Ask the Architect

No matter what you do, they’re lookin’ at you


Q. I was told to get a permit to add two doghouse (window) dormers from bedrooms. I don’t understand why this requires a permit. I’m not moving walls and not changing the house size. Also, I found out that anybody can look at my plans at the Building Department. It’s bad enough that government makes me feel like a hostage, having plans of my house, but now anybody can see them. Can I do anything about this?

A. Yes, you can do something about this, but it requires a moving van and the time to make arrangements to relocate. With all the ways you’re being watched by the government, local law enforcement, corporations and the phone company, this is just another one of those things, I guess.

Your E-ZPass has a transponder that will track you while you drive, as does your smartphone, which has GPS, Waze or just data collection constantly being beamed to satellites. Your computer and your television have the same data, telling multiple agencies and companies all kinds of secrets about what you do from minute to minute — and as if that weren’t enough, smart televisions, security cameras, and computers can watch you while you’re dressing (or undressing) and doing whatever else you don’t want them to see. You gave up the right to privacy, it seems, at birth.

So the least of your worries about privacy might be the permitting process, and whether your home plans are in the wrong hands. The reason for getting permits, in general, is to safeguard you (and the public from you), with the intent to try and prevent hazards. Do they happen? Yes, all the time.

I’m trying to understand why homes were allowed to be built in California’s forest areas made of “stick built” wood. One could argue, fairly convincingly, that the contents would have still caught fire. True, but if you take notice of the areas that burned, concrete structures survived and can be rebuilt. With protective shutters and concrete or steel tiled roofs, the homes would not have contributed as greatly to the intensification of the fire. But that all costs more, which is why “stick built” is the way to go. In foreign countries, where lumber is much more expensive, like most of Europe, homes and commercial buildings are made of masonry and concrete. Here in the U.S., we have the freedom to build with more vulnerable construction, until they take that privilege from us as well.

If the dormers are placed on an existing roofs without correct structural bracing, the roof sags, water problems develop, etc., and yes, this happens all too often. If you ever watch a law enforcement show, where the police have a suspect holed up in a home with hostages, when they can, they request the plans, to know how to save the hostages because plans are available. So avoid being more of a hostage, if possible, but do get plans and a permit.

© 2018 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.