Tom Székely, P.E., LEED AP

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May 16, 2005

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Value Engineering” – Part Deux

Although I closed last month with the intention of devoting this issue to Building Codes and those who work with them, I just had to come back for a moment to the subject with which I started the last newsletter. 


A couple of weeks ago, my betrothed and I were traveling with her daughter, combining a college visit with a high school student marine biology symposium, staying at a motel in Bourne Massachusetts, on Buzzard’s Bay.  I brought my laptop along so I could get some work done while la cherubina was learning about Great White Sharks and bonding with other adolescents who thought spending the rest of one’s life getting sand out of one’s clothing would be a small price to pay for the coolness of working with creatures which, for the most part, are slippery and smell bad.  (I don’t understand how anyone would fail to see that there is nothing so cool as mumbling to one’s peers in abstruse equations, which is what we engineers substitute for what normal folks call reality.)


Anyway, guess what happened when I plugged my laptop’s battery charger into the wall outlet? Those of you who said it fell right out, award yourselves 10,000 points.  Those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about need to ask for a copy of my last issue


I wish I were right a bit less often.


Public Safety, Building Codes, and Plans “Examination”

As I write this I’m in the midst of what some might call one of the quixotic disagreements I’ve had with the Department of Buildings of the City of New York over the years regarding the City’s Building Code. Such conflicts are beginning to seem to me to occur more often than I’d like, and are certainly happening more often than should be necessary.


 I have lived in New York City and been in the design and construction industry long enough to remember when the City finally (decades ago) realized it could neither afford the personnel, nor properly supervise and police those it had, to ensure compliance with its Construction Codes.


This realization has deepened in recent years to the City’s understanding that Design Professionals are in fact licensed by States to protect the public safety, with the plan review/approval process having thus been modified to become largely an issue of record keeping.  Unfortunately, not a few Design Professionals and virtually all Plans Examiners seem not to have internalized this information.


That is, the Department's Directive No. 14 of 1975 put most construction inspection in the hands of Design Professionals, while the Self-Certification program instituted by former Commissioner Miele early in the Giuliani administration did the same for the plan review process.


If engineering could be learned like a trade, and if buildings and the systems within them were no more complex than ensuring teepees were arranged with smoke holes at their peak to allow cooking/heating fires within them, there would be need neither for design professionals nor for building codes, plans and specifications, and  filing such for proposed work.


Furthermore, unless a Plans Examiner is a licensed Design Professional, an Examiner’s direction that a Design Professional make substantive changes to the latter’s drawings or specifications constitutes the practice of engineering or architecture without a license, to the same extent as would be the case were a Filing Representative other than a licensed Design Professional to make such changes, or negotiate their need.


Finally, even if such changes were being directed by a Plans Examiner who also happened to be a licensed Design Professional, incorporation of such changes would demand that the drawings then sport a title block identifying them as creations of the City of New York rather than of the Design Professional who originally prepared the plans, as the City has, through its employee, become responsible for the changes. 


All this is magnified by the fact that the City has abdicated whatever responsibility anyone may have thought it had (try to sue the City for a building collapse) via implementation of Directive 14 and the Self-Certification of plans.


In the end, it is no different in any other jurisdiction.  It amazes me when a local Code Official who may have come to his/her position via prior employment as a supervising mechanic, foreman, or even business owner in the construction trades, directs Design Professionals to make design package changes, particularly when the Official does so on the basis of what he/she believes to be the power inherent in the office, without any attempt to cite a Code reference as justification for the change.


Home Inspection for Fun and Profit. 

Before smoking had become a near criminal activity, matchbook covers were adorned with advertisements promising untold wealth after mere weeks of home study in a hot new field, such as, . . . Home Inspection.


Now we have societies like NAHI and   ASHI , and Quick Start 2000, software which “ . . . generates home inspection reports . . .” and Inspection Depot with its “Home Guide Report System,” replete with checklists identifying what the inspector has found, and glossaries to explain the terms used in reports to the prospective purchaser. All of these I suppose contain qualifiers such as exist in the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) Standards of Practice, listing what is not required, in a real estate inspection.


“Not required” in this case, is code for what a Home Inspector is not qualified to do, unless the inspector is (as a few, in fact, are) is also a licensed Design Professional.  That is, the CREIA Standards speak of “items to be identified and reported” while using words like “examine” and “evaluate” (among others) in describing things a home inspector is not “required” to do. This is notwithstanding the fact that they start off defining an inspection as an examination to identify material defects (in this case, their italics).


 Of course, they do refer you to “appropriate persons” for “technically exhaustive” examinations, and they even define those terms.  Gosh, I feel all better about it now.

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