Over the past couple of years, people have asked me for advice on building design and construction projects. Some of these are for private residences and others are for larger commercial or assembly projects. I thought some of them are good to share because a lot of people have similar questions regardless of the type of building it is.
So I hope these “Free Advice” points can help you out. Feel free to share it with others:
1. Q: Can I make interior changes to a building without a permit if there is no structural changes being done to the building?
1. A: Even if you own a building, you still cannot make changes to it without getting proper permits! Especially if it is a public building because there are public and life safety issues involved! If you make any changes to a building, even if just interior changes, you need proper permits and should work with a professional Architect and a licensed contractor. If you don’t then you will end up paying more with all the fees and penalties you will have to pay the city building department. Or worse you will get shut down from the city and cannot use the nice new building you bought!
2. Q: My contractor is recommending to change something in the city approved drawings which he says will save me money. I dont want to go back to the city again and wait for it to get approved. Can I tell the contractor to go ahead and do it and we will ask the Architect to change the drawings later?
2. A: A set of architectural drawings (aka “blue prints”) are considered legal documents. They cannot be changed without the permission of the original Architect of Record. This means that if a contractor wants to make a change to something in the field (which happens often many times), it is in the best interest of the building owner or client to consult with the Architect FIRST to make sure that this change suggested by the contractor will meet the design needs as well as the building code. Many times a contractor wants to go with something cheaper so that they can make more money from the job, rather than doing what is called out for in the drawings – even though it may cost a little more. So don’t just follow whatever the contractor says – check it with your Architect because he/she is looking out for what’s best for you at the end of the day. Usually if the change is minor, it can be approved in the field by the city inspector and does not have to go through the standard process which takes longer to get approved. If the change is major, it is best to modify the drawings and submit the change to the city for approvals first before making any change in the field.
3. Q: “Should I buy a ready-made design I found on the internet and then modify it for my specific needs?”
3. A: No. The reason is because usually the plans you find online are generic and are meant for simple, flat, square sites that do not have any specific requirements – something you would find in the midwest or flatlands of the United States – not for places such as California where there are many different factors involved such as seismic (earthquake) zones or flooding zones, etc. If you have the opportunity to design a building, especially your home, from scratch and are not in any rush to get it built, then it is highly preferred to hire a licensed Architect or professional designer who can help you to design the home of your dreams exactly the way you want and specific to your property. It may cost you more in the beginning, but in the long run, you will have a better design and save yourself a lot of problems down the road, when you are working with contractors who will want to “re-design” the internet plans to make it easier for themselves during construction.
4. Q: “But, the contractor says I don’t need an Architect once the construction starts!”
4. A: Yes, if you are open to getting screwed over, then don’t hire an Architect during the construction phase (called “Construction Administration”). That’s like going into court and representing yourself! An Architect is like a lawyer. He/she will represent you in the court of the city or county where your building project’s jurisdiction falls under. There is a lot of paperwork and legal documents involved with building projects. Even if it’s just for a simple kitchen or bath remodel or room addition project, having an Architect or experienced designer on your side will save you a lot of hassles and headaches down the road. Especially if this is your first time doing any kind of construction project. Working with city planners, building officials, contractors, inspectors and other unknown people that sometimes pop up during construction can drive you crazy and can end up costing you a lot of time and money that you did not expect if you are going in blind and without any assistance from a professional Architect or Designer.
For anymore questions about design and construction, feel free to email me at email@example.com