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Re: GBlist: Consensus standards - ASTM, ASHRAE, etc.

Hal Levin wrote:
> >        Generalizations are dangerous. Consider what "consensus" means. The
> real issue is the composition of  the committee and the rules under which it
> operates. Things were much worse until the late 1970s when the FTC
> considered adopting rules governing the standards development process by
> private organizations. (snip)
ASTM membership is open to anyone,
> although there are some built-in limits to the number of representatives
> from a given organization or even industry. But these are not uniform across
> committees, and the rules of any specific committee must be consulted to
> determine the composition and potential for abuse. (snip)

I agree with a lot of Hal's comments, having gone through the ASTM
process with a masonry heater "Standard Guide" and becoming acquainted
with some of the inner workings of the process.

In our case, it was a good opportunity to get a fledgling industry off
the ground, gain credibility with code officials, and arrive at an ad
hoc, somewhat vague, "best accepted practice" standard that pooled the
meagre resources available. It was extremely valuable and illuminating
to have everybody and their brother come out of the woodwork and put in
their two cents in the way of comments that had to be responded to and
voted on. It is, indeed, somewhat of a lowest common denominator, as are
building codes. It is a lot better than nothing, however. Like anything
else worthwhile, it requires work - there was a big difference between a
brick company engineer there on an expense account and a keen mason who
was there on his own nickel (guess who tends to be the intellectual

On the flip side, I also witnessed a couple of other events. One was the
attempt to come up with an emissions testing standard for conventional
metal woodstoves. It went nowhere, since the industry guys are (were)
basically asleep at the wheel, concerned with one thing and one thing
only - next week's sales numbers. They could NEVER have agreed on doing
the right thing, due, in my opinion, to a basic lack of environmental
consciousness. What happened was interesting. Natural Resources Defense
Council sued the (castrated, Reagan era) EPA, won, and forced them to
write a woodstove emissions standard, which they did, with a lot of
industry input. It immediately had a significant impact on the
environment in certain localities, such as mountain valleys with a lot
of woodstoves - real world emissions were reduced by 75% or more.
Everybody of course was bitching about the inflexibility of a standard
administered by a powerful megabureaucracy - a consensus standard would,
in a perfect world, have been preferable. I later got to know some of
the EPA people involved, at conferences and such, and as with most
things that are specialized, its a small world. I'm glad that they're on
the public payroll, that they have credentials, and that they try to do
a good job. Industry, left to its own devices, was incapable of action -
as soon as somebody cracked a whip, however, hidden resourcefulness was
uncovered and woodstove technology made a big leap forward.
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