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General Structural Notes

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I agree with most of the others about the appropriate use of General Notes.  Their most important functions are as historical reference for future work, and as a summary of the high points of the spec.  Thus, at a minimum they should list governing codes, design loads, assumptions of future additions made in the design, material strengths, and soil information.  With structural systems where it matters, e.g. cantilever beams or continuous beams, I’ll sometimes list assumptions such as partial skip loads which affected the design; special joist loads also get referenced here.


I also consider it an appropriate place to call out such things as rebar laps, detailing requirements around openings, curing requirements before loading, the requirement for certified welders, special structural inspection requirements, and things like that.  These notes have actually reduced arguments on the jobsite, contrary to some opinion.  They definitely get read more than the specs, which in my opinion are for what gets bought, as George said, and really detailed requirements as to how to build it (for instance, specific requirements about cold-weather concreting).  They also get kept, which the specs almost never do.


For the most part, I disagree with Mark Gilligan’s arguments.  First of all, we get a lot of work in the form of remodels or additions to what we designed years before, because our name is on the plans and our job worked out the first time.  We save ourselves a huge amount of time and effort on future work.  And second, we do the owner a service by making our plans more clear, readable, and complete now, as well as easier to use in the future.  Contrary to the rules about only saying everything once, this often means saying some things twice.  The cost of this, the extra checking required, is often worth it in my opinion.  Most of the contradictions between our specs and my notes got edited out the first time I pulled them together.  The parts that would conflict don’t change that much from job to job.


Context is important here, too.  Most of our clients are long-term repeaters.  If I was working for architects on low-budget one-shot wonders, my views might be different.


I find that the usefulness of the Notes, and the respect they get from the contractor, vary inversely with how much inapplicable boiler plate, cover-my-ass crap I put (or leave) in.


Mike Hemstad


St. Paul, Minnesota