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Re: Contractors Reputation

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I believe whatever details are provided in a set of plans need to be
properly cross referenced to the framing/foundation plans. If there are
some general conditions that occur "typically", they should be shown on a
general detail sheet prior to the framing plans and the specific details
after the framing plans. Details should be customized for a specific job
(even the "typical" details). This is because once the viewer believes that
there are "boiler plate" details, he/she will start mentally deciding which
apply and which do not. I believe all notes and details should be job
specific. On the extreme end, suppose you created detail sheets which
include every detail in your library and just attached them to be back of
the framing plans and instructed the contractor to "just follow the plans
and details". This would be impossible.

What you are liable for is another issue. I believe everyone who wants to
blame you for the omission should consider what the costs would have been
had you not made the mistake. For example, if you had missed a beam, you
should not be forced to pay for the beam since it would have been required
if you had not made the mistake. However, if there was some labor required
to cut some joists to install the beam or if there were delays on the
project there probably would be some general conditions costs. My foremost
recommendation is that, when these situations occur, drop everything else
and jump right on the problem and get revised plans, details, sketches,
etc. to the building department and job site ASAP. For example, if you got
a call from a contractor at 3:30 pm (the end of their day), you should have
revisions stamped signed and delivered to the jobsite by say, 7:30 am the
next morning if at all possible.

It sounds like there is some shared blame here. Maybe you didn't cross
reference details clear enough. Maybe the framer did not review details
well enough. One strong point in your favor is your offer of
pre-construction meetings that were cancelled by the contractor probably
would have cleared up a lot of these issues. With regards to the garage
header, the deflection calculation is pretty straightforward. For there to
be a discrepancy of 5/8" (1" vs. 3/8"), it sounds like you either have a
defective beam or it was installed upside down.

I think you should sit down with the owner, designer and contractor to hash
this out preceeded with a detailed letter addressed to all stating the
history of the issues. It clearly sounds like you are being the scapegoat
on this issue. You have contributed a lot of (free) time to resolve the
issues and it sounds like the $1,200 hit arbitrarily assessed by the owner
is excessive. Maybe a couple of hundred with the (free) time is more

With regards to reputation bashing, this is really unproductive both on the
contractor's side and your side. All it accomplishes is it raises the blood
pressure on the participants. That said, I know for a fact that you put
together a pretty good set of structural plans (I know this because I have
reviewed some) and you would not have any difficulty finding an expert
witness for your defense if necessary.

Finally Dennis, get some insurance. I would suspect that your clients
("designers", etc.) do not have any and you are at risk for just about
anything on the job. Get a policy where you are going to get some service.
This probably means _not_ an ASCE policy but a DPIC or CNA policy. Even a
$100K policy w/ $2,500 deductible would be better than nothing. At least
you would have a broker who would help assess your risks on various
situations and will certainly CYA on REAL problems.

Is this where I ramble on about the fact that you probably didn't get a
reasonable design fee mainly because of the language in BORPELS and UBC?
Naw, it's Sunday, I'm gonna watch some football.

Bill Allen

> From: Dennis S. Wish PE <wish(--nospam--at)>
> To: seaoc(--nospam--at)
> Subject: Contractors Reputation
> Date: Saturday, September 06, 1997 6:08 PM
> I need to vent some steam and I can't think of a better place than with
> peers.
> So I don't ramble, let me state the problem, solution and results in
> I performed a structural observation on a home I designed. In the course
> 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
> the contractor of his errors, his framer started yelling that the plans
> the worst he had seen and that he built hundreds of custom homes with
> instructions.
> 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
> did not follow the details because they were not referenced on the
> plan. I shook my head and asked why he did not follow the shear transfer
> drag details. He again said that they were not referenced on the
> plan. I pointed out that each of them was referenced on the framing
> 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
> (where no uplift was actually calculated). All in all, I eliminated over
> half of the original bases for columns that were placed inside stud
> When the project was completed, and I was satisfied that the Load path
> 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
> As the house was being completed, the contractor again notified the
> that I had "under-designed" the garage header. Although the beam was
> in depth, I immediatly check the calculations and found the beam to be
> within code deflection limits. The reported deflections were in excess of
> 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"
> that the framer placed the beam with the "crown" side down. I see no
> 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
> 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
> 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
> and that I undersized the header.
> My invoice included only one hour for documenting the structural
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> on numerous occasions to discuss the difficult framing conditions and
> him to have his framer contact me to discuss his options. He never did.
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> by the building official in accordance with the 1994 UBC Section 1702 -
> I quoted verse and chapter. I also indicated that the contractor
> ignored the shear transfer details, drags, straps etc. that were, in
> 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
> 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
> construction that required justification by the engineer of record.
> I received a letter from the contractor (who was sent a copy of my letter
> well as the designer) which stated the following:
> "Dennis
> It is regrettable, but not suprising, that you are still attempting to
> blame for your omissions on this plan to someone else. In your desperaton
> deflect any and all responsibility you have resorted to attempted slander
> my good name and reputation to my clients. Fortunately I have "the
> and several "city inspectors" to attest to the quality of workmanship on
> "clients" home. My responsibility is to my clients first and foremost. I
> take that responsibility very seriously. I feel no need to defend myself
> 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
> dated 8/27/97."
> "Contractor"
> 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
> 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
> 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
> changes without prior consent from me. I also explained that his personal
> references were not professional engineers designated as engineer of
> and therefore not responsible to judge anything other than his finish
> (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
> 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
> 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
> me by the owner for omitting a reference bubble when the details existed
> the plans? I can't take the owner to court since I have a good
> 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
> me and indicate that I deserved to be paid my fee.
> Finally, I am not at all concerned about the contractors threat to sue
> slander against his good name. His letter was written all in capitals
> on the net means that you are shouting) and he was obviously mad - but
> 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
> 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
> to blow off some steam.
> What do you think?
> Dennis Wish PE