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Ask the Architect

How do we keep it simple?

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Q. We need to simplify our job. The costs are out of control. Can we only do plans for the part of our home we’re adding on, since a few architects are telling us we need plans of the whole house, even though we’re only doing an addition for a backyard den off our kitchen, with a deck? How do we simplify?

A. Somebody named Murphy once said, “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” Someone named Stein responded to that by saying, “Murphy was an optimist!” You can now quote Leeper’s Law: The act of simplifying often leads to further complication. In the process of trying to make things easier, you may have unanticipated problems that can surprise you.
I started writing this column because I saw people making the biggest investment of their lives without truly understanding the process or what to expect. Documentation and planning shouldn’t be taken for granted. Part of a licensed professional’s job is consumer protection, on top of combining artistic needs, structure, function and systems.
From your perspective, we need to only provide the planning for the affected areas. That seems simple enough. But then things get more complicated, because our plans are reviewed by so many others who all have their particular point of view.
Building officials see your home or business differently than you do. Years ago, when everything was done with paper and pencil, we submitted plans and they got reviewed at face value, such as only looking at the room you want to add. Then computers compiled information that allowed officials to quickly locate the whole property history and possible illegal uses that were previously recorded. After a while, it became a regular assumption of government that people were all trying to get away with something most of the time, and the extra level of scrutiny led to officials asking for more and more information, mainly because some owners ruined trust for everybody.

You are automatically under suspicion for illegal two-family use, illegal sheds, decks, pools and fences, or the lack of a permit for your air conditioner or finished basement or attic. Add to that the zoning information, “clear sight triangle” to avoid blocking drivers from seeing across your property, energy code analysis for even your simple addition, plus light and ventilation charts to show your window changes and there you go, not so simple anymore. Simple would be great, if it were also reality.
Your home may have had a violation that was never cleared from a suspicion of a former owner who rented the basement, or a long-term house guest who caused a neighbor to secretly report you, without any need for proof. It happens more often than you imagine, and then things get complicated just proving that there’s no illegal use, or you have to hire a professional to produce plans for more than you expected. You could start out simply, but be prepared for the rest. Good luck!

© 2021 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.