Ask the Architect

Adding to a Cape Cod


Q. We want to add a second-floor extension to our Cape Cod so our bedrooms and bathroom have straight walls. We don’t plan to make the rooms bigger, just tall enough to stand in. Will our taxes go up, and will we need a permit? Also, we took out walls on our first floor a few years back after Hurricane Sandy. Will an inspector come into the house, and will they notice that we made changes?

A. So the rooms with sloping ceilings started to feel low as the kids got taller? If you live in a flood zone, you were required to have a permit for repairs made, and also a separate plumbing permit. All work done inside or outside your home required a permit if it involved changes to the configuration, re-insulating, putting in new plumbing pipes or fixtures, boiler work or foundation repairs. Chances are good that because of where you live, even five or more years later, you’ll still need an after-the-fact permit, called a “maintain” permit, to put on record what you (or someone else) have done. You’re not exempt, and nothing is “grandfathered.”

Because inspectors see so many homes, they know what the original wall layout would look like, so when they walk into your home, there’s a fair chance they’ll notice that walls were removed. They may ask if you did it with a permit, or make notes to check your files when they return to the office. Because building departments are an archive for building records, they’re getting more efficient at keeping their records up to date at your cost. More than likely, you’ll be required to produce architects’ plans for the whole house, showing all changes, existing and proposed. Some building departments insist on separate plan sets and filings for the proposed work and the work to be maintained, while others allow you to combine the two.

In most cases, the plumbing can be filed at a separate time by a licensed plumber, who should have filed before they did the work. Also, the altered electrical work needed to be certified by an electrical inspection agency recognized by your building department as qualified to issue a certificate to you, to be turned in when the final inspection is requested.

As for your taxes, there will probably be an increase, just based on the building application being reported to the county, when the building application is approved. The likelihood that your taxes won’t go up is pretty slim, because the perceived value of your home is now higher with more habitable space, the space being over 5 feet tall. The response, in the past, to taxing habitable space was one of the reasons for the Cape Cod style rather than a full second floor. Even though the county, which is your taxing authority, and the local municipality, which issues building permits, knew the space would be expanded, they all went along with the concept. Good luck!

© 2017 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.