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13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

I'm not really sure where to put this one and how to title it, but thought I would share an experience that I have been running through the last couple weeks.

I quoted a design job for a senior living residential facility. The architect and engineer call out an NFPA 13 system because the architect used the area
increase allowance in the building code. Everything was all fine during the quotation process. The project was awarded.

Then the GC asks all of the subs for value engineering price reductions because the project is over-budget. The fire protection contractor that hired me offered
the GC a VE fee reduction to go with an NFPA 13R system because it is a residential building, 4 stories or less in height. The cost savings was substantial,
so of course the GC thinks this is a great idea.

I get the notice from my customer that we are changing to a 13R system design. I have multiple discussions with the customer that this is not permitted because
of the area increase and not all residential buildings 4 stories or less are 13R. They state that in their area it is fine, because things are just different
in their area. I am also told that even if the mechanical engineer that specifies things is wrong, then you have to follow the criteria anyway. I remind them
that that EOR did not change the criteria. The fire protection contractor salesman offered a VE savings because he was possibly unaware of the IBC criteria for
area increases.

After much back and forth, I had to decide to walk away from the job. There is no project worth putting my business and family security on the line because some
one made an honest mistake and wants everyone to just go along with it so the project can proceed.

I guess this was just more of a rant. With the recent thread about starting up freelance design, this is the stuff you will come across. Not all residential buildings
can be 13R. When the architect and EOR both state 13 is required, the salesman should probably not offer a VE to 13R just to save some dollars. And finally, sometimes you
just have to walk away from a job because of your morals and ethics. This is a large contractor that I have done work for in the past. I may or may not ever get work
from them again because me walking away puts them in a bind. But, I can at least feel good in that I would not compromise to design a system wrong simply for monetary gain.

I will say, however, that over the years, I have had more contractors thank me for pointing out issues like this. Some of them have had to walk from jobs as well because of
improperly specified criteria. So, most will respect you for taking the high road and doing what is morally and ethically correct. They also know that you will not cut
corners just to save a few $$ on their jobs either. I just never want to be in a position to be deposed on a lawsuit and some one asks me under oath if I knowingly and
willingly did something that I knew was wrong for the sake of a project. We all make mistakes, but you can't willingly do the wrong thing.

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

I could get into a 20 page rant but I'll try to tone it down so I don't get banned.

Sometimes you just have to walk away.

Seems to me this is something any "salesman" worth their salt would know NOT to do but I have seen them do it anyway just for the sale (let the layout technician fix it later because that is his job) putting the company they work for at beyond hideous risk.

Saw this happen once where the architect specified a 13 system in a very large three story apartment building. Stupidly, with extreme ignorance, the salesman used 13R, it's residential and only three stories high after all, to cut the price and get the job. By very large it had the biggest footprint I've ever seen.

Wood open web trusses between floors and a full attic on top of all that.

Job went super great... fantastic numbers, fantastic profits right up until after the carpet was all down, landscaping was completed and the "For Rent" banners were fluttering in placed all over. A week before the grand opening the "mistake" was discovered...... The company is no longer in business.

If it had been my project the only way I could think of to redeem myself would be to commit suicide or come up with $8 million to pay the damage. By my project whether I was the salesman and or the layout technician because the technician should have said "I ain't doing it unless you get something in writing from the EOR" and at this point be prepared to quit and walk away if pushed to hard. Good thing about being a layout technician with a solid reputation is a job is always easy to get.

I would write the owners of the company a letter outlining your position and be prepared to just walk away.

I will never touch a NFPA 13R system unless I have it in writing, from the professional of record, that it is a 13R system.

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

I respectfully walked away. I told them my position and how I would not put my company, nor their company at risk by designing something that I know is wrong. The salesman was a VP, I believe. The design manager understood my position. He still wanted me to do it per their VE, but he did understand why I couldn't.

This was just a bit of a rant that tied into the guy just starting out as freelance. You have to be willing to walk away and keep your integrity. A couple thousand today is not worth the millions you could lose and the guilt of knowing you did a system wrong and some one perished in an uncontrolled fire.

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

Hey Travis - thanks for the anecdote. It is decidedly easier to take the moral high ground when one is an employee who is relatively confident that a pay cheque will continue to roll every two weeks regardless of whether or not you pursue dodgy jobs. When you're a one-man sprinkler design band, that couple of grand you walk away from could very easily be the difference between making and not making a mortgage payment. Doesn't make the line between right and wrong any less distinct, but it certainly does introduce another level of stress.

I am of the similar opinion that being able to sleep at night is worth more than any job could ever be. I wouldn't even want to guess how many tens of thousands of dollars we've walked away from in the past year alone, or never had the opportunity to pursue in the first place because we've been branded as guys who won't bend or look the other way. Just wanted to say thanks for always being a great example of how to do things the right way, even when you know it's going to hurt.

R M Arsenault Engineering Inc.

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant


Thanks for the thread as a plan reviewer for an insurance company I hear you. I can not tell you how many times it was my fault because the design was not correct and I bounced the plans back. But that was what I quoted, they told me that was what they wanted. So I was the bad guy, pain in the butt, not a team player insurance guy.

I am enjoying retirement SO much not having to deal with this stuff for the past 36 years. Nice to know we have folks here that would rather loose a job then put something in that is not correct.

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant



or never had the opportunity to pursue in the first place because we've been branded as guys who won't bend or look the other way
This is something we can never know. I know a couple companies that won't come to me, and I wouldn't even provide a quote.

However, I think I have, in the long run, earned more business and more return/consistent customers by being known as the guy that will never bend and will always be there to support everything until the very end. I've had customers tell me that prior firms have basically left them as soon as the design was done. I stay to the end and go to bat for my clients to help them get every dollar and legitimate change order for a project. I simply apply the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

Sometimes it is better to walk away.

This happens all the time with nursing homes (institutional). They seem to always be built from wood structures and require a 13 system (wet + dry in attic). Every time someone bids it using 13R, it happens so often I quit bidding them. Really, I avoid residential almost entirely for these reasons. The GC's see a very low number then decides I'm a crook for bidding it correctly; its a lose-lose situation to do the right thing.

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

Your integrity is commendable.

I cant help but wonder how this is gonna get past the EOR and the architect, especially since they are the ones that spelled out a full 13 system. I would think that at some point the VE idea would be shot down by the architect and EOR. Heck, I am surprised it has made it this far.

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

I know this area. They will get it through. Sadly, it will be installed as a 13R.

I actually do a TON of residential design every year. I haven't totaled it up ever, but I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the 5M sq ft or more in residential design. So, these things are stuff we come across every day. Usually people listen and choose the correct way. Sometimes you just find ones like this and you have to walk. I hope this has been good to at least spark some discussion.

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: 13 v 13R : Independent Design Businesses : Rant

As the resident building code interpreter (if such a word exists) and a code official in a large jurisdiction that’s on the television because they say we’re cool, I am empathetic to TMacks issue. From the regulatory side, I’ve concluded that the world has responsible developers when building what I call a City In a Box, and we have some horrible, greedy bastards. The trick in my world is to start with a NFPA 13 design, get approval, get shop drawing approvals, and magically, three months into the process, submit a revision with a fire pump (changing to smaller pipe diameter is so easy when pushing 160 PSIG at churn) , obtain an approval from the Electrical plans examiner, tell the FD you now have a fire pump, and employ 2 new, shiny fire walls. And for extra legally allowed fun, use the fire walls to eliminate an area increase, but increase the height because the switch from a NFPA 13 to NFPA 13R system is allowed by the 2012 IBC. Now they have a permit, and they have an approved revision. Good for them. Me, I am stuck figuring out if the IBC height and area limits are legal, telling the developer you forgot the draft stops and your 30 minute floors now are required to 60 minute floor assemblies, all while the sprinkler contractor is wanting accelerated approvals, on overtime, to review this whole damn mess using NFPA 13R. Sorry if you became lost in my answer but that’s the new pathway for a CO in these buildings: blind the AHJ with BS because we’re apparently so dumb we can’t figure it out.

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