Threshold Building Inspector illustration with a magnifying glass examining a high-rise buildingBY Babu Varghese, PE, SI, CGC, CCC

Applicants for Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings certification — both SI and SI (Limited) — may find the application process somewhat overwhelming. Here are some common SI application mistakes, and how to avoid them.

The Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings is a certification created by Chapter 553, Florida Statutes. It is not uncommon for various Authorities Having Jurisdiction, such as county building departments, to use the term “special inspector” for various things that are not included in the Chapter 553 Threshold Building statutory scheme. The Board only certifies SIs of Threshold Buildings, which is a statewide listing; the Board has no jurisdiction over the locally created “special inspectors.”

Overlapping Months of Experience

The most common reason for delaying the approval of the application is overlapping months of experience.

Experience for SI certification is calculated differently than the experience for a Professional Engineer license. For a PE license, the experience is calculated for the length of full time worked under a Professional Engineer performing engineering services. There is a start date, end date, and the number of months of experience is automatically calculated. It is not that easy determining SI work experience. Here’s why:

There is an engineering rule — Rule 61G15-35.003(b), Florida Administrative Code — that establishes criteria for acceptable experience.

The applicant is supposed to list the months of experience for each threshold building project the applicant worked on during any time period. If an applicant worked full time on only one project, start and stop dates would be simple. However, most practicing engineers work on multiple projects in any given month.

For example, an applicant’s time sheet summary (assuming all threshold buildings) may show the following:

January: Started the design of Project A (80 percent); designed revisions on Project B (20 percent)
February: Completed permit package for Project A (85 percent); inspection of Project C (15 percent)
March: Revisions on Project A (10 percent); inspection of Project C (85 percent).

In the above scenario, the Board accepts two months of design experience for Project A and one month of inspection experience for Project C, based on what project the applicant claims to have spent the majority of the time on during each month. (Please note that each inspection is verified, which is a separate issue.)

It is better to use the applicant’s judgement in providing this time since we are counting months. Fractional accuracy is not expected, but should not exceed 100 percent, since none of us can work more than the number of hours in a month, despite (some) of our boss’s demands.

Again using the above scenario, the overlapping months of experience issue happens when the applicant claims the following:

Project A, three months + Project B, one month (total four months of design)

Project C, two months (total two months of inspection).

In other words, instead of correctly claiming two months of design experience and one month of inspection experience (in fact, one’s billable time in this example will be three months only), the applicant claims four months of design and two months of inspection experience resulting in overlapping months of experience (double dipping), which significantly delays the approval process. For this reason, some applicants will list only design projects in some months, other months with only inspections, depending on what the majority of time was spent.

To assist the applicant with avoiding overlapping months, the Board provides a simple Experience Calculator spreadsheet on the FBPE website. The spreadsheet will show the overlapping months highlighted immediately when dates are entered.

The Board’s intent is that the applicant will notice the highlighted months and make the required corrections before sending the application to the Board. So, please do submit applications without overlapping months.

Remember, the Board understands PEs work on multiple projects, some threshold and some not, some design and some inspections. The key is to make sure the application clearly identifies design months vs. inspection months, and doesn’t attempt to claim the same month’s credit for both types of experience.

Excessive Time

The Board may question an applicant’s claim of, say, 30 months of design or inspection for a four-story hotel building. In this event, the time taken appears excessive on its face, and it is better to explain in detail in advance to avoid delay. Be honest, and do not exaggerate.

Assembly Building

Chapter 553.71 (12), F.S., defines “threshold building” as any building that is greater than three stories or 50 feet in height, or that has an assembly occupancy classification as defined in the Florida Building Code that exceeds 5,000 square feet in area and an occupant content of greater than 500 persons.

No one generally makes a mistake on the first part of the threshold building definition (building with four stories or 50 feet in height). But many applicants mistakenly consider large one- or two-story buildings as threshold buildings by noting the occupant capacity or load.

A one-story, 1-million-square-feet warehouse or retail building may have an occupant capacity of more than 500 people. But, because this type of structure is not classified as an assembly occupancy, it is not a threshold building. Applicants mistakenly claim months of threshold building experience for non-threshold building, which will cause the application to be rejected. Again, it is not the complexity of the structure; a threshold building (and the special inspectors thereof) is a concept established by Florida law, not engineering practicalities.

Type of Experience

Though it is written in bold letters and underlined on every single experience form that “Structural Design experience is only recognized for projects where the designs are all components of complete threshold buildings and shall not be limited to structural components only,” a few applicants still describe their projects like “concrete column, concrete beam, shoring, and post tension floors.” Please do not make cryptic descriptions of the project as described, requiring the reviewer to have to guess whether it is a new construction or repair project, or if the applicant only performed design of a few components, no matter how complex. Please do provide a detailed narrative of the project, for example: “Designed the new construction of the building from foundation to roof, including all load-bearing components such as columns, beams, floors… .”

Please do not include detailed explanations of accomplishments, awards received, serving on national technical committees, or contributions to engineering community. While these are certainly laudable, the review committee is not permitted to substitute any other qualification to compensate for the lack of threshold building experience.

Documenting Experience

In evaluating your application, the Board’s experience committee must determine whether your experience qualifies you for licensure. That means, the committee must be able to verify, understand, and evaluate the facts you have presented. Do not assume that the summary you provided will be obvious to the committee.

A specific, detailed summary of your engineering experience will greatly speed approval of your application. You should write a draft of your experience and run it by your supervising Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings, a Professional Engineer, or someone who is familiar with the SI licensure process to review it, before sending it to the Board. Be honest. It is better to wait until you have sufficient experience to qualify you for approval.

Florida needs more Special Inspectors, and the Board is ready and eager to license qualified applicants. The approval process will be a lot smoother and faster if you craft your application to avoid the pit falls mentioned above.

About the Author

Babu Varghese, PE, SI, CGC, CCC, is the president and principal engineer of Abtech Engineering Inc., a multi-disciplinary engineering firm, which he founded in 1988, in Fort Lauderdale. He has served on the Board since 2015, and was its vice chair in 2019 and chair in 2020.