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- To: seaoc(--nospam--at)seaoc.org
- Subject: Re: Plan Check Ethics & an extended riff -Reply
- From: Gregg Schrader <GSchrader(--nospam--at)Ci.Bellevue.WA.US>
- Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 14:19:28 -0700
I'm an SE supervising a plan review workgroup in the Seattle area. I understand your frustration and agree with most of what you said about review & fees, but take exception to a couple comments. There's no question that if a structural review is going to be performed, you have a right to expect the reviewer to be qualified, and it should add value to the project. Obviously that's not always the case. I like to see designers and reviewers hear each other's perspective outside the context of a specific project since that can unfortunately become adversarial. Working with the local SEA chapter to resolve reoccurring issues or set guidelines can be helpful. Reviewers also have their lists of nightmare experiences, and though it may sound self serving, I disagree with the contention that review is a total waste of time. I do agree that there's a lot of improvement that needs to be made. >>> <BVeit(--nospam--at)aol.com> 08/19/97 10:39am >>> 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?
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