Ask the Architect

The best-laid plans are often ignored

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Q. We’ve been working with an architect to renovate our house, and want to know what she should be doing for us. We thought we’d get some things that we now find out aren’t going to be done. We wanted a central air system and electrical designs showing where we would put outlets and lights. Our contractor says we’re being shortchanged, because he can’t give us a price without this information. Apparently the electrician he works with won’t give us prices without the plans. What should we do? Isn’t it customary to expect plumbing piping and air duct plans as well?

A. Perhaps your architect has learned what many of her peers have. The same people who insist that your architect provide plans for pipes, ducts and wiring rarely follow those plans. I won’t normally do exhaustive dimensioned layouts, either, because when we get to the field, we just shake our heads and wonder why we spent all that time. You’ll spend all that money for an electrician, a plumber or an air-conditioning installer to ignore the plans and do something other than what was planned.

When I started out years ago, I spent a lot of time looking for the best way to route the piping and ducts, designing the best location for lighting as it related to furniture, windows and doors, and each element to the whole picture. How discouraging it was when so-called team players — professionals who weren’t part of the design process — installed the systems and just did whatever they wanted. The owner and I would select a particular boiler for high efficiency, only to see the plumber or contractor say they only deal with a certain supplier, so they would install their brand, saying the selection we made was a “mistake.” The electrician would approach the owner with alternative “design” ideas and change the owner’s mind, saying the architect made a “mistake.” Thus, easily swayed owners and these “professionals” taught architects not to offer these services.

I still do layouts for some clients, but only after explaining that it’s no use to spend the time and the money if installers don’t stick to the plan. What you should do is sit down with your architect and, for an additional fee, spell out in writing the types of lights, how many and where you want them. Sit the contractor down with the architect and go over where the ducts, lighting and plumbing will go, and agree to stick to the plan. I’m not optimistic that the parties will do this, mostly because it’s rare to find a contractor who’s willing to work on this basis. Most don’t see the profit in providing this kind of service, and will simply hand plans off to their plumber, who will do whatever they want. You just have to pay for whatever they give you. If you find a good team of communicating, planning professionals, please let me know. I’d love to work with pros like that. Good luck!

© 2019 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.