By Dennis Buirge
It would be surprising to find someone using construction documents who has not ‘heard’ of ASTM standards. How many, though, have an introductory understanding regarding the meaning of those letters and numbers? Specification writers in particular are familiar with those 4 letters, ASTM, as standards are frequently used when preparing a specification, especially in the ‘reference standard’ method. The intent of this blog is to give an introduction to various meanings so that one could at least call themselves an introductory neophyte regarding an understanding of ASTM standards.
If your specification Section incorporates a PART 1 Article entitled ‘References’ and includes “ASTM - American Society for Testing and Materials”, you are now about a decade behind the times. With ASTM founded in 1898 as the American Section of the International Association for Testing and Materials, it predates other standards organizations such as BSI (1901), DIN (1917), ANSI (1918) and AFNOR (1926). The organization's headquarters located in West Conshohocken, PA, is about 5 miles NW of Philadelphia. ASTM currently includes members from more than 120 nations, and with about one of every five members living outside the United States and the standards being used around the world in many applications, a new name, ASTM International, Inc. was established in 2001. In addition, a new logo was included to underscore their international scope and message. There are now about 12,000 standards that can be searched for titles, scopes, adoptions, referenced documents, index terms, number of pages, and prices on the ASTM website.
In a specification, one might see a standard reference of ASTM B 221, where there is at least a letter and up to a four digit number, but may also include a dash and a two digit number. So what is the meaning of that designation in ASTM standards? The first letter identifies a general designation, followed by its serial number, which is separated from the standard’s year designation by a dash. The general designation legend is as follows: A = Ferrous Metals, B = Nonferrous Metals, C = Cementitious, Ceramic, Concrete, and Masonry Materials, D = Miscellaneous Materials, E = Miscellaneous Subjects, F = Materials for Specific Applications, G = Corrosion, Deterioration, and Degradation of Materials, and H = Joint Committee and District Recipients. One would then know that ASTM B 221 falls into the nonferrous metals category and happens to be extruded aluminum; B 209 identifies sheet aluminum. The year need not be referenced in Divisions 02 - 49 specifications, if there is a statement in Division 01 that the most current standard at the time of bidding is valid.
All ASTM standards fall into 15 sections with each section containing many volumes. The example for construction relates to its falling in Section 4, where there are 13 volumes (4.01 - 4.13). If one were interested in obtaining all 12,000 standards in all 82 volumes, get out your checkbook, as the 2010 edition is available for approximately $9,700 (verify actual amount with the ASTM website). About 1,300 construction related standards in a 4 volume set are available, however their website indicates only electronic files are now available and no longer in book form. The beginning of each construction related volume first includes an alphabetic listing of standards by “content” and then by “list of subjects”, which identifies each standard in one of the six different types explained in the next paragraph.
The standards are uniform in format and follow the same rigorous approval procedures. In general, there are six different types of ASTM standards: Test Method - a definitive procedure that produces a test result [Example - E 283-04 Standard Test Method for Determining Rate of Air Leakage Through Exterior Windows, Curtain Walls, and Doors Under Specified Pressure Differences Across the Specimen]; Specification - an explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system, or service [Example - B 2-08 Standard Specification for Medium-Hard-Drawn Copper Wire]; Guide - information or series of options that does not recommend a specific course of action [Example - C 1193-09 Standard Guide for Use of Joint Sealants]; Practice - a definitive set of instructions for performing one or more specific operations that does not produce a test result [Example - A 807-08 Standard Practice for Installing Corrugated Steel Structural Plate Pipe for Sewers and Other Applications]; Classification - a systematic arrangement or division of materials, products, systems, or services into groups based on similar characteristics such as origin, composition, properties, or use [Example - D 448-08 Standard Classification for Sizes of Aggregates for Road and Bridge Construction]; and Terminology - a document comprising definitions of terms; explanations of symbols, abbreviations, or acronyms [Example - D 16-08 Standard Terminology for Paint, Related Coatings, Materials, and Applications].
In addition to all of the aforementioned information, there can still be up to 5 callouts with additional numbers and letters that could cause severe confusion. One example for a classification type standard would be: ASTM D 4066-01 PA0610G33A49360UA067. Have fun with that one! Anyone seeking more detailed information regarding ASTM standards can ‘google’ various websites.
Lastly, MasterSpec and other specification software generally incorporate ASTM standards that include references to both Imperial and SI (metric) units. An example relating to guy and tie wires for planting stabilization in Section 329300 would be ASTM A 641/A 641M. If the project manual is not specifying SI units for the project, the specification writer(s) SHOULD NOT include those SI references. The previous example would be correctly written as ‘ASTM A 641’. Removing those SI references could be physically deleted or ‘turned off’ via electronic software.
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