To non-engineers, the idea of “quality” in structural drawings may seem intangible. Yet, quality in structural design is integral to a project’s safety and efficiency. In this post, we discuss Design Everest’s approach to quality assurance with the Director of Engineering, Matthew Burkert. Matthew is a licensed engineer who has worked on various projects in San Francisco and now leads the team of engineers at Design Everest.
Quality in structural drawings can improve a project’s cost efficiency, reduce Requests for Information (RFIs) and change orders, and ensure that the client’s vision is reflected in the design. All are important factors, yet protecting workers and occupants from harm is the number one aim of quality assurance. “It’s a life safety thing,” Matthew says, “so we’re trying to ensure that buildings are constructed to code. Having an extra set of eyes looking over our drawings gives us peace of mind in terms of code compliance and safety.”
Asked what errors are most frequently caught during quality assurance reviews, Matthew says it’s the little things that often go unnoticed. “The most common mistakes occur when the drafter tailors general notes or details to the specific needs of a project or a jurisdiction,” he explains. “For the most part, these elements can work in a variety of situations, so it’s easy to overlook project- or city-specific requirements; it can be something as small as a dimension change or referencing a specific code”.
For the engineers at Design Everest, catching these omissions before drawings are issued is vital. What it takes is for someone else to go over the drawings, typically a senior engineer.
“Just like with anything you spend a lot of time on, focusing on a project can make you a little myopic in terms of the big picture,” Matthew says. “Getting a reviewer on every project helps us catch generic errors and coordination issues, see if the route we’re taking is the most efficient, and decide whether the assumptions we’re making are correct.”
Even the most accurate drawings may not be interpreted correctly if they’re difficult to comprehend or lack sufficient detail. A quality set of structural drawings needs to be detailed, readable, and unambiguous. The contractor who builds from the drawings shouldn’t have to second-guess design requirements. In essence, drawings have to be clear enough for a non-engineer to understand them.
For the engineers at Design Everest, readability is another key facet of quality assurance. As Matthew points out, “The font and size, as well as legends that should adhere to recognized engineering standards throughout the set. The information should be presented in a consistent manner, where what you see on one page matches what you see on another. Details should be clear and easy to understand.”
Details - drawings that zoom in on a specific element of the structure - help a contractor understand what they’re building. According to Matthew, “Connection points between members normally require details. For example, where a wooden beam attaches to a post, where joists meet roof rafters, the way walls interact between the floors, framing around lateral elements, and connections between new and existing structures should all be shown on details.”
Quality in structural drawings doesn’t end with accuracy and readability. “Just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective cost option,” says Matthew. Consequently, Design Everest’s engineers always integrate a constructability evaluation into their quality assurance process.
This facet of quality control entails exploring options overlooked by the engineer who produced the drawings. The exercise is most effective when several engineers review the design and share their unique perspectives.
Structural drawings must interface properly with the architectural, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing inputs in the overall design. Implementing proper coordination between these disciplines is another important step towards quality.
“We have to get the coordination right just to obtain a permit,” Matthew says. “The process helps us identify architectural elements our engineers may have missed; conversely, we may come up with a more elegant solution to what the architects are proposing. Often, we also need to show the architect how their design impacts the structure from a budget perspective.”
Structural design is most often based on an architectural set, so at Design Everest, coordination between these disciplines is often an ongoing process. “When we’re working on an architectural-structural project that gets designed concurrently, an architect will continuously review our design, and vice versa,” Matthew tells us. “We typically perform our internal peer review before sharing the 70% set with the client, and by 90% the set is basically complete, pending any final feedback from the client.”
Renovation and remodeling projects are based on as-built drawings - those that represent completed work - and come with the added challenge of identifying existing conditions. Key aspects of quality assurance are capturing a building’s existing conditions accurately and improving constructability.
“Unknown and unverified existing conditions and their effect on the structure are the most common source of RFIs from contractors,” Matthew reveals. “When working with existing buildings we’ll send an engineer out to gather as much information as we can, but sometimes it’s impossible to see what’s there until the contractor opens it up. You can make assumptions based on previous situations, and as engineers, we can anticipate about 75% of existing conditions. Another 15-20% can be addressed if the client gets their contractor involved, as they can rely on their hands-on experience. Unfortunately, 10-15% of these conditions typically remain unknown, and have to be resolved in the field.”
Constructability and cost efficiency is often harder to achieve when working with existing buildings. “The best thing we can do is use as much of the existing structure as possible, so as not to incur additional costs for the client; yet, the challenge with these older structures is that they’re often under-designed compared to modern code requirements, and we have to account for things that were less understood in the late 70s and 80s, such as soil properties and seismic loading to bring the building up to code,” Matthew says. “Also, at times, the existing structure cannot withstand new loads imposed when we add areas or remove walls, so we have to alter it accordingly.”
At Design Everest, we understand the importance of quality in structural design. Throughout the design phase of a project, we take steps to ensure accuracy, readability, and constructability of the drawings we issue. Whether you are building or remodeling, you can rely on our team of engineers to give you the peace of mind you deserve.
If you’re a fellow engineer and would like a second set of eyes to go over a set of drawings, we gladly offer peer review services.
Contact us at (877) 704-5727 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your project and receive a quote today.