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RE: gerard's building dept. comments

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Gerard, can I get an amen? So it happens out west too, huh?

I have been doing structural design for about 4 years for a small firm, so I
get my hands on lots of projects. If I had to put a number on them I would
say around 80+ . Do you know how many times I have been asked for calcs from
a building dept? Anyone care to guess? How many times have I got calls from
a GC where an inspector actually caught something they did wrong?

ZERO. Noone reviews calcs around here. We have reviewed calcs for a gov't
dept before, and that was only because the drawings were signed by an
architect and contained structural elements, and were grossly deficient. On
top of that, if we are in a rush on a job, we know we can submit "Permit
Drawings" which are maybe 50% and always get a permit. This buys us time to
complete the drawings for 100% Construction Drawings. We rarely even have to
answer or address comments for permit review. Now getting a permit for a
retention pond requires getting approval from about 15 different gov't
agencies. Guess a pond overflowing into the parking lot is more critical
then a building collapsing in a stiff breeze.

I am talking about commercial. I don't know what is being looked at in
residential. That is because for the most part, as far as I understand,
architects can sign and seal residential. So who is doing the engineering?
It is all prescriptive I guess... That is scary.

So the good ol' south rolls right on, living in the structural dark ages
despite the most costly natural disaster of all time, my namesake storm,
Andrew. We are making improvements, but they are baby steps. Most
residential development is done with model homes, zero lot lines, huge
master develoments. So if the design is flawed, times that by hundreds. If
the same builders do all the work, and the do the same thing wrong all of
the time, times that by 100.

Scott made some great points to me where I will reconsider going the high
road and pulling permits or going to the dept to see what is necessary for
future home improvements (on my own house). Maybe I will learn something.
Maybe they will catch a mistake. Maybe I can teach them something. Lots of
maybes. I still think it is a waste of paper and $40.... :)

Livin' and learnin'

Andrew D. Kester

Gerard, what is a Hardy frame? Hardy siding and material products are very
popular here, but I have not heard of that.


a know, when I made the contractor saw cut and remove the foundation he
poured just a day earlier last week, I was pissed and I felt sorry for
him. But then when I came back a couple of days ago and still see the 3"
diameter sink pipe cut through the middle of a Hardy Frame template I
felt no guilt in embarrassing him in front of the owner-especially when
he asked why it had to be moved.

The building departments, plan checks, and the other hoops we jump
through aren't the perfect system by any means. But I'd rather have them
than have the system say like in Texas for example where its every gun
slinger for themselves (a PE stamp is like being a US Marshall, I AM THE
LAW !!!)

Here in California, all drawings and calculations are "checked" by the
building department. But I still see all kinds of things that shouldn't
be allowed continue. I look at other firms plans and wonder how they get
away with some of the things they do. I see plans calling for 1/2" welds
on 1/4" thick steel, pre-northridge connections on SMRF's in apartments,
HD14's on a double 2x4 end post into a 12" deep edge footing with a #4
T+B, or tilt-up panels with no wall anchorage system. I especially like
the shearwall sitting on plywood with not even a 2x beam underneath on
an upper floor. But these are all from well known firms built by the big
contractors so everything will be fine I'm sure. I think some building
departments recognize the name of the firm and just rubber stamp
approved much of the time.

The problem is the contractors and the inspection requirements. I
engineer the shit out of something and then Billy Bob does whatever the
hell he wants to and says "well isn't that okay?". Structural
Observation should be mandatory on all projects - even residential. City
inspections are for the most part a complete joke when it comes to
structural. Plan checking is now mostly done by PE's where as about 5-6
years ago I'd say that wasn't true - this is good. But a 15 minute walk
through by a city inspector won't catch anything but the obvious "take
the coke can out of the footing before you pour concrete."

It's part of the job unfortunately. No one gives a damn until the
earthquake comes and everything is our fault then. It's even worse
around here now because of the DOT COM implosion, contractors are doing
wood framed work who have been doing tilt-up or steel for years are
forced into residential work and think they know everything because it's
just a house.

My favorite contractor quote of last week "When in the hell did these
Hardy Frames become so damn popular?" followed by "You mean I can't run
this pipe vertically through the hardy frame?"

I better shut up now, I'm boring myself with this whining.

Santa Clara, CA

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