In Part 1, Alonzo wrote:

Dear Builder’s Engineer,

The house plans called for a footing nine-inches tall, which is how I formed it. The building inspector came along and rejected it saying it had to be 12-inches tall, minimum. So I had to change it. These plans were engineered; can he legally do that?

Alonzo, Tracy, Calif.

Read Tim's answer to Part 1 here.

Tim Garrison is an author, public speaker, and professional engineer. He welcomes correspondence via his blog at    
Tim Garrison is an author, public speaker, and professional engineer. He welcomes correspondence via his blog at    

Here is where things get sticky. Should Alonzo ask the question and risk provoking the building official? What if the answer is that this particular inspector just prefers a 12-inch-thick footing but has no code to back it up? I can almost guarantee that’s the case. Do you risk hacking him off by pressing the issue, or just bite the bullet and build the more expensive footing?

If he wasn’t a building official, I suppose it wouldn’t matter that much whether or not Alonzo rankles him. If he was a supplier or sub, fine, take the risk; if he can’t handle it, hire a new one. But you can’t hire new building officials. Break your pick with one and you run the risk of installing yourself on that person's or jurisdiction’s blacklist. Navigating the regulatory quagmire is hard enough without painting a sign on your forehead that says “I am a jerk.”

I recently did the structural engineering for a residential remodel in Sunnyvale, Calif. During construction I got calls from the contractor asking for interpretations to the cryptic redmarks all over my structural plans. This alarmed me because I do not release construction plans with redmarks on them. If corrections are to be made, I make them in the office and reissue the plans. What had happened was an overzealous city plans examiner took it upon himself to change my plans via redmarks and then issue the plans for construction without bothering to ask or tell me!

In changing my design, the city superseded me as the engineer of record and assumed all sorts of liability. If their risk manager ever got wind of that, heads would roll. And roll they should.

What did I do about it? Nothing. Why? Because it is so bloody hard to obtain a building permit in that city, I figured if the only way to get one is via the building department redoing the design and assuming the liability, fine. Had I raised a stink, we still might not have the permit and I’d have bruised more than one important relationship. Anyone in this business who’s been around the block a few times knows that it’s about relationships. If you can’t nurture and maintain good ones, you won’t last. That said, there is also a point where you’ve got to push back, but that’s another article altogether.

In summary, I think Alonzo had every right to question the building official. But he needs to weigh the cost before doing so. If there’s a good, healthy relationship in place and the building inspector is a reasonable person, sure, ask the question. If on the other hand the inspector is a dark cloud just itching to rain on your parade, maybe let the issue pass and then at the end of the project bring it up to his superior.