I was recently approached by a commercial property owner to review a note prepared by another design professional. The note took this position: Size and location of existing features shown on these documents are for contractor’s convenience only. The contractor is solely responsible to verify by field measurement the size and location of all features.

The owner posed several questions, including: “What does that note specify as the level of tolerance for the design drawings, given the fact the structural drawings have precision measurements to the 1/16?” Moreover, “Should the owner receive a discount from the professional since our firm (working for the contractor) had just uncovered a spacing discrepancy (design plans to field measurement) that varied by as much as 2 feet for existing structural columns?”

The term “Verify in Field” (VIF) was common on drawings when I started my professional career in the design industry. “VIF” was placed on every drawing depicting an existing feature, and another VIF note that absolved the designer of all liabilities related to existing conditions and discrepancies the contractor might encounter was placed on the cover page. But there was usually no note or indication of how the existing building information was obtained, nor an indication of relative confidence in the information. Was there a detailed physical inspection, a multi-day site survey, a single walk-through? Were the original design plans used to create the existing conditions document? (Having worked with contractors in the building documentation industry over the past five years, I can confidently state that the latter is most often the case.)

Building documentation shares a kinship with similar regulated fields of endeavor, such as surveying (exterior sites) and subsurface utility engineering (SUE). For exterior site surveys, a professional surveyor (or engineer, depending on the state) is engaged to perform a survey meeting certain standards and levels of care as regulated by the specific state’s professional board (or departments of transportation for roadway projects). Notes are provided, often according to regulation, detailing the resources used along with a detail of the plan sheet. SUE, guided by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), further provides quality levels in “Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data (38-02).” These quality levels range from plan research (Level D) to precise location through nondestructive means (Level A), all of which are noted on a plan that is provided for construction.

Currently, no licensures or certifications are required to document the interior of buildings; consequently, there are no standards or levels of care by any regulatory or organizational bodies.

Similar to SUE, varying levels of building documentation exist, each with associated costs, benefits and limitations. The U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) Standards Committee is working on the establishment of levels of building documentation that can be requested, performed and finally noted on submittal documents.

The goal in defining levels is to provide protection for prospective clients and the public when requesting these services and for contractors using this data to bid on projects. Multiple levels will be established, ranging from utilization of original design documents to full 3D documentation of the structure. Cognizant of rapidly changing technologies, we hope to establish levels that are technology-independent while still indicating the details and procedures from which the documentation was obtained.

The USIBD Standards and Education committees are working on programs to certify building documentation professionals and technicians and to provide resources to owners and those requesting building documentation services. The goal is not to exclude any individuals; rather, it is to bring all individuals to the same standard of care.

VIF will never leave the industry. However, the mysteries surrounding VIF can be reduced with adequate notations and standards regarding how documentation was accomplished.

The USIBD is looking for stakeholders within the building documentation industry to provide input into these and many other initiatives. If you are interested, please contact the USIBD.