When bidding recently to replace an existing second-story deck, I noted that the deck’s framing and supports were less than adequate and that the concrete footings were undersized. I explained to the customer that the city would probably require a P.E. to sign off on the plans to cover the footings and lateral attachment to the house, which would add about $400 to the cost of the project. When I double-checked our city’s requirements, however, I discovered that while it didn’t need a P.E. to sign off on our plans, it did want a soils engineer to check on the soils … for a 25+ year-old house.

In our area, we routinely build house additions without any need for a soils report, so this requirement—which isn’t enforced by any of the other cities or counties I work in—was a complete surprise. But when I questioned the building official about this “unique” interpretation of our state’s building code, his comment to me was, “Did you come to complain? Or seek a solution?”

Unfortunately, when code problems like this crop up, contractors—not the code officials—are usually the ones who have to report the bad news to the customers. We’re also the ones who hear their immediate feedback, not the city. And if I fight too hard for one customer, the repercussions can affect my ability to get permits for future customers. In this case, we didn’t build the deck, and I’m not sure the customer ever found someone to do the job.

I’ve long been an advocate for permits, but lately it seems that the helpful building officials who wanted to problem-solve with me have been replaced by those who are more likely to dictate the letter of the law.

John Robinson

Quality Residential Construction

Albany, Ore.