Architectural Consultations before you buy or lease property

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

We often get inquiries from people who wish to buy a home or buy/lease a business property and want us to confirm that the property will be suitable for their needs.  This is a very good idea.  You want to know the facts before making a big financial commitment.

Usually the first question we are asked is “Will I be allowed to do what I’m intending to do with the property?”  And usually the answer is: “It depends.”  In order to answer the question, we need to find out exactly what you plan to do and then to look at the specific property records to determine critical elements like zoning, existing structures, required setbacks, neighborhood ordinances, conditional use permits, base flood elevation, utilities, slope, floor area ratio, any unpermitted construction, open permits, etc.  (Some of those things might not apply in every case.)

If you are making a big decision on whether to buy the property based on our advice, we want to make sure we are providing informed opinions, not just guessing.  That kind of research and professional assessment takes time and we cannot provide it for free, but this is a good investment of a few hundred dollars before making the decision of hundreds of thousands or even millions to sign the lease or the deed.  Based on this information you may decide to negotiate further, walk away from the deal, or make the commitment.

The sooner you contact us, the better.  Obviously, lease or purchase negotiations tend to have short deadlines.  If you want something done quickly, we will try to squeeze it in among our existing project schedules. A 24-hour turnaround is probably impossible, especially if we have to meet you and see the property.  (Usually a realtor needs to arrange access to the site.)  So, if you think you will need advice, call us as early as you can.

Please be aware that some issues cannot be guaranteed.  If you want to do construction, going through the Planning and Building Department process for permits will often uncover obstacles that are unknown in the early stages.

You can also do some of your own research in advance.  If similar projects have been done nearby, that information is helpful in assessing the possibilities.  For example, if you are planning to add another story to a building, and there is another multi-story structure nearby, then chances are that it will be possible to build up to that height.  Asking other property owners in the area about their experience with modifications to their buildings can reveal interesting information.  Knocking on a few doors of future neighbors may be worth your time.

Most communities in California have public property record information online.  You can check to see if the building and lot size are correct, if there were any modifications done, permit status, restrictions based on flood or fire danger, etc.  Sometimes a quick browser search of “<city name> gis” will lead you to a site where you can enter the address and search the public database.  Sometimes you will first have to go to the website of the County Tax Assessor to get more detailed information.  A word of caution:  if the tax assessor’s records do not match the building as it is currently listed for sale or lease (e.g., the wrong number of bedrooms on a house), that is a red flag.  It may indicate that the building was modified without obtaining a building permit.  A future owner could be held liable for any legalization work that would be required.  Be sure to bring up that information in your negotiations.

Good luck with your purchase or lease, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

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When the drawings look nice, but aren’t adequate for permitting or construction

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

In the April 5th issue of Engineering News Record magazine there is an article that addresses the issue of contractors encountering design documents that are not complete enough to build.  The article raises a number of concerns, but this is the one that caught my eye:

“younger, tech-savvy designers who are replacing retiring baby boomers. Stuart Coppedge, a principal with RTA Architects, Colorado Springs, recalls how his experience on summer construction jobs during high school provided valuable preparation for his future career. Now, he says, finding architecture-school graduates with construction experience is increasingly difficult.  ‘They may not intuitively understand work processes and how materials work,’ Coppedge says. ‘It’s up to a firm’s leadership to train people and help them understand what they’re doing.’  Virtual design and construction technology, often cited as a boon to productivity, can be a double-edged sword as well. ‘It lets you draw a whole lot, but it doesn’t guarantee good results,’ Coppedge says.”

Click here for the referenced article.

We have come upon this problem numerous times when clients bring us projects.  They say that they “already have a design”.  They have drawings that look nice on paper, but when seen with an experienced eye we find numerous errors that will not allow the project to be permitted, much less built by a licensed contractor.  Sometimes the drawings were created by an architecture firm (but an inexperienced architect).  But more often the drawings were prepared by an unlicensed residential designer, interior designer, friend or family member, etc., using design software.  The software creates drawings that look like formal construction documents, but without the experience and knowledge of a licensed architect they are just concepts, not construction documents.

It upsets the client when we explain that we can’t use much of what they gave us, often needing to start completely from scratch.  Common problems include:

  • Not considering setbacks, floor area ratio, or other applicable zoning ordinances.
  • Not using accurate measurements from the existing structure.
  • Not following Building Code requirements.
  • Not understanding enough about construction to specify the electrical, plumbing, heating elements properly.
  • Not understanding structural needs, for example creating a large open room without a beam appropriate to support the roof.
  • Doors and windows of odd sizes and in odd places, such that they don’t meet construction standards.
  • And the list can go on and on.
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Some of the code books we have in our office library.

Sometimes a client has spent quite a bit of money and time to get to the point where they are ready to submit for a building permit.  Then the permitting agency tells them that they will need an architect.  Of course, they want the architect (us) to just stamp the drawings that they gave us.   No, we can’t do that.  Not only because we can’t take legal responsibility for substandard work produced by a non-licensed designer, but also because we will have to spend many hours fixing mistakes that we would not have created in the first place. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to construction as well as to many other things in life.  Design and construction documents by an experienced licensed architect will cost you more up front than going to an unlicensed designer.  That is undoubtedly true.  But you will ultimately avoid costly errors and time lost in making corrections to fix hidden mistakes in the drawings.  Don’t assume that because the drawings were created using architectural design software that they are necessarily correct.  The software cannot substitute for architectural, engineering, and construction knowledge.

As always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.  Best wishes on your project.

 

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Why you should consider solar panels and a home battery for your home

With the demand for renewable energy on the rise and projected to continue to increase in the future, solar energy is something you should consider when remodeling your home. Solar energy is a great way for you to participate in the production of renewable energy that benefits both yourself and your surrounding community.

While it is true that the upfront investment of solar panels is quite steep, around ($19,000 – $24,000 for a 10KW system) the benefits that follow with solar panels should definitely be taken into account. The major factors in which solar panels are beneficial are:

-Your home value goes up

-Solar panels will pay for themselves after about 7 years

-Last up to 30 years

-With a home battery you can store solar energy for emergencies

-You will be saving a lot of money each year

In the Bay Area solar panels on a 10KW system will allow you to save on average $2,700 annually from your electric bill. With all of your savings from drawing solar power, the average time for solar panels to break even is 7 years. Basically, you would have spent the same amount of money after 7 years of relying on energy from the grid. Here is a link to calculate your savings and payback period for your own home: https://www.solar.com/.

Most solar panels will stay efficient for about 30 years, so after you have gotten your return on investment, you will continue to save money for years to come. Homes that have solar panels will increase in value by approximately $15,000. Not only will you recoup the money you spent on the solar panels, but you will also find it easier to sell your house in the future.

In addition to installing solar panels, adding a home battery will help you save even more money and prepare your home for power outages and other natural disasters. With a home battery you will not rely on the grid as much.   Because you have energy saved at your home that you collected with your solar panels, you will still have power for some time if there is a power outage.  Home batteries will allow you save money because you can draw from the battery during peak hours to avoid the high energy rates from the grid. Most home battery systems currently cost between $8,000-$10,000 per battery and will last up to 15 years. The payback time for a battery is around 11 years, so you will still see a return on your investment.

With solar panels and a home battery, you are able to maximize both investments. From power outages to high electricity costs, you are doing yourself a favor by switching to solar and a home battery. If you have a family member at home who is attached to a medical device, it is very important to always have energy for that person. Solar energy is something you won’t have to think about once installed and it will passively save you money.

 

By Robert Rochel, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

 

Sources:

https://www.tesla.com/powerwall

https://www.energysage.com/solar/solar-energy-storage/benefits-of-solar-batteries/

https://carbonpositivelife.com/how-long-powerwall-2-pay-for-itself/

https://news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/

https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/downloads/solar-homes-sell-premium

https://news.energysage.com/understanding-your-solar-panel-payback-period/

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The Kastrop Group has moved our office!

As of April 1, 2019, our architectural office moved to a new location.  We are still in Redwood City, now in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood within walking distance of our wonderful downtown.  We have reserved parking at our new place, and that’s a benefit to employees and clients alike.  The new office has such great natural light that electrical lights are mostly unnecessary.  There are walking paths and mature oak trees nearby and even a picnic table under a tree next to the building.

We did have to downsize a bit to fit in the new space.  And rents have gone up a lot since we signed our prior lease 8 years ago.  Nevertheless, we think this move has worked out for the best.  We are still working with the cable company to get an upgrade to fiber optic high-speed service at our new building, which is the last piece of the puzzle.  We have almost finished unpacking and finding the right space for various supplies, wall hangings and office equipment.

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For any business owner who is facing a big move, either because of or after construction, here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Change the address associated with your credit card to the new location early. Then change all of your recurring charges to use the new address.  There were a few vendors that did not process the change of address quickly, causing the charges to be denied by the card company when the wrong zip code was used.
  2. Give utility companies as much notice as possible of the turn-off date at your old location and the turn-on date at the new one. Some companies require lead time to handle this, especially if equipment, like modems and telephones, have to be relocated.
  3. Get your IT people working on the set up at the new location right away. They may need permission from the new landlord/outgoing tenant to go in and see where the internet connection(s) will be, where the server will go, set up the firewall and wifi, etc.
  4. Line up regular service providers like janitorial service and delivery companies to understand that they will be shifting to a new location and make sure they know where it is and have access keys/codes.
  5. Talk to the mail carrier (in person) at your old location and your new location. They will smooth the transition so that your mail catches up to you quickly.
  6. Have your employees figure out the best configuration for furniture and computers at the new location. They have good suggestions to consider since you will be able to start with a blank slate.
  7. Order signage, new business cards, letterhead, return address labels, etc. Change the templates on soft copies of invoices, letterhead, contracts, etc.  (It took more time than I expected to track down all the documents that needed to be updated.)
  8. Update your address on all of your social media sites.
  9. Tell your clients and consultants in person or by telephone if possible. We found that sending an email is not enough.
  10. Update your address on all of your insurance policies, banking information, business licenses, professional licenses, and tax agencies.
  11. Hire a good moving company. Have cash on hand to give tips to the movers.  Check to see if leased equipment must be moved by the leasing company or a specially-authorized service.
  12. Assess any furniture and supplies that need to be ordered for the new location—kitchen appliances, restroom items, walk-in mats, fans, air filters, water filters, etc. Any eco-friendly or accessibility modifications should be considered before the move.
  13. Start boxing non-essentials early if they are going to be moved. Label the boxes clearly.
  14. Prioritize time for scanning documents to avoid moving them. (Hopefully you already have most of your essential files in the cloud.)
  15. Recycle paperwork that is not moving and shred any sensitive documents. Contact an e-waste recycling company if you are not taking all of your old equipment with you.  Contact a local charity, incubator start-up non-profit, church, or school to see if they can use any office furniture that you are not moving.
  16. Make sure all of the mapping services know how to locate your new location. It turns out that Google and Bing both had wrong directions to our new office because it faces a one-way street and some landscaping blocks entry at one end of our parking lot.  We were able to submit corrections to update their driving directions.
  17. Contact all of your business associations and membership organizations.
  18. If you still receive hard copy mailings such as newspapers and magazines, check the procedure for processing change of address. The U.S. Postal Service only allows forwarding for a short time on 3rd class or bulk mail.

I hope this checklist is helpful.  Moving is difficult and stressful, especially on short notice.  If you keep a record of what you have done and what you have left to do you can work your way through the list systematically without jeopardizing your business or your peace of mind.

If you are one of our Bay Area clients or colleagues, please visit us at our new location:  160 Birch Street, Suite B, Redwood City, CA  94062.

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Approved or Permitted: What’s the Difference?

Recently one of our clients ran into a problem with his General Contractor.  He told the contractor that the project was permitted.  The Contractor mobilized and scheduled his subcontractors to get to the site to start work.  Unfortunately, when the GC went to City Hall to pick up the permit, it was not ready.  Why?  Because the project had been approved, but not permitted.  The GC wasn’t happy.

Projects go through an approval process that often includes a few City/County departments, including Planning, Building, Public Works, Engineering, Health, Fire, Historical Review, etc.  Once all of departments have approved the project, the Architect and Project Applicant are notified of the approval.  At that time the Applicant typically must pay building permit fees.  Other steps before the permit is available can include items such as obtaining a receipt for payment of the school impact fees, getting a waiver with the jurisdiction for cutting open the sidewalk for utilities, paying bonds, verification of tree protection measures, and filing deed restrictions.

After fees have been paid and other miscellaneous items completed, then the permit is prepared and available for pickup.  That’s when it is OK to tell the General Contractor that the project is “permitted”.  The miscellaneous items vary per jurisdiction and also the scope of the project.

In our office we are careful not to use the terms “approved” and “permitted” interchangeably, but not all Planning & Building Departments make the distinction.  That leads to confusion for our clients, the Project Applicants.

As a rule, when we are told that a project is “permitted” we ask if that means the permit is ready to be picked up.  Sometimes we are told, “Yes, if such-and-such fees are paid.”  So, in reality, the answer is—No, it isn’t ready to be picked up.  The fees must be paid first and only then will the permit be ready for pickup.

If time is of the essence, and your project is in the permitting process, please discuss with your General Contractor and Architect about your availability to pay the permit fees in person, so that the permit can be “pulled” (obtained or picked up) from the permitting agency.  In many cases, your Architect can find out in advance what the fees will be, and you can prepare checks to be given to the School District and the permitting agency.  If you will be unavailable, or out-of-town, when the project is approved, you may wish to make arrangements to have your Architect pay the fees on your behalf and then bill you back.

No matter who is handling the permit fees, coordination and communication between the Architect, Project Owner, and General Contractor is important.  That way, no one will be left hanging if the project is “approved”, but not “permitted”.

Thank you for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

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

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10 Sure-fire Ways to Connect with an Architect

The Bay Area has been in a construction boom ever since the recession ended (even a bit before!).  During the recession, the American Institute of Architects reported that 40% of the licensed architects in the U.S. were without work or underemployed.  How times have changed.  Now you might have trouble getting an architect to return your call.  How can you get your desired architect’s attention?  Here are our suggestions, based on personal experience.

  1. Be friendly. Architects know that they will have a relationship with their clients lasting months, or even years.  They want to know that the client will be a fair-minded and nice person.
  2. Be honest. Tell your potential architect about the scope (size and complexity) of your project, your budget and your timeline.  It is frustrating to have to probe for this information, which is critical to the architect’s work schedule and project estimate.  If you have a relatively small project, your willingness to wait a while to get slotted into a busy schedule will be taken into consideration.
  3. Be patient. Rush projects are a red flag to a busy architectural office. All our clients are anxious to get under construction.  It is frustrating when a potential client wants to jump ahead of the line.  If you are red-tagged for starting construction without a permit, have code compliance or other legalization issues, we are even more reluctant.
  4. Do some research. Know what jurisdiction you are in, i.e., within the City limits, or unincorporated?  Use a search engine to get your property information from your local agency’s GIS system.  (For example, type “yourcityname GIS” into your browser, then search information by your street address.)   Do you have a slope on your property?  Is it in a flood zone?  We will have to search for this information before we can give you an estimate.  If you provide this information up front, it saves us time and helps get the conversation started.
  5. Get referrals. Check on other recent projects in your area for an architect, a civil engineer, a general contractor, an arborist, and any other services you may need.  The time you invest in this research will pay off in the long run!  Some of these folks may have a long lead time for their services.  (Don’t worry, if you don’t have any referrals to these services, your architect will be able to help you.)
  6. Drop names. If you have done research and have lined up contractors or engineers, mention them to your desired architect.  Working with people we know is one of the best paths to a successful project, and we are eager to find out if the proposed team is a good one.  Also let us know if you have spoken to one of our past clients.
  7. Respond promptly. If we send you an email, or a proposal, please respond to it.  It is OK if the response is “I’ll get back to you by next week”.  Formal proposals/estimates take hours of staff time to prepare.  We have made a significant investment in giving that paperwork to you.  Even if you are not ready to sign on the dotted line, please respond to us.  The lack of response leads us to believe that you are just shopping, and not serious about the project.  If you have questions about the proposal, or concerns about the estimate, get right back to us with the questions and we will be happy to answer.  It helps if you are willing to use email rather than playing “phone tag”.
  8. Stay local. It is very helpful if you hire an architect and general contractor that have experience doing similar projects in your local area.  Familiarity with local codes and ordinances, not to mention relationships with Planning and Building Departments, can make a big difference in whether a project goes smoothly.  You can check for licensed architects on your local state architectural license board website, or aia.org, or the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
  9. Know your project type. Is this a single-family residential project, multi-family residential, commercial/retail, commercial/restaurant, commercial/office, industrial, high-rise, faith community, etc.?  Find an architect (and general contractor) who has experience with that type of project.  Architects and contractors that have only worked on residential projects might have to do a lot of extra research on applicable building codes for a commercial or public project.
  10. Build relationships. This is good advice no matter what you want to accomplish, but it is especially important in the construction industry.  If you talk to neighbors, business colleagues and politically active friends, you will find out information that will help you get the inside track with your local agencies and construction professionals.

Thank you for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”.

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

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Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 3

Now Complete!

In case you missed them, here’s the two preceding parts to this blog series. 

Part 1: The Vision and Design Process

Part 2: Construction Progress

Our extensive remodel project converting the old Schroeder Sheet Metal shop into a modern home is finally complete!  We’d like to share some of the finished photos with you, along with some further reflection. 

The Exterior – Then and Now

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The Schroeder sign returned towards the end of construction, this time with a modified backdrop of stamped sheet metal, corten steel, and wood siding that developed from countless 3D rendering studies.  The original stamped sheet metal was removed, repaired and painted before being re-installed.  The wood siding repurposed the original flooring of the sheet metal shop, a beautiful and sustainable idea from our client.  

Taking a Look Inside

Before:

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And After: 

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Lightening the walls and adding a few well-placed skylights and windows transformed the space.  The building footprint did not change, yet the interior feels much more spacious.  The interior designer – Keith Higgins – did a wonderful job selecting the interior finishes as well, seamlessly mixing the cooler industrial elements with much warmer rustic details and pieces. 

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All the steel work was provided by Tom Roy and Alex Gonzalez.  Details throughout the home, such as the railing corner above, are subtle tributes to the Schroder Sheet Metal building’s prior life.  The client, interior designer, and metal fabricators came up with this alternate metal design that is unique and timeless.  

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With a footprint of just 1,500 square feet and a pitched roof that carves out a large portion of the available second story, Principal Architect D. Michael Kastrop, A.I.A. designed with a mind toward efficient use of space.  The final design has two spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, a master bedroom/bathroom suite, a home office and a powder room tucked in next to the kitchen and full laundry room.  The kitchenette shown above was designed by Mr. Kastrop to make use of the under-stair ”dead” space. 

Back Outside – The Living Wall

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The living wall was designed and installed by Habitat for Horticulture.  “The Fu Manchu face” was the inspiration provided by our client.  Can you spot the mustache?  We’re looking forward to watching it grow out as we pass by regularly.

Closing Words

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This project took time and attention to all of the details, and we are pleased to have the chance to share the stunning outcome with you.  The project transformed a dilapidated industrial building into a beautiful living space with historical character.  We have a page featuring this project on our website with many more photos, if you are interested.  Click here to see the image spread!

Look out for future blog posts from our firm Vice President, Lorianna Kastrop.  The blog provides some useful tidbits and reflects on trends that our architectural office experiences first-hand.  With that said, I’d like to honor her blog-closer and say thanks for reading, and as always, we are “Designing for Your Reality”

By Marie Barron, Design Associate, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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