Ask the Architect

A contractor wants to ‘get in and get out’

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Q. We hired a contractor to put in a new storefront in a warehouse building. We want the job done right, with permits. Our building department said we need structural plans from an engineer or architect, which our contractor says they don’t provide. So we hired an architect, but now the contractor says the plans are overkill, and he won’t follow them without a lot more money. He says the structure beams are way more than necessary and not what he normally does. He also says he can start without plans or permits, that he knows what to do and the architect can draw the plans to follow what he does, which he says is what he always does. Have you ever heard this done, and can we get started?

A. OMG! And you believe this nonsense? The contractor wants to get in, get out and get paid, leaving everyone else to take responsibility when the slightest problem surfaces. Imagine what would be said in court when the architect or engineer merely documents what the contractor did and then there are cracks and sagging, window seals bend and fail and leaks develop. The contractor slyly says, “Well, I followed what was in the plans,” and the confusion points right to the “design professional,” left to take responsibility for uniformed decisions.

I recently encountered a similar situation, where the contractor was used to doing overhead-loading-dock-style garage doors and intended to rest a thin steel channel on the typical concrete block walls. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that the 40-foot-tall walls of the building weren’t the same kind of construction. With only a thin concrete facing block, not structurally sound, and a backup wall of metal wall studs, insulation and regular wallboard, there was no way to build the “typical” wall opening with a steel channel over the opening.

When the discussion took place at the building, the contractor tried every possible maneuver to force his way to get the work done, completely sidestepping and denying that there were any safety or building code issues. Sadly, the contractor, instead of showing flexibility or listening to help understand the solution to the problem, came back with insults and then blamed the architect for why the project was going to cost much more. Instead of accepting that he may not have fully understood the complications of the job, he threw his hands in the air and stormed out. We never even got to the part where he would also have to follow the energy code requirements. That’s right, requirements, not suggestions, but legal codes that must be followed. He scoffed at permits and reacted to code explanations as if they didn’t apply to him.

Not following the best advice of the design professional may get the job done sooner, but what good will it be if it isn’t done right? Professionals are trained to ask lots of questions as well as give you correct answers. Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.