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Ask the Architect

‘Shouldn’t we be able to do this on our own property?’


Q. We’re replacing our old roof and putting a new porch roof over our front steps. The old roof is rotted, and the bottoms of the columns were so bad that we didn’t think the roof would stay up much longer, so we hired a contractor, and half way through rebuilding the new roof (which isn’t round, like the old one, and covers more of our steps), he got stopped, and we got a ticket from a building inspector. If we had the porch before, why can’t we repair the problem without intervention? Shouldn’t we be able to do this on our own property?

A. Ah, rules, don’t you just love ’em? The answer is yes, if you lived on the frontier, but no, because you don’t live in some remote area, away from publicly funded services. You live in a bustling suburban area, with other homes and buildings adjacent to yours. Your home is within reach of emergency services, police and fire departments, pedestrians, traffic and a population that may not function safely without some guidance.

Things like licenses for contractors, insurance for economic protection and trained building officials to have a look at plans, drawn correctly by a state-licensed architect or engineer, have all been the reaction to some disaster that was preventable the “next time.” Somewhere a roof was built that fell apart in a storm or fell one day without warning on top of some poor, unsuspecting person, and a group of people got together and said, “You know, we can’t let this happen again.”

You didn’t “repair” the old roof structure, you replaced it, and no matter how large or small the new one would be, it has to be reviewed as a matter of safety. You would not imagine all the things that have been done so poorly, and how they either slowly failed, by causing leaking into the attachments of the dwelling, or just ripped away one day in an instantaneous wind gust. Your porch roof must, by code, withstand 110- to 120-mph winds, depending on how close you are to the wide open spaces of shoreline; have supports that won’t sink with a correctly sized foundation; and in some communities need to be passed by an official group that determines whether the porch you’re proposing meets the setback requirements from the property lines and is compatible with the building’s appearance and the community guidelines. Some jurisdictions have roof angle requirements you must meet.

Just like the commercial in which the woman is seen cutting down flower pots and then a mailbox (for which, by the way, she is committing a federal offense, because your mailbox is actually federal property), you live among a bigger version of a homeowners’ association, like it or not. Most of the time nobody says a word, but you can’t just replace most built things, like fences, sheds, decks, pools or sidewalks, without permission. Those are the rules.

© 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.