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RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

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While I agree with most of your comments - I don't find foundations as
challenging here in the desert as you do in the coastal areas. There are
a few areas that require caution from liquefaction, but there are few
locations associated with expansive clays. Still, saving $100,000.00 is
significant but I would question whether this is an exception or the
rule.

I can not offer speed as one of my competitive values. Most of those who
are underbidding are setting up generic assembly lines and have hired
help (and increased overhead) from which they are "pushing" out projects
in time, and under-designed. Still, they comply with code although there
is usually a hidden percentage in the cost of construction that is
passed on to the owner as extra's from the contractor. 
I would try and gain the clients trust, but I have a difficult time
guaranteeing a time schedule while wearing so many hats of
responsibility (marketing new phone calls, completing projects, billing,
responding to plan review, coordination and pre-construction meetings,
response to the builder in the field and most important, putting out a
package that is complete and will, hopefully, save the owner that 10%
extra. Then there are the intangibles - illness, act's of G*d, computer
crashes, inquiry phone calls, learning the intent of a code and
understanding how to design to what the client ultimately wants, changes
and arguments (clients want the cheapest truss company and you don't
agree -- therefore you are told by the clients designer or contractor
that the engineer is biased.

I think that residential custom home design is, perhaps, the toughest
area of structural engineering to be proficient at and still be able to
support your family. Yet, I believe it is the most satisfying - at least
it is to me - when you can make a seemingly impossible architectural
feature work.

Dennis

-----Original Message-----
From: Gerard Madden, SE [mailto:gmadden(--nospam--at)maddengine.com] 
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 1:05 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

Dennis,

You may be right when I use the word "Guarantee" to save them money on
the construction end that it may be overstating things, but I don't
think it's a huge stretch. On one project alone, I saved a homeowner
almost 100 grand (according to his contractor) on his foundation. He
hired someone cheap and the pier and grade beam system he designed was
grossly over designed. The more complex the building, I feel the more of
a chance I can save someone money versus a low ball engineer.

The main things I sell to my clients are quality, clarity of drawings,
thoroughness, and responsiveness. Cheap Fast and Good, choose 2 is not
what I sell. I try to sell Good and Fast. My goal is not to be the
cheapest in fees, and would like to be on the upper end of the fee
scale. But I want the client to understand that those costs usually can
be offset with an accurate bid and minimal RFI's and delays with the
building department. One of the biggest compliments I seem to get is
that I return phone calls ... seems like a simple thing, but I guess
it's a problem.

This is why a level playing field is important. The engineer who designs
with fewer shearwalls still better be within the language of the code.
The plan checker is our only referee to throw the yellow flag.

I believe I save owners money by being more thorough - not by selecting
each and every beam a different size, but by detailing unique conditions
and examining several options to solve a certain problem. 

As far as E&O insurance goes, it is expensive. But I need that
protection for my peace of mind and certain clients of mine cannot work
with me unless I carry it. Since I want to do more and more commercial
work, I would think this is a mandatory item for most clients in that
market. I realize I may be putting myself in the crosshairs. Limiting my
liability has proven to be relatively simple and is rarely a problem.

-gerard
Lodi, CA


-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Wish [mailto:dennis.wish(--nospam--at)verizon.net] 
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 12:39 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

Gerry,
I agree with most of your comments, but find that I can not carry E&O
insurance for two reasons; My gross receipts could not afford the
expense, and I firmly believe that those with insurance are targets for
lawyers looking for the pot of gold. I have never been sued in 17-years
of private practice. I think this is due to making sure that I don't run
away from a client's complaint and also making sure that if I am wrong,
I make it right. However, I have not even come close to having to make
those choices. I have been named three times as a Cross-Complainant in
three different suits where I was only a member of the design team. I
was dropped from the suit each time it was disclosed that I carried no
insurance.

As you your comment about what we can save the client - this may have
been true a few years ago, but I don't believe it is so any longer. I
think that the code forces engineers who wish to earn something above
minimum wage to think about the business of engineering. While we are
(at least you and I) are not the cheapest, in my case it is because I
provide all aspects of structural engineering including fast response to
contractor's questions so as not to delay their projects. I can't offer
savings of materials or guarantee better performance. The engineer who
has underbid me will undoubtedly design a home with fewer shearwalls
(pushing each wall to it's capacity) and thus creating a more flexible
structure that would suffer more damage. The trade-off is materials
verses out-of-pocket repair costs. While we can't guarantee performance
(comparing what to what when there has not been a major earthquake in
Southern California since the Sylmar quake - if that was considered a
major event). Therefore, we have to judge the material cost and what the
public doesn't understand is that while we may be designing more
materials and hardware into their homes, the performance should (we
expect) improve and their out-of-pocket costs should be lower (based on
a 15% deductible from their homeowners policy).

I believe that the there is an inherent problem in the design of
light-frame structures that don't pose a threat to other materials. In
the subject, the advantage to hiring an engineer rather than a designer
is that we should be improving the package and services we produce and
while we ask for more money - you are correct - the client is cheap and
we are not likely to get it. How can you blame them when the National
Association of Home Owners is constantly pushing to kick engineers out
of residential construction and homeowners never see a defense for
engineering until just after a major hurricane or seismic event occurs
and then the memory of what an engineer can do is short lived.

I saw an ad for the American Institute of Architects on one of the Cable
Channels. It appears that they are attempting to educate the public
about what an architect offers that a designer does not. The real-estate
industry is doing the same thing about licensed real-estate agents and
brokers. As I mentioned before, the Glass Industry is competing against
the plastic industry in public service announcements. So what are we
doing to educate the public?

Dennis S. Wish, PE

P.S. I did serve on the NCSEA Advocacy Sub-committee related to
educating the public, but when the examples stuck primarily with public
works and high-rise projects, I felt that our field of experience is not
going to be represented any time soon.

-----Original Message-----
From: Gerard Madden, SE [mailto:gmadden(--nospam--at)maddengine.com] 
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2003 5:40 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: RE: Plan Check from a plan reviewer

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)hotmail.com] 
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2003 4:04 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
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)maddengine.com>
>Reply-To: <seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org>
>To: <seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org>
>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)ci.anchorage.ak.us]
>Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2003 10:12 AM
>To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
>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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