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Ask the Architect

An expediter or an architect?


Q. My father built a dormer on our house in the ’70s, and we want to sell the house but are being told that the permit didn’t include the bathroom or bedrooms. We decided to go with an expediter instead of an architect because it’s a simple thing, and we didn’t want to spend more or make it more complicated. The expediter says we won’t need the insulation information or window changes the architects said we need. What can we expect? Is this really simple, or complicated?

A. Sometimes trying to make things simpler makes things more complicated. Not filling in all the blanks means that if the blanks are ignored, just like a student with a half-answered test paper, you’re going to fail in your objective, which is to get the permit, get the plumbing, electrical and final building inspections and get the final certificate of completion. Although you may think this involves just making a few calls, what it really involves, if done legally and correctly, is accurate measuring, drawing and code documentation.

What does that mean, and why do you need all that? The original dormer permit, more correctly described as an “addition to the second floor,” was handled as an unoccupied shell (from the drawing you emailed me). That typical ploy was done to avoid paying taxes since it was considered storage by your town, which granted the permit, and your county, which taxes you for the character of the building.

By not being habitable space, like bedrooms, it was believed that the taxes would be lower, which they may have been until the house was reassessed. Building officials, if they review your expediter’s documents consistently with their safety requirements for a habitable second floor in 2020, not the 1970s, will require that the window openings meet current, larger sizes. Had the addition been previously approved as habitable space, or if the reviewing plans examiner allows the windows under a code for existing buildings, you may be able to avoid putting in larger windows before you can get a sign-off and sell.

In a quirky twist of logic, since the house plans don’t show any insulation, you may be required to meet the current New York State Energy Code, dictated by federal energy mandates. That means more insulation than would even fit in the small rafters — undersized, according to the current code, for the addition.

You may be of the belief that an expediter, whom you believe will get this done more quickly and without meeting all the requirements, can get around all this, but they don’t, really. Expediters still need an architect’s or engineer’s signature and seal on plans, because expediters aren’t legally responsible if things are incorrect. Architects, unlike most other professions, are regularly circumvented, and nobody, officially or unofficially, says anything. Barbers no longer pull teeth instead of dentists. Would you do the same with lawyers, doctors or even airline pilots? Would you want to? 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.