Ask the Architect

One more post-Sandy permit


Q. A building inspector noticed our air conditioning units while inspecting our deck, and said we need to file for a permit for it. He said it’s a simple permit, and an architect would know what to do. Our house was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. We have been through a lot, so we just want to get this last thing done. Can you explain what is needed?

A. After you started with permits for Sandy repair, which led to a permit for your deck, then electrical and plumbing permits, I suspect you thought you were done, but noooo! This has been a common issue in your municipality. They require a design professional, and the average person immediately sees dollar signs and gets nervous.
Your building inspector made it sound simple, and from an inspector’s point of view, at the end of the process, it is simple, but getting there is a little more complicated. While doing second floors and rear additions, one stumbling block to final sign-off includes things as minor as an air conditioning unit. The drawing of plans, retrieving the specification manual from the manufacturer to show energy use, sound output and safety testing make the task not so simple. Most people lose or throw away their manuals. Then, because you’re in a flood zone, you must have an elevation certificate and survey from a surveyor (another expense). So it really isn’t so simple.
Then there are the construction drawings for the raised A.C. units to be above potential floodwaters. I’ve seen many truly inventive ways to elevate the condenser unit, from stacked wooden crate towers to mini-deck platforms to concrete pedestals covered in decorative stone. We actually have to document the way they were constructed, which isn’t always so easy because the building code addresses only conventional construction, not artistic sculptures that look like someone has set up an air conditioning altar. The construction, no matter what it’s made of, has to have conventional anchorage, some kind of realistic foundation that the architect or engineer has to state is strong enough to resist being carried away in a flood, and that won’t accelerate the floodwaters to neighboring properties when water smacks up against it.
Another problem has been the progression of information, over time, about what design professionals have to note on the plans. Because the communication, shared with the property owner, is on an internet portal, when the examiner sends back a message about “demonstrating compliance with Section X” of the building codes, the client is left to wonder whether their professional really knows what they’re doing, since they apparently can’t even draw an air conditioning unit. Belittling the professional has made many architects and engineers choose not to do these A.C. unit plans. It would be much more helpful if communications included specifics, like an information sheet on standardized required notes, an explanation like the one I just gave, and acceptable anchorage and design heights to simplify the process. Good luck!

© 2022 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.