Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Three entities are charged with the same job; only one does their job.

Mr. & Ms. Smith sign a contract with Pulte Homes for the construction of a new house. Mr. & Ms. Smith expect that Pulte will build the house according to government-approved plans. But, the Smith’s new house isn’t built according to County-approved construction plans.

Beaufort County, SC inspects the Smith’s house and issues a Certificate of Occupancy certifying that the house meets minimum requirements of the SC building code. But, the Smith’s new house doesn’t meet minimum requirements of SC’s building code.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith hire a private home inspector who compares the Smith’s finished house with County-approved construction plans, something that BOTH Pulte and Beaufort County SHOULD have done beforehand. The private home inspector finds that Mr. and Ms. Smith’s house doesn’t conform to County-approved construction plans.

Three entities charged with the same job; only one does their job. What’s wrong with this picture? Pulte Homes and Beaufort County.

Two years ago this problem was identified when 668 houses of more than 2,700 re-inspected houses needed repairs to bring their roofs up to code. Two years later the problem has not been fixed. What’s wrong with this picture? Pulte Homes and Beaufort County.



JFM said...

By John F Mann, PE

As I have noted in comments posted on the Island Packet web site relative to roof truss connection issues, there is a general misconception about the functions of the local building department (in every state). This general misconception is difficult to correct, as demonstrated by how it shows up in comments by Mr. Koenig.

Municipal (government) code officials are NOT authorized to, and in fact do not, "certify" or "approve" building design plans. In general, code officials are not licensed architects or engineers. They are not qualified to review all aspects of building design plans, especially structural design requirements.

Therefore, issuance of a certificate of occupancy (CO) does not provide goverment "approval" of design plans or of construction. The CO only indicates that code officials have performed their functions (see below).

The repsonsible design professional (architect or engineer) is completely, 100% responsible for ensuring that design of the building conforms to requirements of the building code.

When prefabricated trusses are used, a separate truss engineer (show should be licensed) is responsible for design of the individual trusses AND for all connections between trusses (such as valley truss to main truss).

However the building design professional remains responsible for proper design to ensure that the individual trusses are assembled into a unified structure.

Municipal code officials are responsible primarily for the following basic functions;

(1) Ensure that building design plans have been prepared by a licensed design professional, in accordance with state regulations.

(2) Ensure that inspections have been performed by municipal inspectors per applicable regulations.

Code officials generally perform some level of plan review function as well. However, such plan review should only be considered supplementary (and non-essential) to the design function of the licensed design professional.

Municipal inspectors are responsible only for limited inspections to ensure that, in general, as-built construction appears to conform with requirements of building design plans. Inspectors are not responsible for certifying that every element of the building has been built properly. The builder is primarily responsible for inspection to ensure quality control.

Of course you may wonder how we have arrived this deceptive state of affairs in the construction industry. However, that explanation is for another time.

The key point is that the focus of any legal action to correct defects should be focused on the design professionals and the builder.

Defects can be due to (1) Design errors & omissions, (2) Faulty construction, or (3) Both.

The public generally does not appreciate the design function; they "see" only the finished product and therefore point at the builder. In fact, many "constructin" defects are actually design deficiencies.

PE, retired said...

The big "disconnect" here has been between the construction (design) plans and what is actually built. The plans show one thing; what's built is altogether different. In order to simplify the discussion for those without engineering or construction backgrounds, I have chosen to concentrate on these discrepancies (between what's built and what's shown on the plans). I believe that those without engineering or technical backgrounds implicitly understand the need for what's built to match what's shown on the plans. I also believe that the public implicitly understands that BOTH the builder AND the County have the responsibility to make sure that what's built matches what's on the plans. If the County doesn't "certify" this, then why do they issue a CERTIFICATE of occupancy? Ray

PE, retired said...

An additional comment: Beaufort County, like most counties, requires that builders submit architect/engineer certified copies of the building plans. Beaufort County says, like most counties say, that they review the submitted plans prior to issuing a building permit. While your definition of “certify” is narrow (the act of a licensed architect/engineer signing and sealing construction plans), the general public understands that the County, by requiring that plans be submitted to them prior to issuing a building permit, and by reviewing said plans, that the County is taking some responsibility that the plans meet the state building code, i.e. “certifying” (albeit in the “generic” sense according to your narrow definition) that the plans meet the minimum requirements of the state building code.