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Code Clarity (was 3000 psi concrete and special inspection)

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Apparently you are correct. Even my posting was not "100% clear and consistent". Let me try this again:

I am making an argument FOR ambiguity in the codes. My point is that codes that have no "gray areas" restrict engineers from doing the job that they trained for many years to do. Any PE (Project Engineer, no license, no specialized education) can read a Code that is completely clear, and follow it to the letter, with no input from a PE (Professional Engineer, licensed). While this of course is not realistic for large projects, this appears to be the goal of Codes, which become more detailed and more restrictive (and thicker!) every issue.

But my main point is that it is the plans reviewer and the inspector that often interpret the "gray areas" of the Code, often overruling the licensed engineer. Many engineers who have lost one of these battles would like to see more clarity in the Code, in order to avoid having ridiculous requirements imposed on them. If, however, as engineers we do not tolerate this situation, then more ambiguity in the Code gives engineers more freedom to create efficient, common sense designs.

In summary, I am not criticizing the Code (not in this post anyway), I am criticizing my fellow engineers for letting the Building Departments lead the engineers around by the nose!
And yes, I have had it happen to me many times.

Based on the response to my earlier post, I appear to be alone in this position. (Oops! Is this the Building Officials web site?)

Dmitri Wright, PE
Portland, OR

From: Scott Maxwell <smaxwell(--nospam--at)>
To: Seaint <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Subject: Re: 3000 psi concrete and special inspection


I am curious...are the construction/contract documents (plans and
specifications) that you prepare for project always "100% clear and
consistent"?  Likely not as everyone missing things, makes mistakes, etc.;
yet your construction/contract documents should be 100% clear and
consistent as they are a legally binding document, similar to a code is
(i.e. they become legally binding documents between the owner and the

I agree that in an ideal world the code should be 100% clear and
consistent, as should any construction documents that you or I produce.
But, we live in the real world and in the real world people miss things
and make mistakes.

While those that produce codes should be open to learning which things
might need improvement and there are always things to improve, I tend to
defend those that produce these documents as it is a VERY daunting task.
The simple little problem/mistake that you or I might find when doing our
work potentially was a "needle in the haystack" to those on the committee.

I would offer that if you want to critize the codes then maybe you should
at least be in the "driver's seat" (i.e. participate on a code committe)
before critizing too much.  After all, it is much easier to be a "back
seat driver".

So, I encourage everyone to cut them a little least until you
have experienced it first hand.


Adrian, MI

On Fri, 18 Feb 2005, Dmitri Wright wrote:

Fellow Structural Engineers,

Another facet to the debate about Code clarity and Code enforceability, is
why, as licensed professionals, our professional judgment is often overruled
by the plans reviewer or inspector.  In many cases, they are not licensed
engineers, and in some cases are uneducated in the principals of

I generally tend to agree with Dennis, that the Code should be 100% clear
and consistent.  But if it were, there would be little need to have the
protections provided by the licensed engineer requirement on construction
projects.  It is generally recognized that someone with the educational
background and experience required for a license needs to direct the
project, just for the reason that there are many unique and ambiguous design
decisions that need to be made correctly to protect the public.  Ambiguity
in the code gives engineers the flexibility to employ more efficient,
creative, and in some cases safer solutions.

However, this situation can be a burden when the jurisdiction takes a hard
line or ridiculous interpretation of the Code.  Unfortunately, our
professional engineering judgment, which has been officially recognized by
the granting of our license, is trumped by the jurisdiction which holds the
power of the occupancy permit.

Acie might be right, we are in danger of designing buildings as lawyers, not
as engineers.  Am I just old-fashioned, or do other list members see a
problem with this situation?

Dmitri Wright, PE
Portland, OR

>We have been turned into jail house lawyers instead of
>engineers. I was under the impression engineers used there experience >and
>education to make decisions on how to build structures.  Looking for
>clarification between "footing" and "foundation" for a element designed
>2500 or 3000 psi concrete is very sad to me. - Acie Chance

>But the code is ambiguous, and somebody needs to interpret it.  We are
>just trying to do that.
>At the same time, the interpretation of the code by SEOR is not
>necessarily accepted by the jurisdiction.  I have a case where, in spite
>of the clear-cut technical proof, and the supporting opinion by APA,
>this one big city just pushed its own weird, CYA interpretation of the
>code, unjustifiably costing my client $$$ (literally, hundreds of
>thousands). - Vyacheslav "Steve" Gordin, PhD

>We who practice light framing understand when it is appropriate to fully
>comply with the code and where the requirements of the code are simply
>unreasonable. As a contract plan checker, I have yet to have a
>residential structure (including multi-residential structures) submitted
>based on full compliance to the 97 UBC. Furthermore, this also accounts
>for the change in opinion by SEAOC as to what should or should not be
>designed to full-compliance. - Dennis S. Wish, PE

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