Q. I decided to rent out the house I inherited until I move back to Long Island. I hired an architect, who explained building codes and said we needed to legalize the family room my parents added back in 1973. We needed fireplace doors, according to him, for the energy code, a cleanout and fresh-air vent and to reverse the door to the garage so it would swing away from the steps down. We raised our yard 6 inches and avoided a deck permit, but I didn’t want to start spending money to reverse a door, get expensive glass doors or redo a fireplace from 1973. We think the architect was being just a little too particular, because the building inspector passed everything and was only there for a few minutes. Did we really need the architect? He did do plans, but half the stuff he called for we didn’t end up needing.
A. This is a frustration for both of you. Basically, you needed professionally prepared plans, signed and sealed by the architect, along with full, not partial, code compliance. As a court witness more than 50 times, I have seen where it matters and whom the court looks to as the authority: the architect before the inspector. Of course, enforcement is the inspector’s role, but it doesn’t supersede the architect’s authority when it comes to safety.
Unfortunately, homeowners and contractors look to the badge-wearing, government-appointed officer to enforce, and when they don’t, it’s assumed that the inspector’s opinion is the last word. Without glass doors and outside supply air for your fireplace, you’re on the losing end of the oversight. The amount of costly heated room air you pay for all winter, going up your chimney, year after year, far outweighs the investment. Smoke and soot buildup in the room is another byproduct of the missed observation. Your dry sore throat the morning after being in front of the open fire isn’t a coincidence.
You get used to opening the door to the garage and stepping down, but what about the house renter or a visitor who isn’t used to the pattern of opening and stepping forward before the lights go on? It really comes down to the fact that most people just get used to the conditions, don’t know codes and only react to an accident or fatality, hence the reason I’m called in for testimony. I’ve seen many problems like this, where life-threatening conditions, from something so simple being enforced, could have been prevented. Until you see the result of negligence, it seems trivial.
I have yet to find something in building laws that did not make sense. Some codes are so strict that they’re unable to meet in every circumstance, causing an appeal, but in general, if codes are enforced, it’s in your best interest, and just because the inspector was in a hurry or missed something doesn’t relieve you of the ultimate responsibility.
© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.