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Some of the Strangest Codes I've seen

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As engineers are struggling to comply with the new 97 UBC code provisions 
there still remains a section of the code that mocks the entire process. As 
many of you know the new code restricts shearwalls so as not to exceed a 2:1 
aspect ratio. On top of this, we are expected to consider the entire 
structure and balance the shearwalls so as to be within as close a tolerance 
of stiffness (deflection) as possible.

I received a call from a local designer this afternoon who informed me that 
he is designing a home by prescriptive methods which allow all shear walls in 
a one story structure without irregularities to be design with a minimum 
2'-8" wide x 10' tall panel. I reminded my friend that this provision was in 
the Conventional framing section of the code which was intended to use at the 
front of garages where the open restricted the size of the piers and where 
the risk to loss of life was less than that of the dwelling. 

He told me that he argued the point with the plan reviewer (not and engineer) 
who agreed that the way it is worded in the code, the designers of 
non-engineered prescriptive structures may use a 2'-8" X 10' tall panel in 
place of a 4x8 panel anywhere in a one story structure.

The section 2320.11.4 states:

"Any braced wall panel required by Section 2320.11.3 may be replaced by an 
alternate braced wall panel constructed in accordance with the following: 
1. In one-story buildings, each panel shall have a lenth of not less than 2 
feet 8 inches and a height of not more than 10 feet. Each panel shall be 
sheathed on one face with 3/8-inch-minimum-thickness plywood sheathing nailed 
with 8d common or galvanized box nails in accordance with Table 23-II-B-1 and 
blocked at all plywood edges....."

It seems that there are consequences which, in my opinion, will degrade the 
quality of construction by creating an incentive for the developer to keep 
his structure in strict compliance with Conventional Framing practices so as 
to avoid comformance to an engineered solution whose minimum requirment is 
many levels higher than this section of the code implies. 

If we are forced to so dramatically restrict our design of wood structures 
with the new methodologies of the code, the least we should expect is for 
this section of the code to be rewritten to provide no less than an 
equivalent minimum standard of the engineered solution.

My dilemma is that those who can afford compliance are angry that they must 
be forced to place more money in their structures than they have budgeted and 
which will take away from their finishes. At the same time, those who can not 
afford a custom home will be forced to endure more damage since, by 
comparison, the prescriptive appropach is so much less than a minimum level 
of code compliance.

Dennis Wish PE