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Re: Unlicensed firms and engineers

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I do not want to get flamed here but maybe you should reconsider your
thinking. If a geotechnical engineer gives you a recommendation and you
follow the recommendation then that’s an accepted form a business.

If an engineering firm writes a report based on a recommendation and you
review the recommendation and agree with the recommendation and stamp it,
that’s Illegal? The engineering firm may not have “registered” or
“professional” in their name but the calculations are either good or they are

Kevin -

A potential important distinction exists here.  The role of "you"
in the first sentence is "you the client".  "You the client" may be an
engineer, an architect, a contractor, or the owner of the structure
under design.  The geotech is a licensed engineer whose competence has
been demonstrated to meet minimum state standards either through passing
the PE or both the PE and GE exams.  The geotech is affirming that they
are the engineer in responsible charge for the accuracy of the information
and its compliance with relevant regulations. "You" are not reviewing the geotech's work, per se, but rather you have subcontracted to them
the task of determining the appropriate geotechnical data for your

The role of "you" in the second sentence is "you the engineer".
You the engineer are reviewing someone else's work and affirming
that you are the engineer in responsible charge for the accuracy of
the design and its compliance with the code.  According to the way I
understand the professional practice acts to be written (at least in CA),
you must either prepare those calculations yourself or routinely supervise
the individual who is preparing them.

This is, IMHO, intended to prevent "lowest bidder" reviews in which
the reviewer simply stamps the drawings, calcs, etc and affirms they are acceptable without properly investigating the fundamental assumptions being made as part of the calculations. I contrast this with a proper peer review in which a qualified engineering firm reviews the work of another qualified engineering firm to provide an increased level of quality assurance on the design. I also contrast this with subcontracting, in which one engineering firm might hire another to perform specialized design on a particular component (e.g. viscous dampers or base isolators) due to the expertise available in the sub's firm. Who becomes the EOR in that case?
I'm personally unclear on that, although I suspect many firms would work out
a contractual arrangement in which the sub stamps the isolator/damper designs and the prime stamps the rest. Just a hunch.

There's nothing wrong with "low-bid" selection, so long as everyone is
apprised at the outset of what they are obtaining.  Everyone must
include the eventual owner of the property so that they can make an
informed judgement about the quality of the structure.  Do most people
buying homes do this?  Not that I've talked to.  Should they?  I certainly
think so.

This is why, again IMHO, the military can execute low-bid contracts. They establish minimum performance standards to which all designs are subjected, then require the bidders to deliver a functional prototype to demonstrate that the design meets or exceeds the specifications. Then, the selection committee can rule on whether it is cost effective to go with the low bid, or pay more for a higher-performance or higher-quality product.

That also isn't to imply lowest bid is necessarily lowest quality.  However,
if someone tells me they can make a cheaper house and they bill/pay their staff comparably, then they better have some really impressive economies of scale somewhere if I am to be convinced that the design is of equal quality. For example, if someone asked me which is a better car, a Prius or a Bentley, I would probably ask what features they wanted. A Prius may be a more nifty technological design with hybrid features, but it's really *loud* inside from road noise. Well, my 2002 is anyway. I suspect a Bentley is probably a lot quieter. Which is better transportation? I would argue that if they both convey you to your destination, they are equally qualified transportation.
Of course, I don't know a lot of tall folks who like riding in my back seat!
It becomes a question of features and your personal confidence in the
quality of the product you are buying. In the case of engineering, the "product" is both a product (design drawings) and several services
(preparation of those drawings and the supporting calculations, and
assumption of relevant liability).

You have to ask what the licensed professional engineer is providing you
that the unlicensed practitioner (important distinction from a legal POV)
isn't.  Most states have ruled that, for the protection of the public who
are generally unfamiliar with the finer points of engineering design, a
license is required to certify that you have demonstrated competence to execute the services I outlined above. Would you advocate using an unlicensed contractor? What if they were half the price? What if a licensed contractor offered to come through and look at all of the construction after it was complete? Personally, I would be as uncomfortabe with such a scenario as I would be with hiring a licensed engineer to stamp calcs and drawings for which they had not provided routine supervision.

Just my $0.02,


Charles Hamilton, PhD EIT               PGR and Lecturer
Department of Civil and                 Phone: 949.824.3752
    Environmental Engineering           FAX:   949.824.2117
University of California, Irvine        Email: chamilto(--nospam--at)

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