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Re: Plan Check Ethics & an extended riff

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Robert, thanks very much for your email.  It's kind of like saying the
emperor has no clothes -- no one wants to admit it!

I have toyed with the idea of a clause that explains that plan check is a
complete wild card, and that I'm in business to make money.  Therefore, all
time spent in dealing with plan check will be billed extra.  This means
you've got to have a good rapport with the client and educate them about how
petty the process is, without sounding like a whiner -- good luck, huh?

I have even had problems with staffs that have S.E.'s.  They often can't
speak well enough to articulate the assumptions behind the numbers -- for
example, they want a number where numbers just don't make sense, or they
can't envision failure mechanisms.  Or as you pointed out, they interpret the
code oppositely.  The bottom line is that it is always easier for a
bureaucrat to put it in the "return" box, asking for clarification, than to
stick their neck out and approve it.

Then again, who would vouch that the code is _entirely_ self consistent, that
is, that there are no contradictions in it?

The question remains as to why our liability and professional responsibility
are not enough.  It's incredible that we rely on the policing effect of
lawsuits in other areas of commerce -- e.g. product safety lawsuits, which
lawyers love to claim results in a better corporate america.  (So the lady
who sued McDonalds because the coffee was too hot supposedly did us all a
favor.)  Yet we do not rely on the policing effect in our business, but
instead call in unqualified people to check our work!  It's as if the Doctor
must get an approval from the Orderly before surgery, or the Lawyer checks
his strategy with a state appointed paralegal!

I have often wondered why realtors make more than we do, for less liability,
less know-how, and less work.  Not to knock realtors -- I think they deserve
what they are paid, it's just that we deserve more.  We struggle to get one
percent out of a project, based on construction cost, and realty fees are six
percent of actual cost including land value.  We have let engineering become
the same as plumbing or painting -- the owner's first question is how much
the engineering will cost, as if it were so many ton of brick, with no
recognition that a low engineering cost could result in a high project cost,
and vice versa.

I think it will take a radical revolution in the way we charge fees.  The old
hourly methods are not relevant anymore.  I attended the AISC conference and
saw a presentation of RamSteel.  The guy modeled, and got preliminary sizes
for, a 20,000 square foot two story steel building in an hour.  The program
is somewhere on the order of $5000 plus $1000 per year maintenance.  Would he
then turn around and charge $80/hr for that one hour?  No way!

Here in Tahoe people engineer houses for less than a thousand dollars.  In
high snow load country.  They are typically un-insured, and they don't
provide complete structural details, or calcs for that matter.  The irony is
that less complete submittals have less meat for plan checkers to nit-pick,
and they often get through with no hassles.  One percent of two-hundred
thousand is two thousand -- this should be the absolute minimum!

How can we bill so that we are paid commensurate with the value of what we
provide?