Contractors vs. Engineers

I have mentioned many times in my articles that the construction documents or blueprints approved by the city or county officials are legal documents that need to be followed precisely. I cannot emphasize that enough.

As we all know, the first thing that needs to be built in any project is the footing, the foundation of the building. For this, the trenches need to be dug out and after that the concrete placed in the trenches according to the structural plans. One thing the homeowners need to understand is that the structure is the basis for the entire house, so any changes on the foundation will most definitely affect the entire project.

To give you an example, in one of my projects, from day one, the contractor started to change things like the thickness of the footings and stem walls, the concrete mix strength from 3,000 psi to 2,000 psi and even the elevation of the garage slab. The result? A catastrophe.

I had designed a garage with two riser down from the main house as requested by the owner but the contractor decided to pour the slab lower than it was shown on my plans. Just like that, because he felt like it. So, when they built the floor flaming of the main house, they realized the difference in elevation was five risers down from the house (almost 3 feet) instead of two riser (14 inches) like I had specified, so a stair had to be added to go down onto the garage level.

A stair is a stair no matter what and it needs to have a railing and a landing to comply with the code. Anything less than 18” difference between floor levels does not require any of that but 3 feet is a big drop, so you have to protect people from falling. The design of the garage did not include a stair, only two risers and one tread (11 deep long x 36 inches wide), so the addition of the 4 extra risers turned the garage access into a stair which created problems for the garage. The stair that ended up being built took 44 inches off the garage instead of 11 as I had planned, so my clients who owned big cars, an SUV and a van, lost one parking spot inside their 2-car garage, all because the contractor made changes without consulting with anybody.

This contractor went as far as changing a structural detail when he was building the 1st floor cavity and he even showed up at the structural engineer’s office one Monday morning to ask the engineer “to change the detail on his plans to show what he had built” because the inspector did not want to approve the floor the way he had built it. Needless to say, he got kicked out of the structural engineer’s office pronto! Unbelievable but that is what happens when the homeowners enable their contractors. Not all contractors have an attitude problem but some do and the homeowners need to understand that they need to be on top of things. No matter what happens, the plans need to be followed exactly.