Why a Desktop Study is Not an Engineering Evaluation

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineSeptember 19, 2018
by Sean Shields and Kirk Grundahl, P.E.


What  is a desktop study? The common sense answer is that it is a study of an issue or a problem performed at a desk. The contrast would be tackling the issue or problem on site (i.e. making assessment or evaluation at a construction site, archaeological site, in a marine estuary and so forth).

As far as we are aware, this terminology is used primarily in the U.K. If one does a Google search using the word “desktop study” the following is at least one result, with most of the subsequent results being U.K.-oriented:



Why is this important?

Unfortunately, there are those that have connoted desktop studies of the U.K. with scientific or engineering evaluations in the U.S. As, “What Does the Code Say 'Accepted Engineering Practice' Means?” makes clear, nothing could be further from the truth.

Accepted science based research reports, accepted engineering practice, and ANSI-accredited third-party evaluations and certifications are a key part of the innovation fabric of all U.S.-based building codes.


Emotions surrounding fire performance, and tragic occurrences like the fire at Grenfell Tower, can overwhelm good science and accepted engineering practice. This can lead to code and regulatory developments, which easily have unintended consequences to all practitioners of sound testing, modeling, science and engineering. Often the result is to advocate regulatory restraint motivated by fear.

One unintended consequence is to undermine societal forward progress, stall prudent advancement and creative innovation, which can result in arbitrary product or design discrimination. This flies in the face of the Federal Trade Commission desire to foster free and open markets, which are the foundation of a vibrant economy.

Therefore, it is advisable for everyone in the U.S. to think of a desktop study as nothing more than this:



A U.K. desktop study could eventually be turned into a U.S. code-defined research report, but they shouldn’t be confused with one another.

When working in the regulatory or code development environment, it is critical to be using common definitions, given it is so easy to be using words in a way that seems like everyone is agreeing, but in reality there is a differing understanding that will ultimately lead to dissonance or conflict. 

When one thinks about the $1.25 trillion the U.S. construction industry is spending and the amount of installed square footage this represents (i.e. likely more than five billion square feet), the process of designing, installing and inspecting U.S. buildings is functioning quite well in the context of actual facts about known problems. This means the sealed construction documents, specialty engineering, ANSI ISO/IEC 17065 accredited product and research report certification, code compliance plan review and building department inspections are working quite well.


Related articles:

  1. What Does the Code Say 'Accepted Engineering Practice' Means?
  2. Building Code & Adopted Law Definitions -- Building Official
  3. What is a Building Official’s Scope of Work?
  4. Building Code Adoption of Innovative & Engineered Products
  5. Building Code Adoption Where Intellectual Property (IP) is Involved
  6. Do You Indemnify & Hold Harmless Your 'ICC Report' Author?
  7. Design Value Concepts by APA’s Dr. Yeh; SBCA Agrees
  8. Does Your Teammate Sign and Seal Their Testing and Engineering Work?
  9. Confidence Through Sealed Engineering, No Seal=No Teammate