Thursday, February 9, 2012

What do you do?

I get asked about my job quite frequently, so I thought I'd share what I do everyday at work.

I am technically the "Plan Review Specialist", or in plan English: the plan reviewer.

Big plan cabinet, holding plans that are waiting for review, or for permits to be issued

At first I was only reviewing Commercial building plans, but now I also review site plans, and will eventually review storm water and residential plans.

What do I look for when I'm reviewing? I have several checklists, depending on what type of plan I'm reviewing. For a commercial building, I review the City's Ordinance to make sure the Zoning and Development Codes are met. I also look at the International Building Code, ANSI 117.1 (for accessibility), mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fuel-gas, energy conservation and existing building codes (if the project is an infill).

Oh, the joy of Code books
For site plans, I review Zoning and Development, portions of the International Building Code, and ANSI 117.1. The Building Code and ANSI contain information regarding parking spaces, allowable grades and other accessibility stuff. Our Development code contains everything from driveway and parking lot size requirements, to lighting, retaining walls, sidewalks and landscaping.

In a typical week, I review about half a dozen plans. I write a letter to the designer containing all my comments and then wait for revisions to come in to review. I've been told this is a rather slow period for plan review and building permits.

There has been a definite learning curve in this position. At my previous job in an architect's office, I was very familiar with the Building Code and ANSI, but didn't look much at the mechanical, electrical and plumbing codes. The engineers dealt with that. That's not to say that I didn't work on their drawings ever; I picked up revisions and worked on preliminary layouts for lights and outlets. But I never did the calculations.

Depending on the size of the project, the plan review could take anywhere from half an hour to all day.

There are several people that review plans: me, the fire marshal and the Development Review Group. After all three determine the plans in compliance, a permit can be issued for the work. Some people build without getting their plans reviewed or getting a permit. This backfires. Some utility companies won't turn on utilities without the City approval by inspection. A building can't be inspected without a permit. A permit can't be obtained without a plan review.

When I'm not reviewing plans, I research and work on continuing education to maintain my architect license and my LEED AP credential.
my wall-o-achievements and drafting desk

Sometimes I feel like I'm back in architecture school. I review my plans on a drafting desk, nearly identical to the ones I used in school.

This job is a good fit for me because I like variety. I get really bored doing the same things over and over again. Every plan is different. Every designer is different. I don't have harsh deadlines here, either. I typically try to get comments back to designers within 3 days of receiving their plans. Definitely not as stressful as working against a deadline to get a project out to bid.

I like this job because I like codes. Some people see codes as restricting their creativity. But that's not why they're in place. The codes are there to protect the health, safety and welfare of our communities. I see codes as one of the many pieces that makes up the puzzle that becomes a project.

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