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Ask the Architect

Why were our plans rejected?


Q. In the middle of our basement is a fairly new central air and heating unit. It’s big and takes up a lot of space, mostly with air ducts coming out the sides. Because it would be too expensive to move, we decided to build around it, doing the right thing: We got an architect, got a permit and finished the basement. The contractor made changes, and the main air duct sticks out of the boiler with about 5½ feet under it, but it only sticks out about 10 inches from the wall. We figured we’d put a couch or a bookcase there, since you can’t walk under it.

We got the required plumbing and electrical inspections, but we didn’t pass the final building inspection. Our architect came back and remeasured and refiled the revised plans. But then our plans were rejected. Why? They say we now need a state variance for the part of the air duct, which was clearly labeled on the first plans (that got a permit) because the ceiling height is too low in that area. Is this common? Can’t we just tell them we’re putting furniture under the part that sticks out? What should we do?

A. So the heating and air conditioning unit gets installed in a big empty storage space, as if nobody will ever think space is a premium and maybe the unit should be set to one side, thoughtful or sensitive to future use. Next, it’s too expensive to move, so you plan around it. Without a thought, someone builds a cage of wall studs and sheetrock around it, and you end up with this sculpture that only the boiler people and the contractor could appreciate, mostly because they got paid to create this elephant in the room, and also because they don’t have to live with it.

This is a typical snowball effect of nobody thinking this through. Next, a building official who sees this issue in very defined terms thinks, “Wow, the code says no less than 6 feet 4 inches of clearance under beams, and automatically presses the reject button. So you stew over what to do, spend money ripping out the ductwork and moving the boiler, or spend money to have a case prepared for the six-month wait to go before a hearing board in Hauppauge, just so you can hear a common-sense discussion by the board about why not just show a built-in shelf unit under the duct? and then they call the next case.

Your situation is a waste of time, a needless string of lack of thought that could have been handled with a simple communication between the person examining your plans and the architect. But that didn’t happen — because only small villages would make the call, while big towns characteristically send out various forms of rejection, sending hearts into palpitation and causing needless upset, confusion and resentment. Build a shelf unit. Good luck!

© 2020 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.