On today’s show we’re talking about what happens when your local bureaucrats make a mistake.

I’ve encountered the odd time when a plans examiner makes a mistake. These are relatively rare, but in retrospect they happen far more often than I care to think.

We’ve experienced these problems from time to time. But I also keep hearing about problems like this. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this happens with alarming regularity.

In the case of one of my consulting clients, the fire Marshall stamped a set of drawings and returned them as having been approved when in fact, the plans had never been examined at all. The property owner was under the impression that they had fire Marshall approval. About a month later, the building department admitted that the fire Marshall had indeed made a mistake and stamped the wrong drawings. These plans had never been looked at. Not only that, the fire marshall demanded a number of changes would be required to the plans in order to comply with the building code. Upon review of the requested changes, in the opinion of the architect, the fire Marshall had erred in their interpretation of the building code and that the installation of a complete fire suppression system was not required.

This second story involves a problem with one of our projects currently under construction. The plumbing connection to the city was approved. However, the plans examiner who was supposed to review the plumbing design retired in the middle of the permit approval. The plumbing drawing was given a rubber stamp but never actually reviewed. The chosen water meter was inappropriate for the size of project and would not have given an accurate reading. Naturally the plans department was very apologetic. It was a mistake that never should have happened. Nevertheless, the problem needed to be fixed. As a result, the metering had to be redesigned with an added onsite cost of $18,000. The problem was only discovered in the field by the building inspector during the plumbing inspection.

In another case, we had a plans examiner on a project who had trouble interpreting the rules for a property situated on the corner. The property was fronting on one street and had its side yard on the second street. This is normal on most corner lots. But the plans examiner was having a hard time figuring out where the front of the property was located. So they applied the rules for the front of the building at both the front and the side. They argued that the property essentially had two fronts, and therefore had to comply with the front yard setbacks for both. The plans examiner argued that the design did not comply with the zoning, even though the zoning department had approved the design.

In another case, we had a building nearing completion and the on site building inspector argued that the plans examiner who approved the design did not allow sufficient sprinkler capacity on the top floor of the building. The inspector demanded that we run a 5” sprinkler pipe up the exterior of the building to supply additional water pressure to the top floor. Now, for those of you who have been following the news lately, you’ll know that water pipes should not be allowed to freeze. Running a sprinkler pipe up the exterior of a building means that no water will reach the top floor for about 4-5 months of the year.

As you’re undertaking your projects, expect some surprises from your local building officials.