Ask the Architect

What about lights, heat and A.C.?

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Q. I’m looking at old permit plans and comparing them with new permit plans for my house. I don’t understand why there are no notes or anything for lighting or heating. How did these two different plans get a permit without any heat, electric or even air conditioning? Even worse, doesn’t that mean that the contractor has no obligation to put them in or charge an extra? Why is this?

A. The answer, in a word, is “money.” Time is money. When I started out as an architect, our plans were very thorough, showing where baseboard heating radiators or vents were to be placed, where switches, outlets and lights were to be installed, in a detailed, time-consuming manner. Then I, too, discovered two things. One was that an official told me we didn’t need to show those things because they don’t review them, for liability reasons. Electrical and heating are the two main causes of fire caused by systems within a building.

The second reason we stopped showing them in-house plans was that electricians, air conditioning installers and plumbers wouldn’t spend 10 seconds discussing the design with the owner and me to make sure things were located where everyone agreed. There would be no communication in the planning, so the systems ended up being put wherever the installers chose, ignoring the plans, which immediately felt like a complete waste of time and money to have calculated, researched and drawn up.

But to add insult to injury, when a homeowner insisted that their plans be updated after the job was done, saying that the installers, who never looked at the plans, defended themselves by saying the drawings were a “mistake,” it became clear there was no reason to give them a layout in the first place. They would rather not spend time with an architect because they could do the work anyway, however they wanted, and not lose money by taking the time to communicate. After years of answering this question, it is still the truth.

Home planning isn’t the same as commercial building planning. The residential trades have little communication with the architect and, generally speaking, just need to see that there are plans and a permit so they can get started. They expect to work out anything during the job. To cover this problem, the building codes require heating, electrical and ventilation, so it’s illegal for your home to be constructed without these systems, leaving it up to you to confirm that the systems are included in your estimate.

A list of items for the owner to go over with the contractor can be prepared with the architect and contractor before a contract for the construction is signed. During the planning of a large commercial project recently, I had several meetings around my conference table with the owner, contractor, construction manager, plumber, electrician and sprinkler installer present, and I wondered why that can’t happen with residential work. Maybe someday it will.

© 2018 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.