Confidence Through Sealed Engineering, No Seal=No Teammate

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineJuly 27, 2018


When building officials, or really anyone, reject an engineer’s seal instead of following the code compliance process for alternative materials, products, designs, building system designs and methods of construction, they exceed the authority given to them by the building code or professional engineering law. They also potentially restrain trade, which has serious implications for any industry involved in building design and construction.

A beneficial aspect of the component framing industry is that often a professional engineer is involved in the design of structural components. These engineers are independent, serve under professional engineering law and take professional responsibility by signing and sealing their work. In addition, they generally have professional liability insurance. When an engineer’s seal is on a document, any company using that document has visible assurance that an engineer takes responsibility for the work to which the seal is attached and will react professionally when working with building officials to provide structures that are safe and durable.

The structural framing and component industry has been involved in professional engineering as it relates to innovative and alternative materials, products, designs, building system designs, methods of construction and related construction documents since its inception in 1952. The process typically proceeds as follows:

  1. Construction documents include the design, location, and physical characteristics of construction. This is generally considered sufficient approval documentation.
  2. Construction and related engineering documents (i.e., technical evaluations, “ICC Reports,” etc.) may also contain information protected by copyright laws and other intellectual property (IP) that by federal trade and professional engineering law are allowed to be protected as confidential. This includes test data, technical analysis, etc.
  3. Whenever the preparation of construction documents requires technical or design analysis of a complex nature (generally requiring computations, evaluations of the loads, stresses, etc.), the documents must be sealed by a registered design professional. This is also likely to be protected intellectual property as designated by a copyright.
  4. Based upon technical analysis, the registered design professional specifies the performance of a structural component (specialty or delegated engineering), the design of a building system, or an entire building.
  5. This overall building design process is intended to meet the needs of the owner/occupant and the requirements of the local adopted (as law) building code (residential or commercial), which is often based on an ICC Model Code.

How should a building official handle compliance and noncompliance? This is a question that can arise during this process, particularly as it relates to the use of innovative materials, products, designs, building system designs or methods of construction that include items sealed by a registered design professional, such as structural building components.

In this context, general professional engineering law is clear that building officials do not have the authority to determine which design professionals can seal the innovative and alternative materials, products, designs, building system designs, methods of construction and any related construction documents.

The Ohio Board of Building Standards provides a good white paper on this topic on the role of building officials and the role of professional engineers.

At times, artificial constraints limit the use of innovative alternative materials and designs. Any licensed professional or specialty engineer, through the use of generally accepted engineering practice and provisions in the law that encourage engineering innovation, should be treated consistently and impartially. Doing otherwise constrains a free and fair market and may be considered discriminatory.

So a question that any buyer of any engineered product should be able to ask any product manufacturer is, “are you willing to provide a professional engineer’s seal for the design values and application design in which your product is used?” If not, why not? 

Simple questions should have simple answers. If the answer is no, then:

  1. There is no professional responsibility being taken and no professional liability insurance coverage. 
  2. It’s unclear who is responsible?

SBCA members have built an industry based on taking responsibility for their scope of work. This is best demonstrated by the continuing use of sealed truss design drawings.


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