From: Charles Greenlaw <cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)speedlink.com>
Date: Sat, 03 Apr 1999 23:50:56 -0800
At 08:09 AM 4/4/99 +1000, T. Eric Gillham wrote, in part:
>But what I would like to know is: How do most design professionals view the
>UBC and other codes? Are they design guides to be adhered to strictly? Or
>are they documents that show ONE way of achieving safe structural design
>(and legally compliant structural design)?
I would answer, BOTH are true. The hard part is explaining why.
Using the UBC (but not necessarily the latest one) as the example, the code
requires compliance with itself as a condition of a building permit being
granted. However it gives the building official the discretion to interpret
its provisions. Some interpret it loosely; others to the letter or even
tighter. The UBC also allows the building official to accept alternatives in
methods of design, and in methods of construction, provided a finding is
made that the alternatives are not less adequate than the explicit
provisions. There's your path to vary from the "one" way given, without
spurning the code disobediently.
Actually, many areas of design are given TWO acceptable methods. In steel,
there is ASD and LRFD; concrete, masonry, and recently wood have comparable
old and new design provisions. Wood frame additionally has prescriptive
methods that obviate engineering calculations and that cater to ordinary
carpentry framing. Seismic load determinations can follow static or dynamic
provisions. Snow loads have simple and detailed provisions, the latter in an
appendix. Wind allows for use of "approved national standards" in lieu of
what's in UBC. Etc.
But most design professionals follow a code-elaborated method virtually all
the time, rather than invoke the option to submit an innovative method for
approval as being equivalent. This fact has considerable bearing on what the
professional standard of care is. It has even more to do with what a hostile
party's expert claims in a legal proceeding what the standard of care is. In
my view, that claimed standard is always the most strict and stringent
possible (or even IMpossible) interpretation of building code, if your work
was anything less than that. On the other hand, if you are real strict, then
the standard of care is to waste a lot less of someone else's money than you
Is this the sort of answer you seek?
There is what the code reads, and then there is what interested other people
SAY the code reads. Last week a construction defect attorney told me,
"There aren't many whores among the structural engineers." I took it there
are some, and the possibility for more. I have some candidates in mind.
At this point I have to plug a paper given two weeks ago at Case Western
Reserve University on the standard of care for structural engineers. It has
just been put on the internet, at http://ethics.cwru.edu/kardon.html
The author is a California SE doing a doctoral dissertation on the topic,
and the legal framework is California-oriented, but not inapplicable
elsewhere. Not mentioned is whether ignoring code and undercutting its
minimums is beneath the standard of care, and presumably negligence. Other
sources, such as the classic Prosser on Torts text, and current California
case law, indicate it is. There was a recent case in part to the contrary,
now in limbo while the state supreme court reviews it on appeal.
The kicker on whether a code violation is "negligence per se" comes back to
whether the code was really violated. That's where the growing ambiguities,
conflicts, inconsistencies, incomprehensibilities, and lack of data with
which to comply (like this diaphragm rigidity in houses calculation)
escalates our peril from a can of worms into a truckload of rattlesnakes.
Figure on spending six months income and six months lost time to prove you
were right all along.
Fountain Conner got that part right. They are going to hang us with the
building code provisions we wrote.
Charles O. Greenlaw, SE Sacramento CA