Checks & Balances

Thoroughly detailed home plans can smooth the building process.

If you’re involved in the home construction field, you know how many hands are involved in even the simplest home.

As home designs have become more complex, that list has gotten more complicated. To keep up with rapidly changing technology and the increasing complexity of home designs, local and national building codes have also grown longer and more detailed.

Projects like the Central Iowa Code Consortium (see “More Information”) are making concerted efforts to help builders and inspectors by encouraging consolidation of codes used in communities around the metro.

Although government regulation and municipal guidelines can often be a hurdle to developers and builders (see “More Information”), stricter enforcement of home plan requirements is actually an asset for several reasons.


“Home plans have always been required to provide building code info,” says Rick Parrino of Plum Building Systems. “But as home designs have become more complex, enforcing those requirements is more important than ever.”

Urbandale Building Official Roger Schemmel explains, “In the old days, a home plan was basically two rectangles—one for the house, one for the garage. A traditional stick-built home was pretty simple to evaluate. Drawings are much more complex now, with hip roofs, vaulted ceilings, open floor plans.”

“For so long, codes have been written to recognize the old-school, stick-built framing techniques and materials,” says Ankeny Building and Zoning Administrator Jeff Junker. Increased use of manufactured trusses, beams, and other products that are required to achieve the open designs so popular in the past 10 to 15 years has necessitated the need for more-detailed plans in order to ensure that those materials are being utilized according to code, he explains.

With a stick-built home design, weight-bearing loads and stress points are fairly easy to determine. But removing walls and adding more windows and wider door openings requires more than just stronger trusses or floor joists. “Loads used to be spread over the whole structure,” Parrino explains. “Now, sometimes we’ll have designs where the entire load is focused on a few specific points. Standard footings or joists just won’t work in that situation, and that needs to be spelled out on the plans.”

To address these types of issues, Plum performs a load path analysis before finalizing any plan. “We analyze the load on doors, windows, beams, all the way down to the footings,” Parrino says, because adding more windows and opening up floor plans—both popular features—result in greater load on fewer points.

Energy Efficiency

Another element affecting the necessity for more-detailed plans is higher government standards for energy efficiency. “Energy codes are stricter than they used to be,” says Schemmel. By having specs spelled out in greater detail on the initial plans, inspectors can identify potential problems prior to construction rather than in the midst of a build.

To assist builders and designers in meeting these standards, communities like Ankeny and Urbandale provide guidelines for anyone considering a construction project in the city.

Detailed plan requirements are not new in Ankeny, Junker says. “Ankeny has always looked for that thorough documentation. That’s one of the reasons we provide those expectations. And designers have been producing better and better plans over the past few years as builders and plan design companies recognize the value of addressing these issues up front.”

Time Savings

Inspectors clearly benefit from having the most-complete plans possible. However, the advantages extend beyond just the government officials.

“Everyone benefits,” Junker says. “Time is money for both public and private sectors, so anything you can do to save time benefits everyone. If you have good plans with detailed specs at the outset, and the construction follows those plans, the inspection process is much smoother.”

Schemmel agrees. “The more detailed the plans, the easier it is to know what we’re issuing permits for in the first place. Then we know what to expect in the field. Without those details up front, builders can end up with corrections and delays, and those cost money.”

“Our goal at Plum has always been that our plans are thorough and complete,” Parrino says. “Building inspectors are some of the smartest guys in the field, and this just gives them another tool to help them be as efficient as possible.”

Learn More

Check out these articles and websites:
Code Consortium Aims High
BUILD Des Moines, July 2017

The Slow Pace of Change
BUILD Des Moines, May 2018

Ankeny Planning Guidelines

Urbandale Planning Guidelines