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Plan Check (was Re: Rigid Wood Diaphragm?)

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I apologize in advance for the long rant.

Gerard wrote:

> You being shocked is not shocking to me. There is a lot a really bad
> stuff out there that gets by plan check no problem. Owners and
> contractors like it too because they are getting it built cheap. When
> the rest of us try to do work like that, the owners want to go back to
> their garbage engineer.
> The only thing preventing this is consistent/uniform plan checking from
> each building department. This is a dream and many plan checkers (NOT
> ALL) are just plain difficult to work with (i.e. "Seismic Design of a
> Garden Trellis"). IMHO, I think 3rd party plan checking is a scam (along
> with soils reports). I'm not sure what they charge, but these firms just
> seem to fill up two pages minimum worth of comments, to justify their
> fees. Most never open the calcs and never read the general notes. The
> ICBO Certified plans examiner is not sufficient (although I have no idea
> what it requires) to qualify someone to be a plan checker. In the bay
> area, most of the cities do a good job in house and are fairly
> consistent. County agencies are hit or miss. 3rd party is nearly always
> a huge pain in the ass.
> If your project is in Zone 3, perhaps they are even more lax in their
> checking efforts (I don't know)... but I think any decent plan checker
> would seriously object to the design as you described it.
> Thank god I'm not an architect and have to deal with Planners at the
> city on top of plan check. They throw around other people's money like
> it's a game.
> DISCLAIMER: There are good plan checkers out there and at least three or

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

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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