Building Codes and Inspectors: Their Seldom Appreciated Value and Importance

In this article I would like to talk about building codes and building inspectors. Sometimes we overlook the necessity of the most important things. They sit there staring at us all the time. They may even irritate us or offend us from time to time. Sometimes the hardest things to see is what is right in front of our face and avoid looking at what seems most obvious. Sometimes those things may even seem like a nuisance instead of a necessity.

Building Codes are necessary for many different reasons, least of which is to ensure structural integrity. Building Inspectors are necessary to enforce the building codes, their most important function being verification of structural intent.  Sometimes they are overlooked or even ignored. Here are 4 questions to ponder in this regard:

  • Do we truly appreciate their value?
  • Do we adhere to the guidelines?
  • Do we understand their absolute necessity?
  • How do we show our gratitude for these seemingly insignificant yet so very important elements of construction?

I recently went on vacation to the Caribbean, taking a trip on Carnival Cruise Lines.  It was nice to get away and relax in the stress-free environment with my wife. Most people go on cruise ships to drink and gamble, but, then again, I am not most people and did neither.

We went on this cruise, which was the first real vacation my wife and I have taken in over a decade, to escape the mundane, to reconnect with her on a different level and to disconnect from work. When you have 4 children and run a business, there isn’t much time left for each other at the end of the day.

During this 8 day getaway, I didn’t use my phone at all. I knew that if I did, it would have been work-related.  That’s why I left it in the car before I got on the boat! However, being a truss guy that has “analog” running through his veins,  I found myself in a situation where my brain went into work mode. My wife looked at me and horror as I started to “play” building inspector.

At one of the destination ports the Carnival Glory docked at, I found myself looking at trusses. I just couldn’t help myself!!! I saw the assembly of this truss system lacking the things I was so used to seeing. It was a simple dual-pitch hip roof. The canopy-type design was open to the elements and had no rigid ceiling applied. It would have been considered an “open building” for wind design.

Hip-Roof

The first thing I noticed was that the girder plies were not all the same. Ply-to-Ply nailing was questionable on this 4-Ply #1 hip master. The nails used were not spaced properly, were not the right type and we’re not long enough to connect each ply to all the others. In addition, the manufacturer of this truss package built them all differently as shown below:

Girder-Ply-Nailing

By now my curiosity was piqued, so I continued to look around. My wife just started shaking her head but let me be when she saw the look in my eye resembling that of a kid in a candy store. As I continued to look at this 4-Ply hip master girder, my eyes took me to the end wall where I noticed that the uplift connector was inadequate to support the load:

Uplift-Connectors

I grew up in Florida and in high wind zones and have seen a ton of this in my career. Now I’m pretty sure (but not certain) that the Caribbean does not have its own building code and that the Florida Building Code (one of the most stringent in the USA) was used. I say this because I have designed jobs in the past using the Florida code that were being shipped of the Caribbean.

I say all this to say that both of these items would have been caught by a building inspector after trusses were set. I wish I could say I was done…

My eyesight wandered to the connection of the Jack trusses to the hip master girder. All of the common jacks had a connector attaching them to the hip master, which was a great idea on this 8-9 foot setback. Due to the shallow pitch, the setback was increased to allow more depth on the hip master. Anyone in the truss industry knows that the connection of the hip jack to the hip master has the highest concentrated load. These were all closed jacks, all bottom chord bearing. I then went to look at the hip jack connector and was mortified to see only a couple of toenails:

Toe-Nailed-Truss

After looking at this condition on one end of the building, I was now compelled to inspect the rest. I spent about 20 minutes looking at all:

  • Connections
  • Plates
  • Webbing
  • Splicing
  • Purlins
  • And the attachments of all of the above

By now my wife was irritated and there was nothing I could do about it. The analog in my veins was fueling my heartbeat. I had to complete the inspection.

As I continued to walk around the building I found many, many more issues. Some were manufacturer related and some installation related. I will not take space to relate them all.

The final one I will point out was just unacceptable. The manufacturer of this truss package had identical trusses, identical span and what appeared to be identical loading with different heel plates on it:

Heel-Insulation

If you look closely, you can see that not only are the heel plates different sizes,  they are also different gauges. The plates are even located at different points at the heel. Now mind you, I was not looking at a plan, a truss placement diagram or sealed truss engineering sheets, I was only looking at the trusses in the field. Since the building was entirely open, I was able to see what was attached to the top and bottom of the trusses and there appeared to be no additional loading attached to the truss chords.

After finding all of these things that were questionable, I began to look for something that was above par. When these trusses were installed, the framer took the time to put blocking between spacing in line with each jack’s top chord. Now I know they did this because it was a metal roof, but it was nice to see anyway:

Spacer-Blocking

After all of this, I began to drift off into “work mode” in my mind, reflecting on my gratitude for building codes and inspectors. It prompted me to write this article and share my thoughts and findings. I can honestly tell you that I have had my battles over the years with codes in inspectors. I have always been quick to see where they were right, but not necessarily always appreciating it or wanting to admit it!

So I ask you, the reader, do you appreciate the value and importance of building codes and inspectors?

I’m fairly certain the majority of the items that I uncovered would have been identified and rectified if these 2 critical resources were used. Sometimes we object to the building code or the inspector instead of appreciating the meaning, relevance and importance. May we all take from this a lesson that we always put principles ahead of personalities!

Christopher Gould – President

Gould Design, Inc.