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RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

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It seems that everything is the same no matter where you
are.  A contractor hired me recently to do drawings for a his own 
building, just so he could get a permit- he knew what to do without
drawings.  He started without a permit and so far we had to adjust 
our drawings 3 times because of his screw-ups and those are the 
foundations only.


On 20 Oct 2003 at 17:40, Gerard Madden, SE wrote:

> I agree.
> I am always glad to see SE on the plan checker's closing line. When I
> call them, I get a reasonable discussion 9 times out of 10.
> I do not like talking to architects, former carpenter's turned
> building officials, or persons with a B.A. in Sociology about
> structural plan check comments they've generated. But sadly, I have
> done all three, some on more than 1 occasion.
> Residential is especially bad due to the fees. If more plan checkers
> would enforce the code, demand clarity, and apply a uniform standard,
> things will get better quickly (fees included). Here is something I
> wrote to one of my potential residential clients when he questioned my
> fee on a decent sized residential addition project:
> ****
> My price is firm. I will say this though, I am not the cheapest you
> will find and I will guarantee you that someone will have a lower fee.
> I am also not the most expensive. However, I will assure you that my
> design will save you money that will more than offset the thousand or
> so less you could find elsewhere. The people who do these things cheap
> generally produce poor drawings packages that lead to inaccurate bids.
> By the time your contractor starts working and you've already signed
> on, change orders come pouring in and you are left holding the bill.
> Also, building departments are different throughout the bay area. Your
> project is located in an especially lenient municipality and pretty
> much anything is approved regardless of its correctness. Therefore,
> you may think you are getting a well designed house, when in fact,
> your design could have serious flaws ..... "
> ****
> FYI: I lost the job to someone else for 500 bucks cheaper who did not
> have a limitation of liability clause or any E&O insurance. The home
> owner wasn't some working stiff either, it was a 7000 sq. foot house
> in the probably worth 4-5 million before this new remodel adding about
> 2000 more sq. feet. He had plenty of dough and ignored the architect's
> recommendation to hire me. The owner in this case stated price as his
> main reason along with my limitation of liability clause being too
> long.
> People are just cheap, I find the more money people have, the cheaper
> they are. In residential work, the engineering is seen as a necessary
> nuisance to get a permit. It's like shopping for television, People
> think they are getting a Sony at Zenith prices because all engineers
> are created equal in their eyes. One client told me I was just selling
> expensive paper and their contractor didn't even need the drawings he
> was so good. 
> The song of the 1 man engineering firm...
> (But I still love my job)
> -gerard
> Lodi, CA
> -----Original Message-----
> From: G M [mailto:newabhaju(--nospam--at)] 
> Sent: Monday, October 20, 2003 4:04 PM
> To: seaint(--nospam--at)
> Subject: RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer
> This is to add to Martin's e-mail:
> I have worked in private engineering firms and now work for a
> municipality.  
>   While at the private engineering firms, the general tendency was the
> city/county engineers did not know much and could not be counted to do
> a
> good job reviewing our work.     Now that I am on the other side of
> the fence, I must say I am aghast at the quality of engineering that
> comes my way - both commercial and residential (but more so
> residential).  The size of firm is not always a good indicator for the
> quality of work.  This is not to say there are no quality engineering
> that comes my way.
> In my years with the government agency, I noticed that quite a few
> engineers - licensed engineers - (do not even talk about the
> designers) have a very poor understanding of seismic analysis and the
> lateral load transfer mechanism.  The quality of the drawings -
> especially in the residential project - are poor in that the details
> provided are minimal and many times consists of details pulled from
> other projects and may not have any bearing with the project at hand. 
> Load paths are not thought through - both gravity and lateral.  The
> usual defense is "I have always done it that way and nobody has
> questioned it".  Compounding this is the fact that the poor home owner
> does not understand how a licensed engineer can screw up so much and
> then blame the building department for holding up the project.  I had
> one project in which I had to sit with the homeowner and review the
> calculations with him and show calculations such as " Demand 6000 lbs,
> Capacity 4000 Lbs, OK".  One engineer actually asked me to go easy on
> him because he did not have adequate experience in the design he was
> submitting.
> Here are some of ideas to chew on:
> 1.	Building officials should be a licensed engineer.  Many cities have
> inspectors as building inspectors.  I am not decreasing the values of
> the expertise of the inspectors; however, an engineer can quickly
> learn the requirements of egress, ADA, fire, etc requirements while an
> inspector/architect/planner will have a difficult time learning the
> engineering issues. 2.	The plan checker should at least as qualified
> as the person doing the design.  I have noticed some to the larger
> California cities are recruiting SE as plan checker - I think this is
> a step in the right direction. 3.	The engineering association should
> advertise what an engineer can provide - something in the line of AIA.
> 4.	I do not want to suggest that the PE license should be tougher to
> get - however, with the quality of work I see that are produced by PE,
> I wonder how good it is.
> Gautam, SE
> >From: "Gerard Madden, SE" <gmadden(--nospam--at)>
> >Reply-To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
> >To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
> >Subject: RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer
> >Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 10:47:56 -0700
> >
> >Martin,
> >
> >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.
> >
> >-gerard
> >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.
> >
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