The Secret to Moving Plans Through the Review Process—Be Complete

When it comes to plan review, the most frequently asked question is, “What do I need to have on my plans and in my construction documents to move through the process faster?” The answer: Be complete. To reduce the inevitable delays from partial submittals, give the reviewers what they want from the start.

By Richard A. Piccolo, President, B & F Technical Code Services, Hoffman Estates, Ill. June 1, 2007

When it comes to plan review, the most frequently asked question is, “What do I need to have on my plans and in my construction documents to move through the process faster?” The answer: Be complete.

To reduce the inevitable delays from partial submittals, give the reviewers what they want from the start. Forcing a reviewer to chase down needed information or reject the same set of plans time and again due to incomplete submittals wastes time. And you may also find that time has a different meaning for a reviewer who is juggling several projects and code enforcement responsibilities. Plan review is not an exact science, but understanding the process and the value of information can work in your favor.

Signed and Sealed

The building code requires all plans for commercial and industrial buildings to be signed and sealed in accordance with the applicable state law. The particulars on how the plans are to be sealed vary by state. Additionally, several states require design firms to be registered and have their information added to the plans. Examiners cannot approve a set of plans without this information. To do so would be a violation of state law. But more important to our discussion here, omissions mean increased review time.


A typical omission from site plans is information indicating distance to lot lines and location of site utilities. Even more common is improper handicapped parking signage. The distance to lot lines is used to determine the hourly rating of exterior walls and the size and type of openings. These elements are regulated to limit the horizontal spread of fire from one building to another and to verify zoning setback requirements.

The location of the site utilities should be established early in the review process to eliminate conflicts among them. Utility locations will be reviewed again by fire officials to remove potential hazards during an emergency.

Handicapped signage requirements are regulated by several codes and laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), model building codes and individual state and local requirements. These may include the correct number, location of the sign and even the color of the paint being used. Some states have additional or stricter requirements than others and local officials will be obligated to enforce them. Omission will not remove the obligation to comply.


The first piece of information plan reviewers look for on construction documents are descriptions of the uses of the different areas of the building. Descriptions should be as complete as possible, including details of any building process that uses raw materials. The process, finished product and method of storage should all be included. This information will be used to determine requirements for all disciplines. If there is one single item that should never be excluded, this is it. This information will be used to determine occupancy group, type of construction, rated assemblies, means of egress and handicapped accessibility.

The next important item is the occupant load for each area. If the occupant load is different from table in the building code, show how it was calculated. A format similar to a door schedule can be used to demonstrate how you arrived at the number. This also will be used for multiple disciplines to determine the code requirements.

The type of construction with the list of rated assemblies utilized should be included on the plans. Along with the list of assemblies, fire rating documentation should be included. It is important to remember many assemblies serve multiple functions. The assembly could be rated because of the construction type, to protect a means of egress or separate a hazard. The stricter requirement should be applied.

Documentation should show information from an industry guide such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Fire Resistance Directory, include the drawings and accompanying text. Be sure to check websites. In most cases, the information needed can now be downloaded.

Other items plan reviewers will look for in these assemblies include: bearing vs. nonbearing, vertical vs. horizontal assemblies, combustible vs. noncombustible and fire rating.

Building codes generally require that sufficient information be submitted to show the means of egress complies with the code. The occupant load will be used with information from the door schedule and details such as corridor and stair widths. This information will be combined to verify compliance. For complex buildings or structures with large occupant loads and exit systems, diagrams should be submitted in addition to any evacuation plans.

Plan submittal should also include details that are required to show compliance with handicapped codes such as access to plumbing fixtures, accessible routes, signage, audible and visual alarm devices and exterior parking. The one item which is frequently missing from many drawings is the clearance requirements at doors. A minimum of 18 in. is required at the latch on the pull side of a door.

There is also a requirement from the push side of the door, which is more complicated, because it depends on the width of access and the type of hardware closers and latches. This makes the detail even more important.

The International Building Code (IBC) incorporates several special occupancy requirements listed in Chapter 4, such as atriums, motor vehicle-related buildings, stages and platforms. The International Fire Code (IFC) provides requirements for process-related hazards and hazardous materials listed from Chapters 11 to 44. If your building has one of the special occupancies or process hazards, it should be indicated on the plans. The specialized requirements for these hazards should be listed on the plans, and be sure not to hold back on the details.


Intended use of each space must be described to determine the proper ventilation rate for each area of the building. The amount of outside air is essential for proper health of the building occupants. An excessive amount of outside air will cost the building owner more to heat and cool the spaces.

Consequently, a ventilation schedule should be submitted, such as the sample schedule shown above. This the minimum amount of information needed. The ventilation air provided is in addition to the air required to properly condition the space. Remember to use the occupant load as determined by the Mechanical Code and not the IBC.

The next item is a gas piping layout. This will be used to check the gas piping for the correct pipe size and to ensure the equipment is operating safely and efficiently. The information needed is a list of all gas appliances showing input BTU rating, electric demand (for the electric review), location of all equipment, gas system pressure, size and length of all gas piping, and the distance from the meter to the most remote appliance. This information will be used to check the pipe using the longest branch line method. Of course, a gas piping calculation can also be submitted.

The last item is a note indicating the mechanical equipment installation instruction will be available on site for the rough and final inspections.


The previously submitted building code occupant loads will used to verify the number and type of plumbing fixtures. The form shown on p. 24 can be used to present the number and type of fixture for each area or floor. The plan should indicate the type and location of each fixture.

The plumbing plan should indicate all special fixtures such as grease interceptors, triple basins or neutralization basins. It should also should have drain, waste, vent and water riser diagrams showing the size of all pipe. The type of pipe can be shown on the plan notes or in the specifications.

The reviewer will be able to check for the correct number of fixtures, the proper sizing of the water supply and proper drainage and venting for the entire system.


A main electric service and panel diagram should be submitted. It should include the main panel, sub panels, transformers including grounding of the service and all panels and equipment. The type and size for all conductors and conduits should be shown as notes or on completed panel charts. This information should coordinate with the location shown on the site plan.

Any equipment with different loads or specialized wiring such as hazardous areas or additional grounding should be included with a complete load calculation for the building.


A complete analysis using U.S. Dept. of Energy software such as COMcheck or other documentation showing compliance with the energy code should be submitted. This should include the worksheets, take-offs or calculations to substantiate the end report.

The R or U values of exterior envelope (walls, roofs or ceiling) should correspond with the information in the calculations.

There are extensive requirements for electric load calculations, switching and energy efficient electric lighting and mechanical equipment. The plans should show sufficient details to demonstrate compliance. This may include catalog cuts for this equipment or a note indicating the catalog cuts will be on the job site.

The information also should include the energy efficiency rating for all mechanical equipment. This will be coordinated with the mechanical review.

Fire Protection

The fire protection plans typically are not submitted with the initial building plans. The plans should include notes stating what fire protection systems will be included in the project.

The proper signing and sealing of fire protection plans is not the same for all states. There is actually pending legislation in many states to clarify who can properly perform this function. It is best to consult the state and local agencies to check the requirements.

The documentation should include complete plans for the systems. The plan should be the final shop drawings that the installer will use, the floor plan being used by the fire protection designer and the final building plan. There are situations where the plan has evolved since the designers received plans and the floor plan is different.

The basic comments are the same for all types of fire protection systems. The submittal should include catalog cuts for all equipment being installed. The appropriate calculations for the systems should be submitted. This includes hydraulic calculations for sprinklers and standpipes. Fire alarm submittals should include voltage drop calculations for the circuits and battery sizing calculations.

These systems have to be coordinated with the other building systems. For example, if a fire pump is being installed the building will require a separate electric service for the pump.

Specialized systems such as wet chemical and clean agent systems should include a copy of the manufacturers design, installation and maintenance manuals.

If the above information is submitted, it should make the plan review process go faster. This will enable the code official to check the building for compliance with local and state codes and issue the building permits as soon as possible.

You must lead the reviewer where you want them to go—to approval. The express route to approval is through information. The fewer questions, requests for documentation and explanations, the faster the process.

Space Sq. ft Occupant load factor T1004.1.1 Occupant load Actual occupant load Other
001 Use of space

Space Sq. ft Occ. load Vent. rate CFM reqd CFM shown Comments
001 Use of space

Location Men Women Men Women
Occupant load
Fixture Type Reqd Shown Reqd Shown Reqd Shown Reqd Shown
Water Closet
Service Sink
Kitchen Sink