Structural Plan Review Philosophy – A WABO/SEAW White Paper #1 Tune Up

 The WABO/SEAW Liaison Committee is currently working on an update/revision to White Paper 1-2006 titled, “Guideline – Structural Plan Review Philosophy”, that was issued in May 2006.  This WP was intended to establish a guideline for a uniform approach to structural plan review of CD’s submitted for a building permit”.

The Committee is interested in getting input from SE’s and building code reviewers on the subject of structural plan review.  What level of plan review do you think is appropriate?  How do we resolve differences in opinion between the plan reviewer and the SE?  Are the guidelines given in the WP 1-2006 being followed?  Does the plans reviewer defer to the engineer’s judgement if the design engineer gives a reasonable, rational, and technically justified explanation?  How might the guidelines or commentary in the White Paper be revised or expanded to improve the review process?

The design engineer’s obligation and responsibility is to design a structural system that is depicted on the CD’s and that is compliant with the code requirements.  There are many structural provisions in the code such as different load cases, but only one will control the final design. The design engineer is expected to use his or her experience to determine if, and when, a particular calculation is necessary to justify the design but there are cases when the reviewer wants additional assurance that the design is in accordance with acceptable engineering practices.   

For example, one area of recent discussion with the WABO/SEAW committee is the need to analyze the podium PT slab for the wood shear wall HD forces multiplied by the omega factor.  This is a time-consuming analysis to perform.   Design engineers can say that we know that the PT slab design will not be changed by that analysis but some building code reviewers will ask for calculations to justify the design.  Should the SE be allowed to simply state that our experience tells us that the calculation is not necessary?  The plan reviewer can question whether the structure shown on the CD’s complies with the code.  If the design engineer responds with a reasonable, technically justified response, what can be done to resolve the issue expediently if the plan reviewer refuses to accept it?  Do you have some examples of such conflicts that we can use to improve the clarity of the White Paper?  

There may be cases where the SE agrees to plan reviewer’s requests without objection in order to expedite getting the permit and because resistance or objection to the comments is not expected to be well received.  In other cases, there is frustration for the plan reviewer because the SE refuses to justify a design because they feel it should be approved based on their experience, knowledge and the fact that it is their liability if something goes wrong. 

How are these conflicts typically resolved? What recourse is available for disagreements between the SE and the plans examiner?  The IBC includes a provision for a Board of Appeals that could be useful in some cases.  Would it be good to have an SEAW or WABO committee of some sort that could be consulted for plans review questions? 

What is your opinion of these various questions and issues?  Please let us know.  You can contact co-chairs Charlie Griffes at 206-285-4512 - [email protected] or Lee Kranz at 425-452-2732 - [email protected].