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I need to vent some steam and I can't think of a better place than with my
So I don't ramble, let me state the problem, solution and results in order

I performed a structural observation on a home I designed. In the course of
the observation I noticed that none of the shear transfers were done as
designed - if done at all. (I wrote about this once before). When I informed
the contractor of his errors, his framer started yelling that the plans were
the worst he had seen and that he built hundreds of custom homes with better
He immediately showed me that I missed a reference on the foundation plan
for column bases. When I showed him the two details on the drawings and
asked why he did not question where they were to apply, he told me that he
did not follow the details because they were not referenced on the shearwall
plan. I shook my head and asked why he did not follow the shear transfer and
drag details. He again said that they were not referenced on the shearwall
plan. I pointed out that each of them was referenced on the framing plans.

Rather than tear the house apart, I worked extra hours to detail remedial
measures for him to follow. I also ran a few opinions by this list to see
which column bases I might omit and which can be installed using LTT straps
(where no uplift was actually calculated). All in all, I eliminated over
half of the original bases for columns that were placed inside stud walls.

When the project was completed, and I was satisfied that the Load path was
complete, I wrote the report to the city so the contractor could wrap and
finish and  I submitted an invoice to the designer (as agent to the owner).

As the house was being completed, the contractor again notified the designer
that I had "under-designed" the garage header. Although the beam was limited
in depth, I immediatly check the calculations and found the beam to be well
within code deflection limits. The reported deflections were in excess of 1"
which was just not possible based upon the analysis which showed a
calculated full dead load max deflection of 3/8". There had been no live
load acting upon the member and the roof was a flat (1/4" : 12)  compo
garage roof of about 14 or 16 psf with a tributary of 10.5 feet and no
parapet (a double 2x was used to cap the wall).

The contractor verified that the beam was a DF #1 as specified and that
there was no visible defect to it. Being the case and re-checking all
numbers, I came to the opinion that the beam was received with a "crown" and
that the framer placed the beam with the "crown" side down. I see no other
explanation (the beam was a 6x12 DF #1 which had to fit in a space between a
9' garage door and a 10' plate height).

I sent a note to the designer and contractor indicating my conclusion and
informing them that the beam had been designed within allowable deflection
limits. I also informed them that dead load deflections rarely max out on
new construction but require time for the wood fibers to expand and the full
deflection to be realized. I suggested that cosmetic repairs would be in
order if he choses not to replace the "crowned" beam.

The beam was replaced and the contractor is adament that the error is mine
and that I undersized the header.

My invoice included only one hour for documenting the structural problems,
and I did not bill the owner for the remedial work. I did bill him for
changes that were made after the issuance of permit which had nothing to do
with the field errors.

The owner, after meeting with the contractor and designer, decided that I
omitted the post bases and should share in the remedial cost to replace
them. In the same meeting the contractor passed blame to me regarding the
header. In all the owner omitted about $1,200.00 from my $1,900.00 invoice.

In response, I wrote the owner a long (which most of you know I can do)
letter explaining my position. Yes, I admit that the detail reference was
omitted, however, every detail on the plan indicated where a 6x6 was placed
a column cap and column base was to be installed. There were two specific
details for column base installations - one for free standing columns on
foundations and another for columns on spread footings.
In addition to this, I explained that I attempted to schedule a
pre-construction meeting since the issuance of the permit on no less than
four occasions (I kept copies of the dates and faxes sent to each party) -
all but one was cancled by the contractor.  I also contacted the contractor
on numerous occasions to discuss the difficult framing conditions and asked
him to have his framer contact me to discuss his options. He never did. My
structural notes are very specific and state that the contractor must
familiarize himself with each detail contained in the drawings and report
any details not referenced for special instructions by the engineer. If he
fails to do so he becomes responsible for the remedial work necessary to
correct the condition.
I spoke to a few engineers who agree with me on this issue. The opinion was
that I would be liable had the details been omitted, however, since the
details occured on the plans, the contractor was remiss in not following or
questioning them. A building inspector that I contact indicated that the
contractor had a good reputation, but as with all contractors, they are
responsible to know every detail issued on the plans.

In my letter to the owner, I stated that structural observation was required
by the building official in accordance with the 1994 UBC Section 1702 - and
I quoted verse and chapter. I also indicated that the contractor admittedly
ignored the shear transfer details, drags, straps etc. that were, in fact,
properly referenced because he was not following the framing plan.
I also explained my position on the Garage beam and sent the owner a copy of
the analysis with an offer to have him take it to any other licensed
engineer for impartial review.  Finally, I sent him a copy of a "From
Experience" written some months ago by a SEAOSC member (excuse me for
forgetting his name) regarding pre-construction meetings and why it is so
important to have the meeting to avoid problems such as this.
Finally, I asked the owner to reconsider his decision to hold back my fee
based upon the information I provided as well as the fact that he was not
billed for remedial work but for revisions that were done in the course of
construction that required justification by the engineer of record.

I received a letter from the contractor (who was sent a copy of my letter as
well as the designer) which stated the following:

It is regrettable, but not suprising, that you are still attempting to shift
blame for your omissions on this plan to someone else. In your desperaton to
deflect any and all responsibility you have resorted to attempted slander of
my good name and reputation to my clients. Fortunately I have "the designer"
and several "city inspectors" to attest to the quality of workmanship on the
"clients" home. My responsibility is to my clients first and foremost. I
take that responsibility very seriously. I feel no need to defend myself to
you. I will, however, take any and all legal steps necessary to defend my
name and reputation from the many false accusations contained in your letter
dated 8/27/97."

Well, I got mad again and sent off one more letter to the contractor. In
this letter I explained that I was not impressed with his personal
references or the previous quality of his work since I have been deemed the
responsible Engineer of Record and required by the state of California as
well as the local building official to provide Structural Observation
services. This included the legal right to judge the quality of the work on
this project and how it related to the details provided him in the
construction documents.  I also reminded him that he did have to defend
himself to me if he expected to disregard my design and indescriminatly make
changes without prior consent from me. I also explained that his personal
references were not professional engineers designated as engineer of record
and therefore not responsible to judge anything other than his finish work
(which was admittedly good).
I quoted code, I quoted my general notes and the fact that he was present
when his framer told me that he did not look at my details. I also told him
that as the GC he was responsible for the changes and that he was
responsible to question each and every detail that he did not understand and
to further question where details are to apply if not absolutly clear on
this matter.

Now I am concerned about what you think. Did I deserve the penalty issued to
me by the owner for omitting a reference bubble when the details existed on
the plans? I can't take the owner to court since I have a good relationship
with the designer and have more work to do with him. I was told by the
designer that if the owner asked his opinion of my letter, he would support
me and indicate that I deserved to be paid my fee.

Finally, I am not at all concerned about the contractors threat to sue for
slander against his good name. His letter was written all in capitals (which
on the net means that you are shouting) and he was obviously mad - but then
again, would he expect me not to respond after he granted himself the
authority to act as judge and jury against me by advising the owner that the
extra's were due to my errors and not his framers disregard for the
drawings? I think the facts stand for themselves and I really needed a place
to blow off some steam.

What do you think?

Dennis Wish PE