Ask the Architect

Can our renovation be fast-tracked?

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Q. We have a small window of time to redo our kitchen and extend the back room while our kids are away this summer. We found out our permits might not be done by then. The contractor suggested making the foundation ahead of time, since it’s outside and we won’t be disturbing anything or losing heat while it’s still cold. Is there a way we can do the foundation outside and the kitchen remodel while we wait for the permits, since our contractor told us we don’t need a permit for the kitchen remodel?

A. We all wish the permit process took less time. Every aspect of getting a permit adds pressure to our daily lives while we wait. The pressure increases with all the opinions you get from outsiders who can’t imagine why it takes so much time for something so simple. What your contractor is suggesting is a process that in the construction industry is called “fast-tracking,” whereby reviews of the proposed project are broken into parts to allow for scheduling. I’ve only seen this process applied in commercial and large project reviews — never, so far, for a single-family home.

The first project I ever worked on, a six-story hospital wing, was fast-tracked for three main reasons. First, winter was approaching, and the foundations had to go in before the onslaught of bad weather. Michigan winters can be brutal, with no letup. Second, the type of building was a special need serving the greater good of an entire city, and third, the cost of waiting due to financing requirements and infrastructure impact would be economically hurtful, again, to an entire city.

The only time I nearly saw fast-tracking applied to a residence was to facilitate a child born with serious medical issues, and the request was made to set foundations before winter cold set in. Instead, the entire project was reviewed and approved as quickly as possible, still having to meet all codes and restrictions. And that part seems to be most misunderstood about permit reviews. Permits take time because plans and accompanying documents have to be checked. Everything must comply, not just most things.

Sadly, plans are prepared all the time that are missing details, dimensions and notes intended to keep people safe and to protect the health, safety and welfare of not just the occupants, but also the public and surrounding environment. The procedure includes verifying that the addition isn’t too close to a property line, that the building enlargement still allows for the required open space, that it isn’t too tall, or made of materials that can spread fire quickly or lose heat rapidly, that wiring and plumbing will comply and be safe, and that there will be a way to allow daylight, ventilation and a means of escape. Even your small addition goes through this procedure. Do the kitchen, first, since it takes longer, and build the permitted extension separately, breaking through once everything is ready for finishes. Good luck!

© 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.