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RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

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Title: Plan Check from a plan reviewer



Thanks for your comments. I completely understand the situation you and other plan checkers are placed in. I have probably seen 1/100th the amount of garbage designs as you have. Thankfully, designers are being phased out slowly in California for structural. I have been asked several times by designers and architects to do calcs only on residential projects. The only projects I do that on are exterior stair improvements to hotels for ADA upgrade and my client gives me complete control of the structural plans and details for those.


I refuse red-line jobs due to liability. It can make it tough when I have to compete with a guy charging less than the guy doing the title 24 energy calcs for structural.


I have done work with designers (aka Drafters) on residential projects, but I have done the structural drawings on those projects.


I also do not advocate M.S. and PHD’s for plan checkers. PE license is great, but that is no guarantee. As Paul stated, it is PE’s & SE’s that generate these non-compliant designs to begin with, so having a license is no assurance that a checker would notice a mistake.


I believe plan checkers go to seminars. Then you start seeing the same comments from many jurisdictions. One example was the definition of a “diaphragm boundary” a few years back. Plan checkers began to incorrectly consider a reduction of the nailing requirements in tilt-up buildings due to lower shear as a diaphragm boundary, even though there was no collector or shearwall at this transition point. Another one recently is the use of a Hardy Frame or Panel requires the entire structure be designed for an R=4.4 instead of 5.5. Fortunately, the new ICBO from Hardy defeats that argument.


One of the grossest displays of plan checking abuse happened about 6 years ago from a 3rd party plan checker. The company I worked for at the time designed 7 buildings on a campus built in two phases. Phase I was for 5 buildings. I worked on phase 2 for the last 2 buildings. I got the plan check letter with about 18 comments. Went to my boss, he said “Let me see the letter”. He grabbed his file from phase I, compared the comment (from the same 3rd party firm) and said, “tell me what you think”. I look at both letters. They were indentical. Same number of comments, same exact comments, the only thing different was the order of the item numbers. I said “What Bullshit”. He concurred.


How do we fix it? I don’t know. I feel the process has become adversarial rather than people working together to get a good design. I do not attribute it to plan checkers not having enough time to check jobs. I attribute it to a lack of competency from both plan checker and design engineers. Do plan checking agency’s have internal documents that train the staff? I know there was a checklist published a few years ago of things to check on a project, but if I remember correctly, it was just a bulleted list. Didn’t really see any instruction on how to accomplish these tasks.


Ultimately, those who want to follow the code and provide quality designs are not competing on a level field based on the jurisdiction of the project. I am working on a project now which is being changed from wood framed to concrete. The original engineer hand drew the plans and then appears to have stolen (borrowed without asking) the details from other engineers. They are sticky backed to the plans with completely different fonts and drafting style from detail to detail. It’s a mess out there.



Lodi, CA


-----Original Message-----
From: Schwan, Martin K. [mailto:SchwanMK(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2003 10:12 AM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: Plan Check from a plan reviewer


I would like to add my 2 cents…

I work for a municipality and review residential and small commercial projects.  (I am not an engineer)  Engineers are not required to do residential design in our jurisdiction unless it is 3 stories or more or maybe because of a plot note.  Consequently, designers have the majority of the residential market because they will cost less then an engineer.  Basically I have two problems: 1) there is no certification requirement for designers and just because you go out and buy a design program doesn’t mean you are qualified to perform calculations. 2) engineers who do residential are getting paid like a designer and are less responsive to review comments because they do not want to spend any more time on it.  (Gerard, I would never ask for new calcs because the length of the shear wall was different unless the nailing had to be revised)

  Please note details are not just for review but also for the builder and the inspector.  90% of our problems occur in the field.  We do not ask inspectors to do plan check but they should be able to verify load path details for example and if it’s not on the drawings, how do you expect the builder to build it the way it was designed. 

  Additionally, the plan review is not just a structural calculation check.  There are many occasions where architectural requirements are incorrect or are missing.  These include things we assume are standard…stair rise and run, guard heights, egress windows, elevation of appliances in the garage, tempered glazing, ventilation and so on.