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RE: Plan Check (was Re: Rigid Wood Diaphragm?)

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Ben,

I think you are reading too much into both Paul and my own comments.

For the record, any plan check is better than no plan check. I firmly
believe this.

That said, the range of thoroughness in plan checking is a huge problem
in California. Third Party plan checking, IMHO, is simply an exercise by
the plan checker to fill up 2 pages with comments (valid or not). On my
last project, I had over 7 comments similar to this:

"Wall 1-F on the shearwall key plan is noted as being 10.75 feet long.
Calculation on page 141 indicates the wall is 10.83 feet long. Please
revise calculation."

So a plan checker is grabbing at sticks, thinks that a 1" difference in
the length of a shearwall between a calculation and notation on the
drawing is really going to improve the performance of the building. In
this project the maximum difference in wall length calculated to that
noted on the drawing was 2 inches. The difference is because at
calculation time, the wall is measured with a scale, and at drawing time
it is measured in CAD. If the plan checker had taken the time to read
the calculation, she would have noticed that the shear per foot in the
walls was almost always less than 150 plf (no chance that the 1"
differential would change anything). The difference in length would have
ZERO impact. These comments were from one of the major 3rd party plan
checkers in Northern CA. I do not think they are picking on me by any
means, but I think they are doing a dis-service to clients paying for a
permit. 

I had another plan checker make me do a seismic design of a garden
trellis, four posts and some lattice work on top that any do it
yourselfer would do on build their own. 

I could go on and on. The point is not that they make me do these
ridiculous checks, but that a standard is not applied every time in
every jurisdiction. Owners, developers, contractors, whomever, are
PAYING MONEY for a check of the design. If checking fees need to be
increased so people get an extra hour or so to check designs, then so be
it. But when a client comes to me and says "Why do I need Steel Moment
Frames in my Apartment complex in Fremont when I didn't need them for
virtually the same building in Gilroy??? - I think I'll go back to my
other engineer, he didn't need them, it must be you are over designing
and costing me money." The cycle of bad designs continue.

I want plan checkers to catch mistakes that are gross errors. I want
plan checkers to catch mistakes that are not so gross as well. I do not
expect them to catch all errors, or most errors, but load path and code
issues pertaining to suitability of a structural system are a must. I
like it when I get comments that correct my mistakes - I don't like
seeing others get away with murder on their designs. There needs to be
some standard or training, checklist or something for each building
type. Engineers create these problems either intentionally or
unintentionally. Plan checkers have a tough job, no doubt. They should
not be required to do a Peer Review for a plan check fee. Every engineer
presents their designs differently - but one should be able to tell
quickly (in less than 2 hours for even the most complex building) what
the load path and structural system is.

In Closing, it's a tough job I agree. But, there needs to be some
uniform standard for qualifications of a STRUCTURAL plan checker for
everyone's sake, the public, the client, and the design engineer. A lot
of this has to do with our lousy code in CA, but a lot of it has to do
with unqualified individuals or companies rubber stamping plans
"approved". No one cares until our once in a lifetime earthquake shows
up.

My 2 cents,
-gerard
Lodi, CA



-----Original Message-----
From: Ben Yousefi [mailto:Ben-Yousefi(--nospam--at)ci.santa-monica.ca.us] 
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 4:48 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: Plan Check (was Re: Rigid Wood Diaphragm?)

I feel compelled to respond to this, although this subject has raised
its ugly head many times before! 

The merits of plan check process, simply put, is having another set of
eyes review the construction documents to ensure important aspects of
design meet the intent of the code. It's not an issue of who is
ultimately responsible, or whether the design professional is competent
or not. Even the most competent structural engineers, or their
associates in the office, make mistakes that could possibly have major
ramifications. We are all humans, afer all.

One of the best examples of this is the case of William LeMessurier,
whose story has been chronicled in several media articles including the
New Yorker. In his case, he discovered that he had miscalculated the
size of braces required for a 52 story building that was already built
and occupied. Had another set of eyes looked at the design, it could
possibly have been caught at the construction document stage. The same
goes for the Hyatt Regency balcony collapse, etc.

Going through the sometimes uncomfortable process of plan review
(especially with some plan checkers) could be a real pain. However, that
is small price to pay in protecting the life and limb of the public at
large. I personally would welcome any constructive feedback on the
approach and details of any problems that I try to solve. And, I wish we
could all put our egos and cynicism aside and work for what's best for
the community.

Ben Yousefi, SE
Santa Monica, CA

>>> pfeather(--nospam--at)SE-Solutions.net 10/13/03 08:56AM >>>
I apologize in advance for the long rant.


This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.  I have
always considered plan check as a simple formality.  I would never dream
of
actually believing that the plan review process was a check of my
design.

Two recent cases in point out of many:

1.    Plan review comments regarding anchorage of masonry walls to the
plywood diaphragm.  There wasn't any masonry on the job.

2.    My own barn, where I am the client and the engineering was
provided by
the companies engineer.  In my review there were multiple discrepancies,
calc's that were not reflected in the drawings, improper diaphragms, no
seismic checks, and then the system was over yield if an analysis was
performed.  The only comments from the plan review?  The decorative
railing
that merely separated two areas of equal grade needed the picket spacing
to
be 4" max per chapter 10 of the UBC; a code provision that does not even
apply to the condition.  Nothing was noted regarding all the other
issues.


The problem with this is that both reviewers were licensed PE's.  Is it
the
plan review process that is broken or are the requirements to practice
as a
PE so lax that the title is meaningless?  Given a simple project with
maybe
2 or 3 areas that really should be reviewed, I would be willing to bet
that
they will not be if the areas are not listed in the preprinted check
list.

Is it the plan review process where we need to expend our energy to try
and
improve the system, or the requirements (and enforcement) to be
qualified as
a PE?  Is the PE who performs a completely inadequate review at fault
(the
governing agency takes no liability) or the PE who produces inferior
work
either from ignorance or under the guise that there are inadequate fees
involved to perform a proper job (this was actually stated to me on my
barn).  If I had been a non-engineer, I would have been provided with a
non-code compliant engineered and approved structure, and let's face it,
the
requirements for an agricultural building are not hard to meet.
Blessfully,
when the barn manufacturer became aware of the issues, they made all the
modifications necessary without question and were actually pleased to
have
the issues pointed out to them.  They wanted to provide a quality
product,
which is why they hired an independent PE to provide their designs.

This is not isolated to my barn experience.  PE's who issue inferior
work
and who charge inadequate fees bring down the integrity of our entire
profession.  How many times have you not been awarded a project, and
then
been shocked by the fee the project actually paid to your competitor?
How
can they provide proper service for so little you ask?  They can't, and
won't.

The weight of the responsibility cannot rest on the governing authority
to
perform detailed structural review.  Many smaller jurisdictions cannot
afford to hire competent engineering staff to review the work of someone
who
is supposed to be a PROFESSIONAL.  How many times have you felt like
plan
check response was an unpaid educational seminar? Nor is there adequate
time
for a plan reviewer to really check a project that may have taken months
to
design.  In my mind the plan reviewer is supposed to be looking only for
the
blatant non-compliance issues, especially in the non-structural realm,
expecting more is un-realistic.  The weight of responsibility to provide
adequate design is the engineer's.

How this is accomplished and enforced I do not know.  Is it stronger
licensing laws and requirements?  Mandatory continuing education? More
aggressive self-policing of our industry, with more than a slap on the
wrist
for egregious violations of what should be our ethical conduct?

As I said, I don't know, but I am thinking about it.


Paul Feather PE SE


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