The Kastrop Group receives Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Ethics!

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

Torch Award 2017 logo - blue

We are excited to announce that The Kastrop Group has been selected by the Better Business Bureau of the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California as their first-ever recipient of the Torch Award for Ethics in the small business category (1-10 employees)!  This is a wonderful validation of our continuing commitment to honesty, integrity and fairness in our work and in our pricing.  We are also dedicated to community service and improving the business standards of the architectural profession.  We know that our clients, employees, professional consultants and engineers, general contractors, planning and building departments, and vendors are our partners in making The Kastrop Group successful, and we thank them for helping us to achieve this recognition.

We would love to hear from past clients or people we have worked with as part of our celebration.  If you are so inclined, please post a note on our company Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/KastropGroup/ or Twitter feed @KastropGroup.

The award announcement page is  http://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/torch-awards-for-ethics/.  It states “The Torch Awards for Ethics honors companies whose leaders demonstrate a high level of personal character and ensure that the organization’s practices meet the highest standards of ethics, and consequently generate trust. These companies generate a high level of trust among their employees, customers’ and their communities. The award embodies the Better Business Bureau mission of advancing marketplace trust.”

We have maintained membership in the Better Business Bureau since we were eligible to join and we have maintained the A+ rating ever since.  We agree with their mission of promoting “trust” in business by recognizing those businesses that are trustworthy and encouraging the public to patronize them.  Architecture is a profession that relies on trust.  When our clients come to us they must trust that we are competent, reliable, creative and skillful in our work on their project.  They might pay a lot of money before they ever have a document or building permit in their hands.  It’s not a one-time transaction, like the purchase of a product.  And it doesn’t end when we give them their construction documents.  We must be available to answer questions, interact with contractors, engineers, permitting agencies, and others to make sure that the project moves forward successfully.  You are not just buying a service, but you are investing in a relationship, one that will have a big impact on your home or business.

We want to give special thanks to our employees.   They have been responsible for maintaining our “brand” and our reputation in the community.  We rely upon their honesty, integrity, and capabilities every day.  We are very lucky to have a staff that believes in the same goals that the founders believe in.

Having won at the local level, The Kastrop Group will be submitted by the BBB to the international level of competition for the Torch Award.  We are pleased to represent the Bay Area and we are grateful to the Golden Gate Better Business Bureau for giving us this wonderful recognition!

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Project Timing: Leave Room in Schedule for Consultants

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

Clients often come to us ready to start a project and ask us “How soon will the drawings be ready?”  Surprisingly, the simple answer is misleading.  If we tell them how long it will take to do the architectural work, they assume that’s when they will be able to start building.  Here’s why that assumption is incorrect.

Professional consultants are in high demand whenever there is a lot of construction work going on in your area.  These include (but aren’t limited to) engineers and surveyors.  Many projects require several engineering specialties such as structural, civil, geotechnical (soils analysis), and Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing.  Each engineer will review the architectural design drawings, and often require a site visit.  Then the engineer will prepare drawings for the project in their area of expertise.  Those drawings are added to the “Construction Document” set that is submitted for a building permit.

In addition, many jurisdictions are requiring a property survey to be completed to verify whether the assumed boundary lines are correct.  Over many years, property lines might have drifted from the correct property boundary due to inaccurate placement of fencing, pavement, landscaping, etc.  When planners are reviewing setbacks and maximum lot coverage they want to be assured that they are measuring from a professionally verified property line and that there are no unknown easements.

Other requirements really catch people by surprise.  For example, in our area some jurisdictions are requiring a “sanitary sewer video inspection” as part of the Building Permit application for projects of a certain size and scope.  This entails having a plumber run a remote video camera into the existing sewer lateral (pipe) from the existing building to the sewer main.  A Public Works inspector must review the video and complete an inspection report to determine whether the sewer lateral needs to be repaired or replaced.   (The rules on this vary from one jurisdiction to another, so check with your architect to see if it would apply to your project.)

One of our clients has old and large trees on the property.  To build an accessory dwelling unit, their property must have a certified arborist’s report about possible “heritage” trees that cannot be cut down.  The root systems must be protected from damage from the planned construction.  That means the placement of the building must be shown on the architectural drawings to be the proper distance away from the trees’ drip lines.  The arborist is very busy, and is taking a while to get his report done.  That is slowing down the project.

When several consultants and specialists are required for a project, the timeline for the project will grow, sometimes by a huge factor.  Let’s say the architectural documents will take a month, but the Structural Engineer can’t look at it for two weeks.  Since the structure affects the design, the schedule moves out by at least two weeks.  If a survey is required, the architectural work might not even be able to get started until that is done.  Sometimes surveyors are so busy that it will take two months just to get the survey completed.  And so on.

In summary, we wish we could give a short answer to “How soon will the drawings be ready?”  We can’t answer how long will it take for the architectural work without first explaining all the other possible factors that could affect the timing.

It is essential to give yourself lots of lead time for design, engineering, planning and permitting if you are considering a building project.  (All bets are off on the timing if your commercial project is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.)

For your peace of mind and to get an accurate assessment of the timing for your project, consult a licensed architect well in advance and be prepared to hear a detailed explanation!

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Home Insurance Policy Replacement Cost: How to calculate it for your home?

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

A friend just asked us a question that might be of interest to others – What dollar figure should I use to calculate the correct coverage for replacement cost on my homeowner’s insurance policy?  Policies vary, but we recommend that you work with your insurance agent to make sure that you have adequate coverage.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Replacement cost is not the same as sales price. When buying a home, the price of the land is a large portion of the cost.  If you lost your home in a fire, or other catastrophe, the land would presumably still be there and you could rebuild.  You do not have to insure for the value of the land.
  1. Replacement cost should use an average cost per square foot at today’s construction rates. Update your policy annually (or when it renews) with the current going rate.  Ask a licensed general contractor for a ballpark rate for new construction in your area.  Obviously, variables might apply if your home is built on a slope or hillside, if it has unique or custom features, if it has luxury elements, etc.  Don’t let the insurance company tell you the cost per square foot based on a “national average”.  Building costs can be much higher in urban areas, and they are particularly high in the Bay Area.
  1. Multiply the cost per square foot times the number of square feet covered in your policy to get an overall replacement cost.  Then increase that number by 10-12% to cover “soft costs” such as architectural plans, engineering, planning & building department fees, etc.  Insurance companies often fail to include soft costs, but you cannot avoid paying them when you rebuild, so make sure you are covered for them.
  1. Check your policy for accessory dwelling coverage. This might include a “in-law” or “granny” unit, a detached garage, a backyard shed or studio, etc.
  1. Check your policy for “contents coverage”. Construction costs do not cover the costs of furnishings and appliances, etc., so you will want to have adequate coverage for your belongings.
  1. Consider “umbrella coverage” for items that are not covered in your standard homeowner’s coverage.

An example for the Bay Area might be around $400 per square foot for an entire house.  That breaks down to $300/S.F. for a standard living room, bedrooms, garage, etc. and up to $600/S.F. for kitchens, and baths.   If you have a 2,000 S.F. home then you will want approximately $900,000 of replacement cost coverage.  ($400 x 2,000 = $800,000 + 12% = $896,000)

The policy might offer coverage of about 10% of the replacement cost for contents coverage, or $90,000.  That probably isn’t enough to pay for all your furniture, clothing, appliances, fixtures, electronics, entertainment system, etc., that could be destroyed in a fire.  That is why we recommend additional coverage for those items.

Again, as architects we do not have the expertise to evaluate insurance coverage.  We only hope to help you consider all aspects of rebuilding costs when you are buying insurance, so that you will be adequately protected.  Using our suggestions above, you can talk to your insurance agent and figure out the best, most cost-effective coverage for your individual situation.

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Check on who you are working with: Are they a licensed Architect?

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

We can’t emphasize this enough—a designer is not a licensed professional.  They may have certain skills and experience, some may even have a degree in architecture, but they do not have the extensive training of a licensed architect.  Unlicensed individuals are not legally liable for their work.  To verify whether someone you are interviewing is a licensed architect in California, you can check online with the California Architects Board at http://www.cab.ca.gov/

Would you go to an unlicensed person for medical services?  For legal services?  Why would you trust your home or business, probably your biggest single investment, to an unlicensed person?  It does not save you money in the long run.  You will not likely get the best possible design solution either.

Some folks have taken to calling themselves architects when they do not hold a California license.  (That is not legal.)  Some have licenses from foreign countries, or other states.  It’s simply not the same thing.  California has some of most stringent requirements in the world for design and construction.  This is partly due to seismic (earthquake) safety, but it is also due to environmental regulations, life safety, building energy performance, local ordinances, and other concerns.  A licensed architect not only has a four or five-year architecture undergraduate degree, they also have years of apprenticeship under a licensed architect, then a rigorous multi-part examination that usually takes multiple years to pass successfully.  For a good summary of the steps to become a licensed architect, see this blog:  http://www.modative.com/modern-architects-blog/topic/architecture-license by Derek Leavitt.  For more details, and the process to be licensed in the U.S. for foreign architects, see www.ncarb.org

Our firm was underbid for a contract on a commercial building remodel a few years ago.  A woman who claimed to be an architect offered her services for half of what we estimated.  The client didn’t check on her license, but trusted her claim.  After she created a full set of documents (and charged him for it), the project could not get permitted.  There were glaring errors and omissions.  The unfortunate client had to come back to us and start all over.  None of the designer’s work could be used.  Instead of getting the project for “half price”, he ended up paying 1.5 times what he would have paid in the first place.  He also had a huge setback to his schedule and lost potential revenue waiting to get his new tenants into the building.

Just recently we found out another cautionary story by coincidence.  A married couple interviewed us about a residential addition project.  We determined that the home already had a second story addition that was built without permits.  The couple wanted to add more square footage to the home.  We outlined the complexities of legalizing the existing second story to them, including that they would not be able to build as much additional square footage as they wanted.  Instead they chose an unlicensed designer who told them what they wanted to hear.  We found out the rest of the story later because we know the General Contractor that the couple chose to build the project.  After it was all said and done, the couple ended up having to do exactly what we had proposed in the first place.  The project had to be redesigned and downsized.  The drawings had to be redone and resubmitted to the permitting agency.  It took 2 ½ years of back-and-forth with the permitting agency because the designer was not familiar enough with the code requirements and kept trying to tweak the design to make it work.  The General Contractor told us that the original estimate he had given the couple had to be increased quite a bit after the 2.5-year delay due to rising construction costs.

Keep in mind that the “soft costs” of a project (architecture, engineering and permit fees) are typically far less than the “hard costs” of construction.  It varies, but soft costs usually run less than 15% of the project budget.  Don’t get scared of overpaying on the soft costs.  Hire the best, and most experienced, licensed professionals you can find, who are available and willing to take your project.  Double-check on their license status.  The fee for a good architect is money well spent, and could save you time and costs in the long run.

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Design Considerations for Millennials

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc., Architects

 

It is time for architects to consider the needs and lifestyles of Millennials in our design process.

We’ve already seen some of this in office design—most tech firms use an open space floor plan devoid of the cubicles of the past.  Many incorporate relaxation amenities, such as places to lie down or put your feet up, exercise or play equipment, and break rooms with high quality food and beverage choices (no more stale coffee, water cooler and vending machines).  In fact, break rooms have become full kitchens.  Creative space with whiteboards or wipe-off walls are a normal part of collaboration spaces.  Conference rooms can look more like living rooms with sofas and a large flat screen on the wall, instead of a huge table surrounded by chairs.  Outdoor landscaped areas and indoor plant scaping is a common feature of the work environment.  These amenities are clearly worker-friendly and appeal to the Millennial mentality of work/lifestyle balance.

Other changes to office design are meant to increase productivity, such as multiple electrical outlets for portable devices and charging, wi-fi availability, better lighting fixtures and access to natural light, and improved communication systems.

More companies are allowing employees to use mobile devices—tablets and pads, smart phones—to do their work, email, and communications rather than be tied to a desk.  Millennials are just as fast on touch screens as Baby Boomers are adept on a keyboard.  Millennials want flexible work hours and are comfortable checking their devices when they are away from “the office”, whereas many Boomers want to disconnect when they are away from “the office”.  What if office space were designed less to be a place where people “go to work” and more of a place where telecommuting workers “come to meet”?

In home environments, Millennials seem to be moving away from the traditional single family home with a yard (not to mention white picket fence).  They flock to urban environments with lots of entertainment choices, living in apartments or shared houses, and consider the nearby parks, clubs, gyms, and other venues within walking distance as their outdoor space.  This dispenses with the need for lawnmowers and other home maintenance costs and chores and encourages social interactions at locations outside the home.  We’ve also seen increasing popularity for smaller, right-sized homes rather than the “McMansions” that were trending a while ago.

One thing we’ve noticed that Boomers and Millennials both have in common is our love of pets.  We have designed a lot of pet-friendly spaces, including Wag Hotels.  These are upscale board and care facilities for dogs and cats that are designed to mimic hotels for humans in accommodations, activities and levels of amenities available.  We predict that more apartment and multi-family residential facilities will become pet-friendly in the future, as more architects incorporate systems, materials and finishes that take the needs of pets and pet owners into consideration.

Millennials also seem to be letting go of the automobile as an extension of themselves.  Boomers are very auto-centric, and our built environment reflects that, with roads, highways, and parking playing a major role in land-use and infrastructure decisions.  Many Millennials are perfectly content to bike, take public transit, or use car-sharing or car-hailing technologies when needed.  Some don’t own cars because it is an inconvenience to search for parking in an urban environment.  Car ownership does not provide the hop-in, drop-off-at-the-door convenience of Lyft or Uber.  In a future where less people own cars, we may be able to change zoning ordinances to require less land and costs devoted to parking lots and parking garages.  Imagine neighborhoods without driveways, garages and carports.  Imagine drop-off/pick-up zones and a lot more Wifi hotspots in waiting areas.  The design possibilities and opportunities are exciting.

As architects adapt their designs to reflect the tastes and needs of Millennials, we will soon see major changes to our built environment, and it is something to look forward to.

 

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I like/I wish/What if: Working with Clients to Apply Design Thinking

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

“Design Thinking” is all the rage in Silicon Valley.  People are applying it to all sorts of companies and products, and we can apply it to architecture as well.  Today I want to talk about design thinking in client interactions.  Often a client will come to us to create plans for a pre-conceived result.  For example, a client will say “I want to add a second story to my building.”  They already have a list of improvements prepared and often they have a pretty good idea of how they want to accomplish them.  This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t yield the most creative results.

Another way to go about a conversation with a client is to play the “I like, I wish, What if” game.  This game is a normal part of the process of design thinking.  https://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/themes/dschool/method-cards/i-like-i-wish-what-if.pdf

The process goes something like this:  Start with a statement that is specific (and reflects your emotional engagement).  “I have a growing business.”  Next, you make a critical observation that is specific and actionable preceded by the words “I wish”.  In this example you might say “I wish our office building could accommodate more employees.”

The next step would be to take those actionable statements and give them to your architect.  The architect might show you a second story addition (your initial concept) or the architect might show you an open floor plan design that removes some walls and requires less square footage per employee.  That is how you get “outside the box” thinking.  From there you might say, “I like open floor plans.  I wish that they also accommodated more privacy.”  Going back and forth with this feedback loop, your architect will refine the design until you get a scheme that you love.

Another example that we often encounter is that the client has taken off-the-shelf home design software to draw a floor plan of what they want their project to look like.  We then start probing to find out what they are trying to accomplish.  For example, we might ask, “Would you like to increase storage space in your home?” “Would you like to increase natural light?” “Would you like to improve the flow from room to room?”  With the answers to these “I like” questions we often find that they have not considered all of the opportunities for improvements to their home with their preconceived design.  They are then more open to a fresh design approach.

Before contacting your architect, try a “What if” scenario that begins with “What if cost was not a consideration?”  You might come up with some wild ideas that are totally impractical, but they might contain the seed of a concept that you can then play around with when talking to your architect.  For example, an urban homeowner in a confined space might say “If money were no object, I would have beautiful views from every room”.  OK, maybe your architect could maximize window space that looks out on small container gardens or figures out ways to incorporate art photography to give the illusion of great views.

The “I like, I wish, What if” game can free your thinking and allow you to consider new ideas.  Try it and use it with your design team.

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The IoT and Cybersecurity: Important Considerations for Architects and their Clients

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

We love our gadgets, don’t we?  We have smart phones, smart TVs, and smart watches.  Now we have the option to build smart buildings and smart houses.  The Internet of Things is catching on fast.  More and more of our devices are connected to the internet and when everything from computers and home security systems to baby monitors and refrigerators are online 24/7, they can be hacked.  As we learned from the cyberattack that shut down major websites such as Twitter and Paypal last October while targeting the internet host Dyn, our devices can be hijacked for nefarious purposes.

If you like the convenience of these devices and want them installed in your home or office, you may want to consider cybersecurity as part of your decision-making process.   Your architect can refer you to a consultant that can provide valuable technical expertise for your project.  A recent article in the San Francisco Business Times headlined “The Dark Side of the Internet of Things” summarizes this issue and ranks several installed devices as “Disastrous, Disruptive or Damaging”.  These include IP-Connected Security Systems and Climate Control and Energy Meters (Disastrous), Smart Video Conference Systems, Connected Printers and VOIP phones (Disruptive) and Smart Fridges and Smart Lightbulbs (Damaging).  Unfortunately, you must be a subscriber to view the article, but if you are a subscriber or wish to subscribe, here is the link:  http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2016/11/03/internet-of-things-hackers-dyna-attack-cyber-ddos.html

That is alarming and it doesn’t even address the privacy issue, an Orwellian concern that is becoming more real every day.  “Wired” published an article titled “Smart Homes of the Future Will Know Us by Our Heartbeats” https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/10/smart-homes-of-the-future/  If that makes you cringe, then maybe you will want to be thoughtful about what you are installing and how much security is built into the device.  If you are thinking that it would be cool to have your surroundings and devices programmed to recognize and respond to you automatically, then maybe you are one of the early adopters of this technology.

While we don’t take a positive or negative approach to the Internet of Things, we do want our clients to be informed about their choices.  Some of our clients are eager to install these new devices and we will create designs that incorporate them.  Others choose just a few options, such as home entertainment systems and wi-fi, but aren’t ready to jump into the deep end with IP-connected infrastructure.

When you are making these decisions, you can start by checking with the suppliers or manufacturers of the devices you are considering installing at your home or business and ask about how much security has been incorporated into them.  Some of this information is already available online, and you can use your web browser to access articles regarding device security.  Whenever possible, use two-factor identification, such as getting a text on your mobile phone whenever your system has been accessed to verify that you initiated the access.  Use complicated passwords that can’t be easily guessed and don’t use the same password on all your devices.  Yes, this is an annoyance.  There are good password storage applications available, such as LastPass, to help you with this chore.

As architects, we want your built environment to meet your needs.  We want you to have access to modern conveniences.  In this new world of rapidly advancing technology, we are also learning what is safe to use, and what might pose a concern.  It is worth taking time to do the research and make careful choices.

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