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Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI, CDT
Senior Member
Username: rliebing

Post Number: 1419
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 08:13 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

By Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI, CDT, CPCA, CBO [former]
Cincinnati, Ohio

In the face of what appears to be a growing expansion and to some an intrusion, of code officials into the process of documenting projects, there is need for open, free and collaborative discussion. Both sides must understand the other-- fully-- and be ready to discuss, accommodate, compromise and resolve the entire issue, with mutual respect and conclusive results.

Two primary issues have impacted the code situation. First, cuts in agency personnel have caused offices to require “easily reviewed” documents-- i.e., documents where the information is obvious, “pops out at you”, and is complete in one place. Two electronic documents and code applications and forms often are not easy fits. Word processing is most common, but code personnel do not ”wish” or have time to search for pertinent information in specifications—the very place where a trove of information is easily placed. These factors, [and perhaps the wide differences—many appearing as unreasonable or unnecessary-- in local code regulations and review procedures] serve to confound quick and accurate plan reviews and prompt permit issuance, and create unfortunate raw nerves between design and code personnel.

The adoption of the International Family of Code has given a tremendous boost to codes, relieved much of the parochial codes and provided a more dynamic code change process. Overall this status change has also empowered code agencies to increase their impact technically and has caused most to change administrative processes, requirements and fees. To alleviate economic troubles in local governments, fees have also risen while demands of “more” information, and easier access to information have taken quite a turn. Here angst and “raw nerves” have become more prevalent and problematic to both sides—the code side and the design side. The resulting angst, unwavering absolutes and “unilateral “demands cannot stand in a rapidly moving construction world.

Building codes and other regulations need to be turned into “positive” elements of practice, and reduced to a functionally minimal process; i.e., the importance and need for regulation is valid, but researching and resolving the issues within a project should be reduced to a minimum time frame. There may be too much time spent either avoiding the regulations entirely, or in efforts to circumvent, or obviate them.

Design professionals cannot directly control the code agencies and personnel, but they can make comment and influence the political entities that enact the codes, etc. Here is where we need to get over the threat of retribution and work in concert for the common goal of safe construction. To make the code and permit process a confounding, and needlessly convolute, messy and elongated process is no advantage to any of the parties.

Perhaps a proposal, or a solution, is to start at the highest levels and begin to engage the processes of documenting and code compliance as they “should” interface. Might look good for progress there, but the final arrangement may well still lie in overcoming local and personal attitudes, expertise and summary judgments

We need meaningful discussion and facts-- we don’t need venom, nastiness, knee-jerk solutions and flat out anger. We do need incisive notes, situation citations, examples, and other forms of questionable requests. Of course, universal adherence to the results is necessary to eliminate the localized differences and demands for added documents goes without saying.

Interested in talking and truly discussing?
Mark Gilligan SE,
Senior Member
Username: mark_gilligan

Post Number: 598
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 02:29 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I contend that a building official that requires certain information in a given location is stepping over the line and he does not have the authority in many cases to make such a requirement. Note there are some code requirements that mandate some information be placed on the drawings.

There needs to be a discussion as to the limits of the building official's power. I believe there are some real limits but design professionals and owners give in for fear of retribution. This is what I refer to as extortion. If you are not willing to push back you will not win.

When the building department says that they want certain information on the drawings they are often saying that they will not look at the specifications and thus will not be concerned with the code requirements that are addressed in the specifications but not on the drawings.
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 673
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 03:23 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

You can't fight city hall.
Mark Gilligan SE,
Senior Member
Username: mark_gilligan

Post Number: 599
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 04:38 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I realize that you need to pick your fights but if you never push back you will always lose. What a sad way to go about life constantly in fear that you will offend.

I suggest we have a obligation to our clients to point out to our client when we believe the building official steps over the line. The client can make the decision to pay or fight. If they fight you should be paid for your time. If they want to accommodate the building official you should be paid to make the changes to your documents.
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 674
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 05:14 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

As you note, no one wants to leak off the building official, but many of us do push back - delicately. I and others I know have reasoned with building officials and other officials - heck, it's part of the job, many times successfully. The problem is that individual decisions apply only to the project at hand; what is needed is a top-down change, and that won't happen unless someone takes the time to discuss the issues with the code organizations, get them to understand how construction documents are organized, and teach their members where to look. But why would they do that, when they can simply decree that, regardless of accepted practice, everything has to appear where they want it, in the format they want? It sure makes their jobs easier.

It isn't just codes, either. It seems each agency dreams up its own bidding procedures, some simple, some convoluted, and none of them the same. Some agencies require compliance with MasterFormat, but don't apply it to their own documents. And why many agencies and owners believe they are so unique that they need their own general conditions, I'll never understand.
Mark Gilligan SE,
Senior Member
Username: mark_gilligan

Post Number: 601
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 05:40 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

There are two issues, what should be in the building code and what can the building official require? They are related but you are addressing two different groups.

There needs to be a broad discussion regarding the limitations on what the building official can do. I do not see this as coming from ICC although at least one ICC document recognizes there are limitations. The architects and engineers need to take a position supported by legal opinions. This would then get the attention of the building officials and hopefully start a dialog.

Part of the problem is that the arguments require dealing with legal concepts which many architects and engineers are uncomfortable with.
David J. Wyatt, CDT
Senior Member
Username: david_j_wyatt_cdt

Post Number: 15
Registered: 03-2011
Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 11:17 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Sheldon: How do you "leak off the building official"?

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