Third Party Plan Reviewers
Third party plan reviewers have become the bane of the Residential and Commercial building permit process.
In recent years the use of third party plan reviewers has exploded up and down the State of California. The unfortunate reason for this is economics. Cities, towns and counties have learned it is cheaper to outsource this service. There are a couple of drivers for this.
It is cheaper for the building department to hire outside consultants rather than to pay employees for the work. Instead of an overhead cost to the municipality it becomes a pass-thru cost, and in some cases, a profit center. The city can charge flat fees for the permit review and pay the outside consultants a lesser fee.
The second benefit to the building department is avoiding the on-going cost of staff training. The addition of the 2008 California Green Building Code pushed some building departments over the edge to outsourcing.
The 2008 California Green Building Code invoked a confusing process of compliance. This resulted in many conflicts with the existing mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes. This confusion continues through the upcoming 2019 California Green Building Code.
The CalGreen process of mandatory and voluntary measures, is unclear, and hence, the building departments would prefer not to deal with it.
Lastly, the format of the code did not match the standardization of all of the other California Building Codes. The sheer oddity of the CalGreen Code leaves many building departments unclear as to how to enforce it.
Third party plan review typically leads to page after page of plan review comments.
The third party plan reviewer’s general approach is to quote every code section that MIGHT be applicable. This process provides two benefits to them. First, they view it as protecting themselves against liability. Second, it makes it appear to their clients, the building department, as if they are doing a thorough job.
The design professional is left with the time consuming task of responding to every comment, no matter how inapplicable. Many consultants will simply “go along” with the comments and make costly changes to the design rather than challenge the 3rd party plan reviewers comments.
Once a building department hands the project over to the 3rd party reviewer, they essentially wash their hands of the project. The problem with this is the complete disconnect between the historical code interpretations – and how the 3rd party reviewer interpretations. We have seen this problem over and over again. Good luck appealing to the building department when the reviewer makes an unreasonable interpretation!
Problems in the Field
Then there is the issue with the field inspectors. The field inspectors are still employed by the local building department but they are inspecting work that has been permitted by the 3rd party reviewer. Frequently the field inspector will disagree with the “approved” plans and issue a generally accepted interpretation in the field. This can lead to costly change orders for the owner, since the field inspector holds the final authority on the occupancy permit.
The outsourcing of building permit review to “professional code quoters” is an unfortunate reality of almost every building department in California.
The Solution to 3rd Party Plan Review
It’s simple actually. Hire a CalGreen Consultant that will stand up to third party plan reviewers.
In order to do this effectively your consultant must have a wide range of experience in the design and construction of building systems. The consultant must be able to articulate and clearly argue unreasonable or arbitrary plan review comments. They must be capable of arguing forcefully so the third party reviewer understands that arbitrary or unfounded interpretations are not going to be acceptable on your project.
At CalGreen Energy Systems, we are specialists in the building code. In addition, we have decades of experience in the design and construction of building systems. We aggressively challenge 3rd party plan reviewers to avoid unnecessary costs to our client’s projects. We have the knowledge and the ability to articulate theses issues in a professional manner to ensure our clients are represented as they deserve.
If you are in need of a CalGreen Checklist, CalGreen Inspector or CalGreen Consultant give us a call right now. We are happy to pass on the benefit of our knowledge whether you hire us or not. For more information on our Checklist services click here. For more information on our Calgreen inspection services follow this link.
We respond quickly to emails and voicemails. If you would like to engage us, we will put together a written proposal for you right away – and can typically start on your project within a couple of days.
Email or call us now to see how we can help you:
For the names of third party plan reviewers in Santa Rosa click here.
Gary Welch has over 35 years experience in the field of sustainable building design. He is the CEO of CalGreen Energy Services. Gary is an ICC Certified CalGreen Special Inspector and Plans Examiner.