Happy Holidays from Gontram Architecture!

A sincere “Happy Holidays” from Gontram Architecture to you!  As part of our annual holiday tradition, we’ve produced another episode in a long series of “odd” animated videos:How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_6-01

How to Construct a Snowman – Part 6 – Fun in the Snow…With Zoning!

This definitely falls under the “Other nonsense” category…

In Part 6 of our “How to Construct a Snowman” video series, Ned Ledbetter embarks on a new strategy to reach the masses: a Video Blog. Join Ned as he updates the public on recent weather events, changes to field inspections, and other items of interest. He also dives in to the world of Twitter.How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_6-03

A special “thanks” goes to Dave Schulz of Schulz Ironworks for providing the voice of Ned.

View the video HERE.

You can also view Part 1 thru 5:How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_6-02

Part I – How to Construct a Snowman: A Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Perspective

Part II – How to Construct a Snowman: The Design-Bid-Build Process

Part III – How to Construct a Snowman: Financing a Snowman with Hot Chocolate.

Part IV:  How to Construct a Snowman:  Navigating the Politics

Part V: How to Construct a Snowman: Lighting your Snowman

If having trouble viewing the YouTube version, try the Flash version in a new window. Flash Player is required. Free download available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/.

How to Hire an Architect

pic-plan-roomAs a licensed Architect for almost 20 years, I sometimes lose perspective of what it must be like to hire an Architect for the first time.  Based on some phone calls and E-mail inquiries we’ve received recently, this article may be helpful to A LOT of people who must be asking:  How do I hire an Architect?

Let’s start with the obvious question:  Do I need an Architect?

While most folks probably realize that Architects design buildings and create spaces, they can also help maintain budgets, manage construction, evaluate energy costs, etc.  One of the more important aspects of architectural design is keeping the public safe while visiting, working or living in buildings.

State laws require architectural services in many instances.  They do this under the mandate of protecting the “health, safety and welfare of the public.”  This is stipulated in a state’s general statutes and building codes.  In North Carolina, for example, an Architect is required for most types of commercial projects and some residential projects.  Some small projects are exempt:  Residential structures with up to 8 units, very small commercial buildings, or projects with very small budgets.  The catch is that even those “exempt” projects still require a legal permit submittal, complete with a code-compliant design and proper documentation.  Often, those requirements (along with the many other benefits that an Architect brings to the project) make it necessary for an Architect to be involved.

So, you’ve determined (or you’ve been told by someone) that an Architect is needed.  How do you go about finding, interviewing and hiring one?  Good question.

We’ve put together a brief “How to Hire an Architect” package that provides a lot more detail than we can give here, it’s FREE for the asking (no strings attached).  You can request one via email HERE.

To start, here are a few recommendations of what NOT to do:

  • phonebooksDon’t start in the Yellow Pages with the “A”s and start calling until someone takes your call.
  • Don’t assume all Architects are alike, have similar abilities, or work on the same types of projects.
  • Don’t hire without meeting the Architect or checking references.
  • Don’t obtain several proposals and immediately jump at the cheapest.

Hiring an Architect doesn’t have to be difficult.  Most of it is common sense.  But just like anything you’ve done for the first time, you’re not quite sure how to get started, if you’re doing it right, and not quite sure if you’ve made the right decision.  If you follow a few steps, you can ensure success.  We recommend the following:

  • Seek recommendations from people you trust, ideally someone who has dealt with Architects many times before, perhaps as part of their profession.  Good sources can be real estate agents, developers, general contractors, etc.
  • Research firms online.  Review customer ratings and references found on the internet, in local listings and other directories.
  • Call the firm and gauge that experience.  Are you put on hold for a tremendous amount of time?  Are you bounced around?  Are you able to talk directly to a firm principal, or just an entry-level person?  Ideally, even the initial contact would provide a productive conversation with the main person you’d be dealing with should the project proceed with the firm.
  • Interview several firms.  It is possible to discuss the project with just one Architect, build trust during that interview, and decide no other interviews are necessary.  However, that is rare.  It doesn’t hurt to interview 2 or 3 or more firms.  Obtaining input from multiple perspectives can be very helpful.
  • For publicly-funded projects, it’s at this point that the Architect would be selected.  Public agencies are not allowed to base their selection on fees, so it is not legal for them to solicit fee information before a firm is selected.
  • For all other projects, however, part of your decision can be based (at least partly) on fee.  After all, you’re the one who has got to pay for these services (not the taxpayers).  So, once you’ve developed your “shortlist” (a list of 2-3 architectural firms), it is perfectly reasonable to request a Fee Proposal from each of the firms.  This usually takes a few days to a few weeks, depending upon the complexity of the project.  It will be a summary of services they will provide, and what those services will cost.
  • Now that you’ve interviewed the prospective Architects, checked references, and obtained fee information, you should be ready to select an Architect.  You will need to weigh the Architects’ experience and ability, and their willingness to service your needs, meet your schedule and stay within your budget.

Keep in mind, since this process takes time and effort on the part of the Architects, it is a reasonable, professional expectation that Clients inform all Architects of the decision in a timely, honest and open manner.  Making the phone call to the selected Architect is easy.  Telling the others they weren’t selected is nothing to be feared.  They may ask for some feedback, and it’s OK to be honest.

“Why weren’t we selected?”

“You have less experience with my project type than the other firms, and your fees were significantly higher.”

Personally, I much prefer an honest answer because it helps when I prepare future proposals.  Most Architects feel the same way.

Once you’ve successfully hired the Architect, now the fun begins!  If you’ve done your job and hired the right Architect, it can be a lot of fun.

Happy Holidays from Gontram Architecture!

A sincere “Happy Holidays” from Gontram Architecture to you!  As part of our annual holiday tradition, we’ve produced another episode in a long series of “odd” animated videos:

How to Construct a Snowman – Part V – Lighting your SnowmanHow_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 lights

This definitely falls under the “Other nonsense” category…

In Part V of our “How to Construct a Snowman” video series, Ned Ledbetter, recently impeached councilman and returning Zoning Enforcement Officer educates us on the ins and outs of lighting your snowman at night, complying with the National Electric Code, the International Energy Code, and the Patient Protection and Affordability Act. How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 miley

A special “thanks” goes to Dave Schulz of Schulz Ironworks for providing the voice of Ned.

View the video HERE.

How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 textYou can also view Part I, II, III and IV:

Part I – How to Construct a Snowman: A Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Perspective

Part II – How to Construct a Snowman: The Design-Bid-Build Process

Part III – How to Construct a Snowman: Financing a Snowman with Hot Chocolate.

Part IV:  How to Construct a Snowman:  Navigating the Politics

If having trouble viewing the YouTube version, try the Flash version in a new window. Flash Player is required. Free download available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/.

How to Construct a Snowman – Part V

How to Construct a Snowman – Part V – Lighting your SnowmanHow_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 lights

This definitely falls under the “Other nonsense” category…

In Part V of our “How to Construct a Snowman” video series, Ned Ledbetter, recently impeached councilman and returning Zoning Enforcement Officer educates us on the ins and outs of lighting your snowman at night, complying with the National Electric Code, the International Energy Code, and the Patient Protection and Affordability Act. How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 miley

A special “thanks” goes to Dave Schulz of Schulz Ironworks for providing the voice of Ned.

View the video HERE.

Gontram Architecture and G5 Design-Build produced this animated feature to help celebrate the Holiday Season and the impending winter weather.How_to_Construct_A_Snowman_5 text

You can also view Part I, II, III and IV:

Part I – How to Construct a Snowman: A Zoning Enforcement Officer’s Perspective

Part II – How to Construct a Snowman: The Design-Bid-Build Process

Part III – How to Construct a Snowman: Financing a Snowman with Hot Chocolate.

Part IV:  How to Construct a Snowman:  Navigating the Politics

If having trouble viewing the YouTube version, try the Flash version in a new window. Flash Player is required. Free download available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/.

What’s a Lien Agent, and why is it holding up my permit?

Your project is ready for permitting.  You take the drawings and permit application down to your friendly neighborhood Inspections Department and they tell you, “We’re sorry.  We can’t give you a permit until you fill out this additional form with your Lien Agent information.”  Huh?

If you have no clue what a Lien or a Lien Agent is, don’t feel bad.  You’re not the only one.  But anyone wanting to pull a permit for most projects with a value of $30,000 or more will have to learn.

First, a little education:  A Lien is a legal security that is attached to a property to secure payment of an unpaid obligation.  Often, a lien is filed to protect a contractor who has performed work, but has not been paid.  The lien is removed when the contractor is paid.  This usually means that the property cannot be sold without first satisfying the lien holder.

In North Carolina, a claim of lien must be filed within 120 days of last performance.  In other words, if ABC Electrician works on a project, submits an invoice, and doesn’t get paid, they have 120 days from the last day they were on the job to file a claim of lien.

Therein lies the problem.  Many times, projects (single family homes, especially) are constructed and sold before that deadline passes.  Mortgage insurance companies have seen a spike in unanticipated liens after closing.  It reached a point that something needed to be done if they were to continue doing business in North Carolina.

The Lien Agent was born!  A Lien Agent is an entity that is responsible for keeping track of all potential liens on a property.

Why does this matter when it comes to applying for a building permit?  A new law in North Carolina (enacted in July, 2012) has gone into effect as of April 1st, 2013.  It requires Owners to register their projects with a Lien Agent, and provide that information to the Inspections Department at time of permit application.  The registration process is fairly painless, just go to http://www.liensnc.com/ to start the process.  It will ask for information the Owner should already know.  Registration costs $50 per project ($25 for 1- or 2-family residence).

After registration, contractors, subcontractors and consultants can give notice that they are working on the project, and that they wish to preserve their lien rights.  Also, Owners can track their projects and associated filings.

The bottom line is that with this new process, this information is now consolidated, trackable, and on record so that properties are sold free and clear of any incumbrances.

Clear as mud, right?

My only comment is that this doesn’t seem to be a big issue with commercial projects, so hopefully the State Legislature will take a look at limiting this to residential projects only, as other states do.

More information is available at:  http://www.liensnc.com/

 

 

How to Construct a Snowman – Part IV

How to Construct a Snowman – Part IV – Navigating the Politics

This definitely falls under the “Other nonsense” category…HTCAS$-01

In Part IV of our “How to Construct a Snowman” video series, we explore the political process with the newly-elected City Councilman, Ned Ledbetter, and how his recent “mandate” affects the snowman construction process.

A special “thanks” goes to Dave Schulz of Schulz Ironworks for providing the voice of Ned.

View the video HERE.HTCAS$-02

Gontram Architecture and G5 Design-Build produced this animated feature to help celebrate the Holiday Season and the impending winter weather.

You can also view Part I, II and III:

Part I – How to Construct a Snowman: A Zoning Enforcement Officer’s PerspectiveHTCAS$-03

Part II – How to Construct a Snowman: The Design-Bid-Build Process

Part III – How to Construct a Snowman: Financing a Snowman with Hot Chocolate.

If having trouble viewing the YouTube version, try the Flash version in a new window. Flash Player is required. Free download available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/.

New Energy Code in North Carolina

Believe it or not, your home pollutes twice as much as your car.  Quite simply, homes are energy hogs.  Incandescent lighting (that is left on), phantom energy usage, high tech electronics, poor building envelopes, and other items contribute to waste energy.  Commercial buildings are just as bad.  In fact, commercial buildings consume 40% of all energy used.  So, if you want to make a dent in energy consumption and oil dependancy, improve the energy efficiency of our buildings.  And, that is what North Carolina is attempting to do.

With the current edition of the NC Energy Conservation Code, now mandatory for all projects in North Carolina, the state is taking a giant leap forward.  In theory, buildings constructed this year should perform 30% better than buildings constructed in 2004.  This is accomplished several ways:

  • Greater roof insulation requirements (e.g. minimum above-roof insulation in Raleigh goes from R-15 to R-30).
  • Greater wall insulation requirements (e.g. minimum wall insulation in Raleigh goes from R-13 between metal studs to R-13 between studs AND another R-10 continuous outside of studs).
  • Higher efficiency ratings for equipment (e.g. small heat pump efficiency goes from 10.0 SEER to 13.0 SEER)
  • The Mechanical Engineer is now required to visit the job site, review the installation, and provide a “Statement of Compliance” to the Owner and Inspector prior to occupancy that the systems were installed properly and are working correctly, and that operations and maintenance manuals were provided to the owner.
  • And many other enhancements.

One of the single greatest improvements to the Energy Conservation Code, and the one provision that the rest of the country is watching with great interest is Section 506: Additional Prescriptive Compliance Requireemnts.  This section requires commercial buildings to comply with one additional requirement (we must choose one of the following and include it in the design of the project):

  1. More Efficient Mechanical Equipment (e.g. 15.0 SEER heat pumps instead of 13.0 SEER)
  2. Reduced Lighting Power Density (10% less than Code)
  3. Energy Recovery Ventilation Systems
  4. Higher Efficiency Service Water Heating
  5. On-Site Supply of Renewable Energy (3% of total building energy loads), or
  6. Automatic Daylighting Control System (for 30% of total floor area)

One of these must be incorporated into the project.  Specific requirements about how to comply with each can be found in the Code.

The Code became mandatory in North Carolina on March 1st, 2012.