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Risk Category Showdown!

Risk Category Showdown!

Risk Category Showdown!


I have a lovely plan checker (licensed civil) in San Francisco who we have dealt with from time to time who is particularly risk-averse and very zealous in his application of special inspections and other requirements.

We have a 7'-0" tall architectural sign with a small concrete pedestal going along a small road (private property) into a shopping center. You know, one that has all the tenant names on it, like "STARBUCKS" and "TREK" or whatever. It is probably 20-30 feet from a parking garage, located along a sidewalk.

We design almost every sign ever like these to RC II, though reasonably a lot of them could be RC I. If the client requests RC III or it is actually attached to RC III structure, then we generally adopt those requirements.

This particular plan checker has asked for structural observation, which has no basis in the building code, and to keep things short, he is now trying to justify that this sign is RC III. His initial rationale was that "someone could get hurt if it fails" (to which my brain collapsed), then he jumped to it being over 400 lb (which obviously does have triggers for seismic provisions, but doesn't relate to RC), and then he tried to tie it to public/private land (which has no direct relation to RC, but it's private anyway).

He has now gone so far as to submit an inquiry to the ICC for a ruling.

What am I missing here?

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

I don't think you're missing anything. I used to work for a sign company and, if I remember correctly, the SOP was to design monument signs like that as RC I, and pylons or attached to buildings as RC II (or match the RC of the building).

Did you request that he point to the specific line in table 1604.5 that he's using to justify it the RC? Unless the footing is going to have a gas main embedded in it that could rupture and blow up the block if it falls, there's no sensible reason for it.

Some reviewers are like that, though - they want to put the design engineers "in their place" and you can't tell them they're wrong. Maybe that's not the case here, but it sounds like it may be. Hopefully you excluded that observation from your fee and you can tell your client that the reviewer is being unreasonable - if they want the sign built they have to pay you more to watch them pour the concrete.

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

Agree. There is nothing "unusual" about this sign. My client knows it would be extra.

I have requested so many times something actually from the code, and it's always something new. He's gone back and forth between ASCE's descriptions of RC, to IBC, to it being heavy, yadda yadda, which no actual "this is the line of code that makes me think it is RC III".

Interested to see if others concur with our assessment.

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

According to the reviewer's point of view, every structure would be classified as RC III because someone would get hurt if it collapsed. This guy out in left field.

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

You're not missing anything. There is no basis for designing this as RC III. That said, for projects of this scale I've found that most clients would rather pour the extra half yard of concrete and keep things moving forward rather than spend time waiting for multiple rounds of plan check and an ICC interpretation. I like to educate plan checkers as much as the next guy, but sometimes it's just not worth the trouble.

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

Motorcity - concur. I made that argument to him so many times, which he basically ignored and came up with another bonkers rationale.

Deker - yes, true - a lot of my clients normally just pay the additional fee for an additional inspection or for larger bolt sizes or what-have-you, but here, he wanted all sorts of special inspections and structural observations on this one structure and my client was already in the red (or at least that's what they told me)...

Be that as it may, we won our case! It may have taken a supervisor, but...success!

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

Supervisor? Ouch. Hope you don't have to deal with him again. He will remember you...

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

I know...it's the second time ever I have elevated something up. I told the plan checker that I would be happy to engage in a code/research/engineer-based debate and come to a mutual understanding and agreement of what should happen, but that nothing he was presented was founded on anything.

Ultimately, there are a lot more features to be fabricated and installed at this project site, and we couldn't let this one set precedent.

RE: Risk Category Showdown!

I'm pretty impressed with your tenacity. Most people I work with would just toss up there hands and say fine if you say so. Had a similar code checker recently say "...although a buildings occupancy may be low, it's (occupancy) is not considered a means to reduce the risk category."

I really really wanted to provide him this quote from ASCE7-16 Ch 1.

Quote (ASCE)

"1.5.1 Risk Categorization. Buildings and other structures shall
be classified, based on the risk to human life, health, and welfare
associated with their damage or failure by nature of their
occupancy or use, according to Table 1.5-1"


the same paragraph also ends with:

Quote (ASCE)

When the building code or other referenced standard specifies
an Occupancy Category, the Risk Category shall not be taken as
lower than the Occupancy Category specified therein.

So some officials might say well that gives me the ability to set it whatever I like. Which is why historically most people I know don't argue with building officials even when they are obviously mistaken.

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