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Re: Single Family Housing Design

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On 8/15/98 EDT, Mel Slaysman asked:
>In Arizona single family houses may be designed by non registrants (etc.)
>The building departments can and often do require certain structural portions
>of the building to be checked and sealed by an engineer.  This may range from
>only one beam in question or the entire structure including a lateral
>analysis.  I would like input from other states as to what is the practice and
>law in their states regarding design of single family housing.  Is it
>regulated in your state and if so how?
As to California, first a link to Calif Statutes and Administrative
Regulations: The Calif PE Board's website is

Once you are there, you can view the PE Act and Board Rules. And you can
move on into other statutes and regs, via links therein. (I did that one
Saturday to find out how much discretion the CA legislature vests in local
building officials to interpret and rule on building matters. Lots! It was
in Health and Safety Code, in the 17000 -series of sections, as I recall.)

        The Regulatory Framework:

The Calif PE Act was first enacted in 1929 and only covered civil
engineering. (I have a copy of that 1929 Act, and a portion of the first CE
Board's report to the legislature on how they came up with their definition
of civil engineering, which remains in effect today, little altered.)

Design of buildings was within restricted civil engineering practice from
the first, with no exemption being stated for residential buildings.
Architects however could do all building design, as covered by their
already-existing act. Apparently everybody took it for granted that houses
weren't required to be engineered, and customarily weren't, such that no
expressed exemption was deemed necessary. (You know, mechanics fix cars, and
carpenters build houses.)

Presumably however the lack of a specific exemption from the PE Act for
houses and minor buildings had become an administrative nuisance by the
early 1950's, and by 1955 the legislature had provided one. It is now in
Sect 6737.1 of Bus. and Prof.Code (the PE Act) and was amended in 1985 to
narrow the scope of the exemption, and to cover when engineering of
non-exempt *portions* is necessary and how the documents for the engineered
portions are to be signed and stamped.

        How it works and then gets misused:

Under the CA exemption, and consistent with UBC, a woodframe house starts
out "empty" of engineered content. To the extent that its features of
construction depart from the building code's prescriptive "conventional
construction", engineering must be added. (And of course clients can ask for
some engineering for reasons of their own.) So the "glass" of engineering
content gets filled part way up. But not all the way up.

Now comes some interested party to the project (such as the original or
later purchaser) who claims to be unhappy over some aspect of things --it
hardly matters what. A lawsuit and/or a complaint to the Engineers Board is

>From this, the engineer gets attacked because the glass of engineering
content isn't full, it's part empty. It is often wrongly assumed that the
engineer is derelict for not engineering everything in the house the way an
institutional or high-end commercial building would be engineered. Plaintiff
and prosecutor experts are chosen for their comfort with the most stringent
forms of woodframe engineering, and their lack of understanding of the PE
Act. These experts duly show how appalled they are at the supposedly spotty,
incomplete, simplified and "inaccurate" work done by the engineer on the hot

Yet "partial engineering" (to be authenticated by signing and stamping the
documents showing those portions) is *official public policy* as enacted by
the legislature here, with SEAOC blessings. And that policy is consistent
with how the house building and house buying public wants it, in my opinion.
It's only at odds with the predator industry, including PE Board
enforcement, and with engineers who have visions of perfection and/or a
professional featherbedding ambition.

        (The above comments are from a portion of a personal reply to Mr
Slaysman and previously to another engineer; the balance is in the Seaint
archive where Dennis Wish suggested looking.)

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE    Sacramento CA