inflection point in you process? That’s difficult to pinpoint with precision, and it generally ranges between 25 hours and 175 hours, but if more than 25% of the content you are currently learning is content you’ve already seen in the course of your prior studying, it’s time to schedule that exam. For giggles, we made a moch-ARE you-passed-but-over-studied pass report. Click here

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    Michael Ermann

    Fire codes and egress, as it relates to the ARE, here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miqOq62bXX0&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=2

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    Michael Ermann

    Construction Details

    My favorite book for construction details, especially for rain (including flashing), air control, thermal control (insulation), and vapor control is High Performance Enclosures by John Straube. Go here to buy it (I don't think it is on Amazon). It would be a must-read for every architect even if there was no exam. For damp-proofing and water-proofing this EPA document (Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction, and Maintenance) is also quite good.

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    Michael Ermann

    Submittals

    Submittals are product data sheets, shop drawings, product samples, and mockups that the contractor will submit to the architect for approval: that the submittal meets the design intent. For instance, a sub (mason) submits a product sample (brick) to the GC for approval. After approving it, the GC submits it to the architect for approval. The architect may review the brick with her façade consultant and if it seems like it meets the design intent, the architect will approve it for the GC and the GC will send the approval back to the subcontractor. Last week I made an eight-second animation of this process here. Importantly for this exam, the architect and her consultant aren’t responsible for confirming every detail: for instance, that the brick meets the spec for moisture resistance. . . just that it meets the design intent. We wouldn’t want the mason to purchase 10,000 of the wrong color or size brick! The mason and GC are responsible for meeting the specified strength, moisture resistance, etc..

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    Kathryn O'Regan

    This thread is gold, thank you Michael!!  I'm done with exams but like to peruse the boards for things I can answer, and more stuff I can learn!

    I second the suggestion to study for all and take all.  That's how I finished up.  I took my first two 6 months apart, and went well, but once I buckled down and did 4 in two months, I felt like the process was smoother and I got in a good routine of studying the primary resources.  There was A LOT of overlap and remembering little tidbits from one test to the next.

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    Michael Ermann

    LLC or S-Corporation?

    Compare C-corporations, S-corporations, B-corporations, sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and limited liability corporations (LLCs)  here. . . because multiple-choice tests love to ask you to compare categories of things.

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