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Re: What code to use

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Ken Reed,

Question:  Who asked you to analyze the house, and why?

Without knowing the answer to the question, please allow me to vent a bit.

Code provisions should, in my opinion, be viewed as the minimum
requirements.  We should strive to provide at least the minimum requirements
in our designs.  However, even the most conservative among us sometimes
overlooks a detail in the tome.  The bastard!  I suppose in the afterlife,
he'll have to pay.  And if the infraction is noticed while he lives, his
family may also be asked to pay.

But in analyzing a structure that has served for 16 years, I think one has
to recognize it's performance.  Has it actually experienced "design" loads
(might be able to get wind and snow records from the weather service)?  What
symptoms indicate cause for considering the structure to be performing under
par?  You might be able to find flaws in the minutia of the construction . .
. is that what you're looking for?

In my opinion, satisfactory performance under near-design loading is prima
facie evidence that the totality of the structure is adequate.  Of course,
as with most things in life, this sort of reasoning lies within the purview
of "depends on whether you're buying or selling."

Long before I started working in this field, there was a local engineer
(famous nationally, too) who designed concrete structures that myself and
others consider to be ridiculous; impossible for us to prove on paper that
his structures would actually work.  But they did, and after 50 years of
service, the structures still work and, I'm sorry to say, I don't know why.
Who am I to say he was wrong?  The proof is in the pudding.

Engineering is engineering.  Forensic engineering is looking for something
that broke and blaming it.  But if it ain't broke, after 16 years, how can
it be considered sub-bar or inadequate, no matter what code you're trying to
couple it with?  And if it ain't broke, maybe an engineer shouldn't be
looking at it at this point.  For me personally, being an engineer is more
than just comparing this to that.  Engineering is applying scientific
principles to practical ends.  My dictionary says "practical" means
"resulting from experience, practice, or use rather than theory or
speculation."  And I guess that's why I don't make a good expert witness.

John P. Riley, SE
Riley Engineering
Blue Grass, Iowa

----- Original Message -----
From: Deb <kendeb(--nospam--at)>
To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Sent: Thursday, September 28, 2000 4:45 PM
Subject: What code to use

> I have been asked to analyze a house that was built without a permit in
> 1984. I have the original plans and have been told that the house was
> built per the plans, the owner just didn't bother to get a building
> permit. This house is in a very rural area and building permits there
> are often viewed as a burden that just isn't necessary. I will be
> inspecting it to verify that it was built according to the plans before
> I begin the analysis. My questions is, do I use the current version of
> the UBC or go back to the version that was in effect at the time that it
> was built?
> Thansks
> Ken Reed, PE

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