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Pardon this huge post, I did not mean for it to expand into such a rant. I
have some very strong feelings about building departments, quality of
construction, a residential construction in general.

I was being somewhat fecetious when I said that you can get away with a lot
at night without a building permit, but at the same time, there is some
validity to what I am saying, so let me try to explain myself a bit better.

 I am a young engineer, who has seen enough in the little time I have been
doing this to become a huge pessimist with regards to quality of
construction, building codes, building departments, inspectors, etc. I have
seen enough violations locally, things we have brought up to building
department officials that get ignored, plans ignored, field "adjustments",
out and out violations, etc., to really make me PO'd about the system. I
have seen enough older (and newer) structures here that are so far away from
"code" that it is laughable. So the words "permit" , "inspector", and
"building department" do not carry the weights they should with me. Maybe it
is better in bigger cities, or out west, but I am thoroughly dissappointed
with my entire experience in the SE US. I don't think enough money is put
into enforcment and permitting for them to do the job right, and I don't
think the personnel are qualified or care enough to do the job right. My
impression is that many contractors, especially home builders, first
priority is their bottom line. Quality of the product and customer
satisfaction are hurdles to jump on the way to the bank. I personally put
safety of the public first, along with a quality product for the client
right behind it. My goal is to do that and make money for my company.

BUILDING WITHOUT PERMITS, ETC. :

I am not talking about add ons to your house. I am not talking about
building a garage in the easement. I am not talking about adding a second
story to your house. I am not talking about adding a 220V line from the
elect panel by shoving some wires into a breaker without consulting an EE or
electrician.

 I am not talking about commercial or public structures. I am a SE (EI), I
want these people to come to us and get a real design, a real GC, and pull
the proper permits.  I am not talking about brand new structures. I am
talking about adding on small stuff like decks, or redoing rooms, redoing a
porch, replacing a window with a door, making new openings, closing in
others, building little retaining walls made of stone, doing renovations,
etc. I think this should all be done according to code or to a sound
engineered design, or both. But do I think a piece of paper from the local
govm't will ensure this will happen, or improve anything?

Allow me to give an example of a "hypothetical sitution".

My house is an old Florida house, old for here, built in the 1950s. I can
come up with a list of structural defects, most for wind loading, that
sometimes makes me want to move. But at the same time it does not surprise
me, as I have seen the same problems with older commercial buildings as
well. My hurricane ties are sheet metal, cut and fabricated on site for all
I can tell, nailed with maybe 3 nails. I have seen this method on a
structure with 50ft + spans on a commercial building built in 1985! Someone
used compressed sawdust board, the type used for cheap shelves and
furniture, for my exterior sheathing, in some places. There is no shear path
or uplift load path for the second story. Nobody braced the gables. No tie
downs at the walls at the base plate. The garage door could blow out from a
stiff breeze. The plumbing in our bathroom did not have P traps for the
shower. The tile was laid over plywood and was cracked, and then the shower
leaked and rotted the wood. We knew this when we bought it. So did our real
estate agent, mortage company , and inspector. Turns out the exterior wall
had rot damage. I could easily have covered it all up, retiled the bathroom,
convered it up with drywall, replaced a little of the floor, and been done.
Instead we ripped everything out to the studs and beams, cut out the whole
wall, reframed it with real CDX sheathing nailed 10x over any code. We put
down 3/4" subfloor over beams @ 16" o.c. screwed and glued. Then 1/2" cement
board. The plumbing was all redone, to current codes and standards, better
then before. I have put hurricane straps on every bit of truss and wall that
was exposed. Building paper as waterproofing was carefully installed with
overlaps. I am going to add diagonal bracing to the gable end wall now that
I have it exposed.

So, tell me, would a permit require half of the stuff that I did? Would a
licensed contractor do all of the extra stuff or the bare min. to code?
Would a licensed GC with a permit, do a better job then me as a structural
engineer, on my own house? Am I cutting corners?  Is the structure, the
innards, the occupants, all better off when we are done? SHould I have
gotten a permit for the deck that I did calcs on, and installed per my own
design, well in access of anything required by "code", or even above my own
engineered design? Would the red neck that drives by in his building
department truck, only slowing down to get a signature, catch something that
I don't know about? Even if he gets out of his truck do you think he knows
more about structures then me (and I am by no means an expert) ?


 I could go on and on. It is a fixer upper, a renovation house. But the
structural defects are not that out of the ordinary. I will improve on what
I expose, and do what I can. If I actually did an add on I will do calcs,
drawings, have my boss review it and seal it, then go pull a permit. But I
do not see one advantage of doing it for anything else, especially
structural. I have a licensed electrical PE who gives me advice on anything
electrical, along with plenty of books. I would not do something major
without an electrician. Since I have already seen that our current plumbing
is not up to code or current practice, I feel anything I do is an
improvement, as I will only do something after having researched enough to
know it is right, via books, experienced renovators, the
plumbers/salespeople at Home Depot, and sometimes other engineers. The only
reason I see to pull one is if it something that would interfere or cause
problems with a future sale, a real add on, something out of the ordinary or
difficult like certain plumbing or a septic tank, or something involved with
easments. Then I get the point everyone is making. But even then, it seems
like more beauracracy then anything, because I have seen them "pass" plenty
of stuff that was crap.

To sum it all up, I guess maybe my jaded, pessimistic opinion of building
departments and inspectors, and the whole system, is the reason for my
defiant attitude. This applies 10x over to residential, because I see lots
of deficiencies on NEW residential design and construction. Here, as far as
I can tell, for most residential designs you do not need an engineer. Any
architect can sign and seal residential plans. My grandma had a brand new
block home built last year, and no matter how many times I told my dad to
let me review the plans he forgot, I guess. The CMU walls have filled cells
at around 6-7 ft o.c., and at the back porch with a 10ft opening, no filled
cells at the JAMBS. Approved plans, permitted, everything "to code".


 It may come back to bite me one day, as many have mentioned, with the sale
of my house. I have gone over my mortgage paperwork pretty well and do not
remember reading about many of the things you all have mentioned to do with
existing conditions and improvements (outside an add on). Morally I believe
I am taking the high road, as I would not do anything in my own house that
isn't at least well above code, and when it comes to structural stuff, I
plan on improving on anything that I see deficient. ANd even the term "to
code" to me is somewhat laughable at times, because there are plenty of ways
around that stuff, and plenty of holes in what is there. That is assuming
the plans are reviewed and then properly enforced. Think about it, even the
word "permit" says exactly the point- permit = permission. You are asking a
non-professional, non-engineer, most likely not technically trained,
govermental beauracrat, whom you have to pay, for permission to do something
structural to YOUR house that YOU are doing. What is the point? Isn't the
permission they are granting you somewhat backwards? How do they know
better? I thought codes, especially residential, are there to be enforced
because otherwise unskilled or unknowledgeable people, as well as skilled
corner cutters, could go willy nilly throughout the country building
dangerous stuff. Clients would be paying for something they are not getting.
It keeps them from getting ripped off and possibly hurt. In my very specific
example, anything I do is an improvement to what was their before. I am
discovering deficiencies and addressing them as best as possible with each
new project. Anything I do is making it safer then before. Isn't that the
point here?


I apologize for this rant, and maybe I am being too personal here. I am
definitely being to wordy. If I get a knock on the door from the building
department you are all suspects, even though I have stated this is a
hypothetical situation:) Please understand that I am a strict, conservative,
by the book structural engineer. I try to go well above and beyond the call
of duty. I do not like secret work at night, work done without a permit,
corrupt GCs and building officials, as I have seen all of that happen. When
it comes to my own home I do not overlook any detail, I am retentive enough
to make my wife crazy. Most of what I do would leave an inspector or
contractor saying, "Why did you bother doing all of that?" I know anything I
do is well above code, and is actually improving a deficient structure,
something I am not even required to do. But if you still think I am wrong,
and that maybe there are some good reasons I am missing out on, feel free to
post to the list or email me personally. There are many older, wiser, more
experienced engineers and DIYers on this list, with better examples and
other stories.  Perhaps I am way off, but I have been wrong before, plenty
of times :)

Thanks, and I speak only for myself, not my company... Isn't that Eric's
line?
Andrew Kester, EI
andrew(--nospam--at)baeonline.com




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