How to find an architect for a very small job in Boston
December 23, 2016 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I need an architect to draw a very simple plan for a building permit. The project is an outdoor, first-floor deck. The two architects my contractor knows weren't interested, presumably because the job is too small for them. How do I find the right person or company for this?

Details: this is in Boston. My contractor says he usually just draws and files his own plans for projects like this, and has never had a problem with that before. He thinks the building department is asking for plans from an architect in this case because the deck is relatively high up (10 feet) and close to the property line (though allowed by the zoning code).

The deck is very simple -- just a rectangular platform, railing, and stairs down to the yard. I'm hoping to find someone to draw the plans where this is roughly the right job for them, rather than having to overpay to get someone to work on this where it isn't really worth their time. What should I look for on Google/Angie's List/Yelp/etc.?

I'm not really familiar with this stuff, and doing my best to relay what I heard from the contractor from the building department, so let me know if it seems like there's been a mistranslation along the way.
posted by john hadron collider to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm hoping to find someone to draw the plans where this is roughly the right job for them, rather than having to overpay to get someone to work on this where it isn't really worth their time.

You might find that a tiny, super-simple plan like this isn't really the "right" job for any architect unless they use a significantly enhanced (from their perspective) pricing metric than they would for larger, more elaborate projects. I'd plan on 'overpaying' to some degree.
posted by jon1270 at 10:27 AM on December 23, 2016

Is it possible your contractor could draw it up and just have an architect sign off on it?
posted by bondcliff at 10:30 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was about to say that this sounds like a crazy requirement until I read that you are in Boston. I work for a contractor that primarily works on the south shore, and on the rare occasions when we take a job in Boston the permitting process is usually a nightmare. My sympathies.

Anyway, for something like this you might be better off getting a structural engineer to draw up the plans, or to sign off on plans that your contractor draws up. Very often their certification is viewed as equivalent by building departments, though I truly cannot say whether this applies in your case.

This is not an endorsement, but the engineering firm that my company usually deals with is Walter A. McKinnon Associates. I don't have enough personal experience with them to say what working with them is like or whether they'd be appropriate for your needs—other people in my company handle that stuff—but they're the name I know off the top of my head.

Might be worth talking to your contractor about.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:41 AM on December 23, 2016

The building department is probably asking for engineered drawings, not necessarily an architect's drawings. Engineered drawing, done by a structural engineer, are usually less expensive than having an actual architect do something for you.

I'd be contacting the building department to find out exactly what they want.

Upon review, as above.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:42 AM on December 23, 2016

Agreed, they probably want engineered drawings (most likely due to the height). If your contractor doesn't have a structural engineering firm that he has worked with in the past, are you sure you want him building your engineered deck?
posted by ssg at 11:24 AM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm surprised that your contractor isn't pointing you to a structural engineer. You should ask the inspector/ building department for a recommendation. This was the kind of job that my dad would have done in between big jobs, and it would have taken him an afternoon to put together, mostly just getting the drawings together.
posted by rockindata at 2:23 PM on December 23, 2016

Another vote for seeing if a structural engineer's stamp would satisfy the AHJ.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:09 PM on December 23, 2016

It sounds like this is dealing with zoning and city issues so yes an architect seems like the way to go.

I always get a kick out of what people think architects do. Architects are trained to design buildings which includes basic structure. We hire structural engineers when it exceeds beyond our knowledge, but in the case of a simple deck a structural engineer seems like overkill. (Unless required by local code which your architect would know.) The real work here is going to be code, local zoning and working with the building department.

Find one here:
Search for one that does single family homes and you'll have better luck.
posted by KMoney at 11:00 AM on December 24, 2016

Bostonian here. We just did a massive interior renovation but added a roof deck. We live in Southie.

Start with the city - I would recommend going onto the City of Boston Inspectional Services Division website to read about the permit process. They can also give you recommendations on where to go for architects who are in good standing. 1010 Mass Ave is going to become your mothership.

Architects are oftentimes through word of mouth. Do you have a realtor or can you reach out to your realtor who sold you your house? They are actually fantastic at recommending architects. That is how we found ours.

The architect will come out to assess and draw up plans before submitting to the city to get the building permit. Depending on what you are doing it may require a sign off by a structural engineer which is a separate visit and consult. We conferred with two different ones before we approved the final plans.

This may not apply but after having been through this I feel it's worth mentioning: IF you are adding square footage to your house (which includes stairs or an interior vestibule or head house) then the fun begins. You will have to have a hearing with ISD and then a separate neighborhood abutters meeting. If all of that sails past then the permit will be issued and your architect will help you get bids from contractors. Once the contractor has been selected you have to wait for the green light from our friends at ISD to begin work. Once work begins and is completed it has to have a final inspection from ISD and sign off. If any electric is being done that is a separate permit and approval.

The benefit of hiring contractors is that they can hold the OTHER permits that may be needed depending on your project (including pest control).
posted by floweredfish at 12:27 PM on December 24, 2016

memail me and I'll send you the name of a local friend who's an architect
posted by mollymillions at 9:42 PM on December 24, 2016

I'm late to respond, but just wanted to say thanks for all these answers and moral support! Sounds like I should talk with the building department directly to clarify exactly what I need and go from there. I'll report back if I learn anything that might be useful to others.
posted by john hadron collider at 11:42 AM on December 26, 2016

Update: I talked to the building department and it turned out that (so far) they don't need any sort of certified plans -- they just need my contractor to draw more detailed plans than he submitted. Thanks again for various guesses on what might be happening, and the advice to call up directly and find out.
posted by john hadron collider at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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