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Ask the Architect

Put the right professional in charge


Q. We’ve never renovated a home before, and we’re wondering what to expect each of the people we might hire to be able to do for us. For example, do we need an engineer if we hire an architect, and when do we get an interior designer involved? Also, do we get a separate kitchen designer, and will the contractor help us select materials, or do the other people do that?

A. Great question. Start with the architect. The reason is that you need the person who will direct the majority of issues that affect the outcome. Between functional space layout, structural design, building code compliance, the shape, size and appearance, the architect is best equipped to develop the process. Although the other disciplines each have opinions and experience to lend to project development, only the architect has the extensive training and licensing to carry the responsibility for the full building design process.

Engineering has many different concentrations, such as structural (building support), mechanical (heating ventilating and air conditioning), electrical (lighting and power distribution) and civil (land and drainage systems). Avoid mistakes by involving the other specialty designers, such as kitchen and interior designers, after the primary decisions have been made about the building size, shape, aesthetic appearance and structure. Too often the other project participants overstep their bounds by moving things around to suit their desires without the training or knowledge to realize that they just compromised your budget and maybe even the ability to support the building, or keep it water-tight.

Yes, many people just assume that anything can easily be waterproofed and structured, until the building leaks and sags, of course. You may assume that the contractor will accomplish this without difficulty or failure, but that is a wrong and sometimes costly assumption. The contractor, to estimate and discuss material selection, needs completed plans. Buildings are generally custom-built, not a kit of parts, unless prefabricated, and the positioning of walls, beams, roof structures, window and door openings, mechanical, electrical and piping are all critical to one another and to the whole of the building’s outcome.

Several times a week, I see the failure of owners to recognize that the many people they hire, who offer advice, are confident but not always correct in their guidance. There should only be one project leader. The biggest failure is hiring a lot of separate individuals and then keeping them from communicating with one another. As I stood with an owner the other day, watching water cascade down the inside face of an exterior wall, the owner told me how they fired the people who didn’t follow the plans directing them where to place the materials, at what stage of the construction and how to waterproof. The walls have to be completely rebuilt. An interior designer deviated drastically from the structure locations of the existing support system, and now the project has to be entirely redesigned. It happens, but it can be avoided. 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.