As a professional, you would think that all building codes are consistently enforced. You would also think that once your project is under construction that means that all code issues and designs have passed and all permitting, sign offs and plan checks are resolved. Lately, however, we’ve been experiencing inspectors who will not accept the wisdom of the plan check process. Even the Los Angeles supervisors I’ve spoken with acknowledge that the plan check and inspection processes have become uneven and uncoordinated. They say it will take another 3–4 years to work out the bugs because of all the new plan checkers, inspectors and supervisors.
I asked the supervisors, “How I am to design against a moving target?” The answer was, “Good luck.”
In working with clients, and the design team, architects must adapt to ever-changing design parameters. But the adapting doesn’t end there: Rules and or interpretations of rules tend to change. Rules may be unwritten but still enforced. Each plan checker interprets things differently. Many times a final correction is required after almost everything else has been signed off. Even once fully approved and permitted, a project is subject to the whims of its inspectors.
A couple of examples:
- On one project, a building inspector required us to rework an unrated ceiling condition, which would have required the removal of 80% of the built work under three separate codes. When I asked if there was a way to rewrite the codes he said he had just guessed. In fact, the codes he wanted JHAI to base the changes on did not exist. We never did receive the correct code issues for the changes the inspector required and the issue went away. (It’s times like this when we are needed the most. We fight for our clients!) However, sometimes issues are out of our control. It is never easy to write these types of contingencies into contracts yet we must stick with the project to help get it built and finished.
- Recently we completed a project during which the city inspector did not agree with the plan checker or the supervising inspector. The plan checker and supervising inspector assured JHAI that we designed the project correctly. Another plan check office said no, we should do our math another way. There is no one true source for obtaining all requirements for design and enforcement issues, therefore enforcement is inconsistent.
Such systemic flaws and inconsistencies make our 40 years of accumulated knowledge that much more valuable to clients. Although we cannot control all of the effects of these issues, we have a wealth of problem-solving experience to draw on. We strive for patience and urge our clients to do the same. The fact is that the processes of code enforcement and inspection is still evolving and sometimes, even my expectations need a reality check!