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R801.3: Downspout Discharge, and the Meaning of "Interpretation"

formdb

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Mar 29, 2018
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27
Location
California
I apologize in advance for a rather lengthy post, some of which is presented in a bit of a narrative fashion, but I would love some other opinions on this issue I'm currently dealing with that's causing a lot of heartburn.

Context
  • We (architect and consultant team) are submitting permit/construction drawings to a University for a faculty housing development, in California.
  • Three phases of this development have been completed over the last decade or so; we are submitting for the final phase.
  • The University is using a third-party code consultant to review plans and recommend approval.
  • The land in question had a geotechnical investigation performed by an licensed and experienced geotechnical engineer; the report indicated the presence of expansive soils, consistent with the adjacent three phases.
  • The foundation system is a mat/raft slab on grade, post-tensioned, and again designed by a licensed and experienced structural engineer.
  • The roof drainage system, as originally designed, consisted of standard downspouts terminating at concrete splash blocks, consistent with the previous three phases approved by the University, and again designed by a licensed and experienced civil engineer.
  • Also important to mention that the site was designed with rolled curbs, and all the site improvements for all phases (gutter, sidewalk and most of the streets) were completed together during the earlier phases, and are an existing condition on site.

Conflict
Upon submittal, the third-party plans examiner commented that our drainage does not comply with CBC R801.3, which for the uninitiated states the following:

In areas where expansive soils or collapsible soils are known to exist, all dwellings shall have a controlled method of water disposal from roofs that will collect and discharge roof drainage to the ground surface not less than 5 feet (1524 mm) from foundation walls or to an approved drainage system.

Response
As an architect who works almost exclusively in an area of California with highly expansive soils with astute and knowledgeable plans examiners, my first thought was, "Why have I never been called on this?"

I first pointed out to the Building Official and the third-party plans examiner (PE) that all three previous phases were approved with downspouts discharging to splash blocks, and that R801.3 clearly says "not less than 5ft from foundation walls." Emphasis mine. In my opinion, this code section is clearly talking about a condition where the foundation is composed of a stem wall that supports the structure above, and separates soil on one side from habitable (or non-habitable) space on the other side. The CBO and PE replied, "Well that's not how we interpret it." I fail to see what is up for interpretation, as their interpretation would require them to fully omit a critical word in that code section.

Undeterred and believing all they needed was the proper documentation to hang their hat on, I pressed on. I was able to track down an ICC interpretation of that specific code section, IRC Interpretation 14-3, which addresses this exact question. Here it is, unadulterated, in its entirety:

R801.3 Roof drainage. In areas where expansive or collapsible soils are known to exist, all dwellings shall have a controlled method
of water disposal from roofs that will collect and discharge all roof drainage to the ground surface at least 5 feet (1524 mm) from
foundation walls or to an approved drainage system.

Q: When a building utilizing a slab-on-grade, post-tensioned foundation, is constructed on expansive soils, is water
collected at the roof and discharged to the ground surface required to be discharged no closer than 5-feet from the edge
of the slab-on-grade foundation?
A: No. Water collected at the roof and discharged to the ground surface is required to be discharged at least 5 ft from
foundation walls only, this provision does not apply to slab-on-grade foundations. Saturation of expansive soils by
excessive water can lead to failure of the foundation because additional loads are imposed on the foundation wall by
expansion of wet soil. Discharging roof water away from foundation walls serves to minimize saturation of expansive soils
adjacent to the foundation walls.

When I presented this to the CBO and PE, they again rejected it and essentially said, "That's just an interpretation, and we don't agree with their interpretation."

So, I reached out to the geotech, who suffice to say is an authority in his field, and the Geotechnical Engineer of Record (GEOR) on this project and thousands of others throughout California. He assured me within one minute over the phone that this was a non-issue he could clear up no problem. He reviewed the on-site geotechnical investigations, and wrote a letter, along with a modified geotechnical report, stating that discharging to a concrete splashblock would not have any adverse affect on the specific soil conditions documented on site. He also stated that in his professional opinion, discharging to a splashblock to dissipate the energy of the discharge, and directing that drainage to an overland swale into adjacent landscape planters, would constitute an approved drainage system (it's important to interject here that the University's Building Official (CBO) had previously stated in an email that we would need to have the GEOR sign off on an alternative design).

When we presented the GEOR's letter and updated geotechnical report to the CBO, he stated, and I'm roughly quoting here but it's not too far off: "Your geotechnical engineer has lost credibility with me." He rejected the GEOR's stance, even though he previously just invited it. He then said that his primary concern was that the added hydrostatic pressure from the water in the soil causing expansion and contraction could have a negative impact on the foundation.

I reached out to the structural engineer, again a highly qualified individual with decades of experience on all project types. He essentially said that it's actually much simpler than all that: R801.3 doesn't apply at all, because it's referring to a non-engineered (prescriptive) foundation. He designed and engineered the mat slab, post-tensioned slab on grade foundation to specifically resist the pressure caused by the expansion of the exact, tested soil on that specific project site. R801.3 is there as a catch-all to protect the foundation's integrity when it has not been specifically engineered by a licensed engineer per the explicit recommendations of a geotech report. (I think the way R801.3 is phrased is very telling: "In areas where expansive or collapsible soils are known to exist." In my opinion, that seems to imply that you have not tested the soil, but are installing conventional/prescriptive foundations in soil that has not been tested, but you're aware that expansive/collapsible soils are known to exist locally.)

You can probably guess where this is going... also a no-go.

So, I come to you all to tell me whether I'm crazy or not. Am I wrong? Are all my engineers wrong? What recourse do we have when a third-party consultant and the CBO rely on 'interpretations' that, in my opinion, go beyond the definition of interpretation? Very curious to hear what this community's thoughts are on this matter.

Thanks for reading!
 
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Mark K

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This has a lot of messy issues but it would appear that if you look at the bigger picture resolution may not be that hard.

Why is this a big issue? Is this a matter of project cost, the cost of modifying your design, or that it creates problems with the overall design concept?

First let us be clear what are the applicable codes. CBC R801.3 implies California Building Code Section R801.3 but the CBC does not have a Section R801.3. The reference should be CRC R801.3

I believe he CRC does not contain provisions for a post tensioned slab on grade thus it assumes that at least the foundation was designed using the CBC

In my experience it is common for structural engineers to design buildings that could be designed in accordance with the CRC in accordance with the CBC. This may be why you haven't seen this code section before since your engineer was likely using the CBC. Because the slab on grade was designed per the CBC I would argue that you should be using the CBC not the CRC code provisions. I believe the CRC allows this.

Because the building is owned by the University I do not believe there is legally a building official, even though they may call an individual the building official, rather there is a representative of the University who is tasked with verifying that the project complies with the standards. This is thus an issue of contractual interpretation.

Unless this is a design build project I would assume that your client is the University. Is this UC or the State University system. The third party plan checker is also working for the University. If this is a real problem I suggest that you refer this to the client representative you normally deal with since they will have to pay for any additional cost of complying. If you are working for a design build contractor then they may want to request an adjustment to the project cost.

I agree that the plan checker cannot ignore the word "wall" in the code section. The plan checker is bound rules dealing with the interpretation of laws. Your attorney should be able to advise on this. But if you can agree to comply with the CBC provisions instead of the CRC provisions this may be moot.
 

jar546

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I will offer my basic interpretation. This design is not prescriptive, therefore the CBC applies and not the CRC. It is that simple. In addition, foundation walls, if this would be considered the CRC do not exist as this is a PT SOG and all walls are exterior walls and not foundation walls. I believe the CBO is overreaching and incorrect in the interpretation. There is always an appeal where it is obvious you would be found correct as the CBO interpretation does not hold facts.
 

e hilton

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The cbo and pe are legends in their own minds, they are enjoying their power trip. Any chance the pe in a former life was the president of a homeowners association?
 

SDS

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Washington State, USA
It is notable that even where a large commercial project is the topic, a tiny prescriptive residential designer can still learn a thing once in a while.
 

mtlogcabin

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43" long you can add a 24" piece and satisfy the 2 individuals who won't admit they are wrong.

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Robert

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Pinole, CA
I have found over the years (I'm also in CA) that 3rd party plan checking is becoming more common. I have learned that they are typically more thorough than in-house plan checking. Part of this is due to the fact that they have to prove their "worth" of being hired by the jurisdiction ie: if they come back with zero comments, what are they being paid for? (this is an exageration but you get my point). This has been a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I've had to practically rewrite the code in drawings and specs to satisfy them. On the other hand, I've learned things that, in the past, has not been commented on from in-house plan checkers. To your point: on one job, I had to contact the city CBO about an interpretation that the outside plan checker and I did not agree on. The city did overide the plan checker.
 

tmurray

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You are not crazy.

The issue you are running up against is that the ego of the building official and plans examiner is not allowing them to remain objective.

Obviously, there could be a method that allows you to install a splash pad that directs the water away from the foundation with the right installation details.

Obviously, a reasonable person, upon receiving an interpretation from the organization that writes the code indicating the code section does not apply to the proposed construction, would agree that the section does not apply.

Obviously, a reasonable person, upon receipt of letters from engineers for both affected disciplines, would agree that the code section does not apply.

Now, everyone, apart from those with a diagnosed mental condition, are reasonable people. so why do some behave unreasonably? I would proposed that the issue at hand here is derived from the ego of these individuals. When we become building officials, we are told about all the power we have. This enhances the ego of the officials. Most officials after a small amount of time see that what we have is not power, but a responsibility. A heavy burden to enforce the requirements of the code in the interest of public safety. In this manner, we are not unlike the registered professionals and even some conscientious contractors (we've all had contractors go above code minimums because they felt code minimum was inherently unsafe).

For officials that feel their duties are power, their ego is derived from enforcement of the word-for-word code. Code is treated as unalterable and unchangeable. Their ego is stoked by forcing people to follow the code regardless of how much sense the code makes. They will not admit mistakes because it is THEIR interpretation of the code that matters and their ego does not allow them to admit fault.

For officials that feel their duties are a responsibility, their ego is derived from enforcing the overarching objectives of the code. Achieving the intent of the code is more important than achieving word for word compliance. Collaboration with others is often sought to ensure these overarching objectives are met.

Ego is one of those things that it is good to have in small doses. A little is good, but a lot is bad. It can drive us to do things that are contrary to our long term best interests.

Now, the real question is how to deal with ego intensive people? To "fix" them, requires months or years of training/counselling by their direct supervisors in areas of self-awareness and emotional intelligence to reduce the toxicity of the workplace. But, I can only do that with my employees when I know there is a problem. All too often, people roll over because they are worried that running up the chain of command will do more harm than good.

So, you need to carefully weight whether it is more advantageous in your situation to modify the design to meet their interpretation, or if you need to go up the chain of command to get them to accept the common interpretation. Things to keep in mind is the costs related to the change in design and the value of the relationship, both with the officials and your client. The other issue is ensuring you check your own ego when you are doing this. Being right doesn't always matter as much as people think it does in the bigger picture.
 

Sifu

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NOT CRAZY. Sounds like the BO and plan checker have dug their heels in. Either because there is something going on behind the curtain, or more likely what tmurray said. One of the most valuable traits is being able to admit when you're wrong. Based on the information provided I can't make sense of their refusal to accept so many valid opinions, if not outright specific language. But, if it is really as simple a fix as mtlogcabin lays out, maybe that is the best option. Another pretty good trait is the ability to accept defeat and live to fight another day...even if you are not wrong. I personally am not good at it but will do it on occasion. I have had inspectors tell me to do things on permits I pull that were clearly not code driven, but not worth the effort to fight. It really bothers me to do it, but sometimes it is the best course of action.

It is puzzling that if this is such a big deal, why did it take until the final phase to recognize it, and what actions are they taking to mitigate this monumental threat to the other buildings? Is that a concern for you now...in other words, are you concerned compliance with this building will compel retroactive action on the other buildings?
 

No Soup for you

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Wouldnt it be easier to give them the 5'-0" they are looking for?

But anyway............ If I got that letter from an engineer I would say OK, no problem.

Something happens its on them. Geez, these guys need to lighten up.
 

formdb

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Messages
27
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California
Shoot, wasn't getting notifications for some reason, so I just saw all these great responses! I'm not super familiar with how to @ mention specific users, so hopefully I did it correctly and you'll all see this.

First of all, thanks to you all for your replies. I'm a younger architect, so it's encouraging getting responses from you all, some which are building officials, supporting my position on this topic.

@Mark K : You're right, I erroneously wrote CBC R801.3, where it should be referencing CRC. You are also correct that the CRC allows the building to be designed to the CBC. For everyone's edification, this is spelled out in CRC R301.1.3 Engineered Design, which states:

Where a building of otherwise conventional construction contains structural elements exceeding the limits of Section R301 or otherwise not conforming to this code, these elements shall be designed in accordance with accepted engineering practice. The extent of such design need only demonstrate compliance of nonconventional elements with other applicable provisions and shall be compatible with the performance of the conventional framed system. Engineered design in accordance with the California Building Code is permitted for buildings and structures, and parts thereof, included in the scope of this code.

My direct client is a private developer. He has a complicated contractual relationship with the University to produce this development. I'm not privy to all the minutiae of their agreement, but it does involve a few points I'm aware of that are relevant to the issue at hand. To my understanding, the University sold the public improvements to the developer for a seven figure sum, which included all the curb, gutter, sidewalk and stormwater improvements which were done as part of the earlier phase. He is under contract to construct the rest of the development, and is responsible for selling the completed homes to interested faculty (of which there is a long wait list), and the price of which the University has some degree of control over. It's my understanding that the University will enter into a 'land lease' or condo/airspace agreement with buyers, so the University retains ownership of the land, and faculty is purchasing the improvements above the land.

All that being said, this is why it's complicated when there are potential added costs. One arm of the University (the "building official" or 'client representative') is telling us we need to make these changes; another arm is telling the developer he may not increase the price of the house to compensate for the additional work (which I'll explain in more detail below).

@Mark K , @mtlogcabin , @tmurray , @Sifu and @No Soup for you : You all asked some variation of the same great question: "Why is this a big issue? Sometimes it's easier to just give them what they're looking for and move on." Setting aside the principle of the matter, and the frustration of dealing with similar scenarios in almost every agency I've done work in, there's more at stake here that I didn't really get into in my original post. The site was never originally designed to accommodate their erroneous application of R801.3, so most of the structures on site do not have a discharge point 5ft from the foundation. Here are some examples of the challenges this has added to the design (this has been the last remaining plan check comment after about six months of back and forth with the 3rd part PE). A 5ft side yard, which would otherwise have a simple downspout discharge at a splash block, now needs to be hard-piped out to the front or the back, and discharge at a pop-up emitter 5ft min from the foundation. There are lots of instances where there is room for a splash block to discharge into a planter, but using a downspout extension like @mtlogcabin recommends would cross a pedestrian path. So that would now need to be piped under a pedestrian path (their definition of which included even paver paths in side yards).

And here is where the greatest challenge has been. Most of the structures, particularly the larger multi-family buildings, were designed with less than 5ft from the back of the sidewalk. Where are we supposed to discharge? They requested that we install underground drains that daylight through the rolled curb. Well the rolled curb is only 4" deep, so even a 3" pipe does not leave enough room to provide adequate concrete coverage and reinforcement above the pipe! Not to mention that all the rolled curbs have been installed already! I counted roughly 90 of the over 200 downspouts that would need to daylight through an existing 4" rolled curb. Roughly 60 of those conditions cross a sidewalk, which would need added reinforcement, and creates some serious depth coordination issues. This is all setting aside the fact that the civil quickly determined the slopes in most of these locations are not compatible at all, without completely redesigning the pad heights and virtually the entire site.

None of these concerns have moved the needle with them at all.

This issue is much less about being right. I have had plenty of interactions over the years where I've had to design something I knew was unnecessary or undesirable in order to appease an inspector and keep the project moving forward. But in this instance, there is a direct and substantial impact to the project cost, that the University is not allowing the developer to recoup. Setting aside the exorbitant amount of time that has been spent by my office and the civil consultant in particular to try and re-design the project to their whims. How were we to predict such an egregious misapplication of an irrelevant code section, and subsequent failure of the officials to listen to reason? In fact, I didn't mention this originally, but I documented all of this in a lengthy email, citing all the relevant code sections, interpretations, and statements from all the engineers of record, and the response I got was (I'm not exaggerating for effect, this is verbatim): "For the record, I did not read this email closely. I mentioned that I do not want to debate or negotiate this."

Ultimately, we went ahead and provided notes and details as best we could to align with their requests, and we're awaiting an official sign-off on this last remaining comment. As soon as we are granted permits by the University, we are filing an appeal with the UC system to have this issue reviewed. Our only hope is that somebody higher up can review the facts and grant our appeal. If not, I don't know what recourse we have. It's frustrating knowing that they are forcing us to install an inferior system, that will make the curb system fail and crack apart, and yet we carry all the liability and responsibility for the design of the system. Also unfortunate that I likely don't have an economical way to recoup my financial losses on all the time my team has spent dealing with this.
 

Joe.B

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Already said, but to add code sections:

CBC 1.1.7.3.1 = CBC or CRC, not both, period.
CRC 1.1.7.3.1 = CBC or CRC, not both. If CRC then code may point to CBC for structural components only. "but not both, unless the proposed structure(s) or element(s) exceed the design limitations established in this code and the code user is specifically directed by this code to use the California Building Code."

Maybe that's an over simplification, but that's my understanding.
 

Mark K

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Do not plan to appeal after you get a permit. Involve your client the design build entity. Point out the impact of what the plan checker is intending to do and ask them how to proceed. Send you client an invoice for the added time you have expended in trying to resolve this issue. Keep track of any time you spend resolving this issue.

I guarantee that the developer will not be so differential to the plan checker. They will go to the University and tell the University that the rules have been changed and that they need more money. It is likely that the University will then suggest that the plan checker be more reasonable.
 

Joe.B

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Thinking outside the box here, have you considered rainwater catchment, or a "rain barrel"? Water is in short supply, yet every building sheds rain that could be utilized. I saw a nice design that had a barrel for capture connected to soaker hoses built into planting beds, one on each downspout. Easy to catch and store ~250 gallons, easy to disperse when it's hot and dry.
 

Sifu

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Formdb...ouch. In a normal AHJ an appeals could be filed and heard, and one would hope some reason can enter the conversation. Hopefully that avenue is a viable solution for you but I am also not sure doing it after the permit is issued is a good move, but the nuances of the your situation may dictate it so you know best. I see now why it is not a simple matter of taking your lumps. I can only speak from the building official side here (not a design professional), but based on the information I have this is a travesty. IMHO, "For the record, I did not read this email closely. I mentioned that I do not want to debate or negotiate this." is unacceptable, and if I ever said that the results would roll back down hill pretty fast, and probably negate the need for an appeal. I would be looking for solutions if it were me in their shoes, not refusing to look closely. It still sounds like there may be more going on internal to the AHJ/University that is a motivating factor for what sure appears to be plain ol' obstinance. If all the designers, engineers, geotechs etc. are willing to provide reasonable assurances as to the fitness of the design, why is the AHJ/University unwilling to accept it, and why would they entertain opening themselves up to the potential unintended consequences of compliance to the invented issue? Sorry, just can't figure it out.
 

formdb

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California
@Mark K, the developer has been closely involved with this process from the beginning, and is well aware of our time spent in addition to the negative impact this will have on the project. In an ideal world, we could have the project sit idle for months while we sort out an appeal, but the developer does not have the time or money for that. The University is granting permit cards on individual lots, so a first phase of construction has already begun, and the machine is rolling forward. Part of the wrinkle is that the University isn't actually paying the developer directly; they are allowing the developer to construct and sell the homes directly to faculty. However, they do have some restrictions on how much the developer can sell them for, as some percentage of fair market value. They have thus far declined to entertain an increase in the sale prices to cover any additional expenses, and I believe this was the source of a falling out with the original developer many years back. It also doesn't help that we are not dealing with a homogeneous entity; the "Facilities" department is separate from the "Housing" department, which is largely supportive of our plight. The Regents control all the money. They are all distinct from each other, and act independently. Lots of wrinkles on this one.

@Joe.B thanks for clarifying the references. I'm wondering if the University or an appeal board would have issues with whether R801.3 is inherently dealing with a structural issue. If I'm understanding correctly, could they possibly say that R801.3 still applies, because it is not a 'structural' component that would kick it over to CBC?

Rainwater catchment could be an option... I'm sure they'd want to see a fully engineered plan justifying sizing in a peak rain event, etc.

I'm tired.
 
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