Frank Woeste receives award
February 11, 2021
Dr. Frank Woeste, our colleague and an Adjunct Professor in Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, was awarded the 2019 Public Service Award by the Virginia Building Code Officials in recognition of his technical support to building officials, plan examiners, and to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Virginia Building Code Officials’ newsletter announced that “Mr. Woeste was specifically commended for his professional and academic accomplishments, notably his investigative work in analyzing deck structural failures and his Virginia Tech course in wood design. Mr. Woeste is a professor emeritus and adjunct professor of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech where, during his 26-year tenure, he has conducted wood engineering research and taught wood design courses. In conjunction with his colleagues at Virginia Tech and Washington State University, Mr. Woeste developed and presented continuing education programs for more than 30-years. He currently serves on the American Wood Council, Wood Standards Design Committee which is responsible for revisions to national design standards."
A public service award is one that is given to someone who has helped out in the area of public safety. The findings of Frank’s research into building safer decks, so there are fewer accidents and injuries linked to them, has been adopted into building codes on both state and national level. They found that some homeowners have elevated decks that were not built safely and do not receive the regularly required maintenance.
In a July, 2017 article Frank reported that “over the period of nine days starting on June 9, 2017, five deck collapses in five states (MT, VA, OH. MI, and WI) were reported in the news media. Using the injury data from the media, the five collapses resulted in a total of 57 injuries. In one case, WAVY.com reported that, after an inspection by code enforcement inspectors, officials said it appears the deck failed at the ledger board—where the deck attaches to the main building. Deck collapses caused by the failure of nailed deck-ledger-connections to a structure or house have been followed since 2002, when researchers at Virginia Tech began to investigate and test critical structural elements of a residential/multi-family deck. After several years of tracking deck collapses, it became apparent that the primary cause of deck collapses was the connection of the deck ledger to the house made with nails only.”
So, the first part of Frank’s research was to collect information and statistics on the current level of injuries related to decks and what causes them. Frank explained that “to complete the outreach part of our story, part one was to identify what deck elements were causing the bulk of the injuries and fatalities. We estimated from media sources and our own experiences that 90% of all deck injury case stemmed from an inadequate/dangerous nail-only deck floor to deck ledger connections. And of the remaining 10%, the collapse of a guardrails was generally caused by an unsafe attachment of the 4x4 guardrail posts to the floor framing. Neither subjects were adequately addressed by the residential code. Hence, research was needed in the two areas and it was conducted at the Brooks Center, involving a team effort with Dr. Joe Loferski, staff, and students."
When decks are loaded by occupants, the weight of deck occupants causes the ledger nails to simply bend and pull out of the wood sheathing and house band joist, or more simply to pull straight out of the wall by the lateral movement of the deck floor. So Frank and his team, through research and testing came up with a table, showing how many ½-in. lag screws/bolts should be used (instead of nails) to connect the main portions of the deck ledgers to the house.
During the course of this research, members of the Virginia Building & Code Officials Association (VBCOA) attended a Virginia Tech short course which included testing demonstrations at the Brooks Center. Frank told us that “working with Dr. Joe Loferski on testing and continuing education for about 30 years has been the key to having a positive and impactful relationship with the members of VBCOA. For example, when we tested deck ledgers in the 2004-05 timeframe, some members of the VBCOA were also attending our two-day short courses wherein Joe demonstrated a deck ledger tests and led tours of the Brooks Center. Having some of the leaders witness these tests, they managed to add the results to the Virginia Building Code in 2006. After the Virginia adoption of our ledger connection design table, VBCOA leaders took it to the International Residential Code (IRC) whereby it was adopted by the IRC and appeared in the 2009 IRC which is on a three-year revision cycle.”
So now, through their research efforts, the connection table is part of both the Virginia and the International Residential Code. Deck ledger connections built after these new codes were put into place are safe and hence have enhanced deck safety for the public. This research and Frank’s continued efforts in this area over the years are definitely worthy of the Public Service Award that he has received!