City Plan Checks and Quality

            Another common misconception regarding the accuracy of design plans is the assumption that a stamped set of approved plans is buildable simply because they passed a city plan check looking for building code and planning department violations.

This misconception is fueled by the natural economic impatience of the builder to break ground…an over-confidence in the accuracy level of a typical set of plans…and a misunderstanding of the extent of a city plan check.

During the preconstruction phase…the builder and the architect mistakenly over-emphasize getting the plans through city plan check…as if that is the acid-test of the accuracy and buildability of the design plans.  Although the city plan check is very important…it is not all-inclusive.

The city plan check focuses only on the building codes and standards of construction that involve life and safety considerations…along with issues such as zoning, planning, building heights, view corridors, tree preservation, and artistic restrictions (such as exclusive use of clay barrel tiles on all roofs).

The city plan checker does not verify whether dimensions add up correctly across the page, whether a beam is placed directly below a bathroom toilet, whether windows are designed too close to wall corners that built-in cabinet bookshelves will crash with ceiling crown molding, and whether or not stairs are positioned correctly to provide enough legal vertical headroom, and hundreds of other quality related issues that fall outside of the scope of a city plan check.

These potential mistakes are design and construction concerns rather than code problems (except when they surface as code corrections during building inspections)…and are assumed to have already been checked by the architect…they fall outside the parameters of the city plan check.

Introduction

            There is a reason why we have repetitive problems and mistakes…recurring in building construction…that reason is “geography.”

            No other large-sized finished product is either too big to be transported to its final destination…or on the other hand can easily be rolled-out and driven down the highway, lowered from dry-dock into the water, or fueled-up and taxied down a runway to be flown to an airport.

            Unlike motor-homes, navy aircraft carriers, or 747 jetliners…houses…the smallest sized buildings…are too large to be transported to building sites after they are fully assembled.  Houses are therefore assembled piece-by-piece on their individual sites…and attached to the ground on foundations designed to match the unique size and shape of the structure.

            Transporting larger sized structures such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, high-rise office buildings, and industrial buildings…from an assembly plant to their final destination…in terms of practical logistics is beyond consideration.

            Buildings of all types are therefore assembled on unique building lots spread-out all over the countryside…which in terms of manufacturing debugging and proactive mistake prevention…divides the process into tens of thousands of isolated pieces.  This geographical separation of building construction projects…the breaking up of the mass-production assembly-line…presents some challenging problems unique to the building construction industry.

            Two similar housing construction projects, for example, going up side-by-side, built by different companies, can each be making the same costly mistakes without either one knowing about or being able to benefit from the other’s experience.  The result is that hundreds of thousands of people working in housing construction alone…not counting commercial and industrial building construction…find themselves at different points on the uphill slope of the learning curve, repeating many of the same hard-earned lessons.

            This is one of the fundamental problems still remaining in building construction.  Builders, contractors, and architects do not send memos back and forth regarding mistake avoidance.  Every new building construction project struggles with some amount of assembly-line problems that were encountered and solved months or years ago on other projects…yet this information is locked-up within the geographical footprint of these past projects, and locked away within the closely guarded knowledge and experience of savvy people and companies unable or unwilling to share this information…because of economic competition between companies and competition for employment.

            In my opinion, debugging building construction is the last major area of information remaining to complete the technology of building construction.  Because of the uniqueness of every new building construction project, and the lack of communication in the building industry regarding mistake prevention, the only way to achieve progress in this area is record problems and mistakes one-by-one as they occur, and then pass along this information.

            This is a tall order…a difficult proposition…but it has to begin somewhere and at some time.

            This book is the product of about 42 years of working in building construction…of observing and recording problems and mistakes in a personal debugging effort on the projects I worked on…as a tradesman, assistant superintendent, superintendent, project manager, project engineer, and vice-president of construction…to achieve as near-to-perfect function as I could…to approach the assembly of buildings using the same error-free and smooth process of the mass-production assembly-line.

            My goal here is to pass along this information that I have collected…through a long career of learning from my own mistakes…and observing the mistakes of other people…with the intention of helping people working in the housing construction industry to flatten the uphill slope of the learning curve…to have the foreknowledge of information upfront in their own careers…for the benefit of everyone working in the building industry.