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, or the Better Business Bureau at
  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



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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Skipping architectural design can be penny-wise, pound foolish

“I already have a design, I just need the plans drawn up.”  This is a statement that makes architects cringe.  In some cases, it will cause the architect to turn down your project.  What someone thinks is a “design” could have a lot of missing pieces.  Even when people use design software to draw up a floor plan, their idea typically hasn’t taken into consideration the building code requirements, local ordinances, structural issues, cost of construction, best use of space and other important factors.  By saying they have a completed design, the client has boxed the architect into a corner.  The client will get a lower quality outcome as a result.

We certainly want our clients to come to us with ideas, sketches, photos, and examples of what they like.  They can bring us their version of the design.  We will work closely with the client to incorporate their ideas, needs and desires into the final design.  We don’t expect a blank slate.  But we want the latitude to utilize our expertise and experience to come up with the best possible design within the client’s budget.  We will then draw it up into a set of construction documents (plans and specifications).  If the client thinks that they have already completed the design, they will only want to pay for the documents.  They will be unwilling to engage in (and pay for) the creative thought process and design steps that are necessary for an optimal project.

If you have clear ideas about what you would like to achieve, and you like to dabble in design, even use a home version of design software, that’s great!  Just don’t assume that you’ve done the architect’s job.   Bring us your ideas and we will use those as a starting point for the design.

Licensed architects not only have to complete a college degree in architecture, they must work years of apprenticeship training and pass a battery of rigorous examinations.  The amount of time it takes to get an architectural license in the U.S. currently averages 12.5 years!   It takes not only artistic and creative abilities, it also takes geometric and mathematical skills and a strong understanding of physics.  An architectural license is a matter of public health and safety, since we all spend much of our lives inside buildings.  It’s not something you can learn by buying off-the-shelf software.

Here is an example that we encountered recently.  A retail store owner wanted to remodel his store.  He thought it was an easy project and he paid an interior designer to draw up a “design” based on his ideas.  The interior designer is not a licensed architect, and although the drawings looked legitimate, they didn’t comply with building codes and accessibility requirements.  The store owner hired a contractor friend, who started to work on the changes.  The next thing he knew, the County slapped him with a stop work order.  He came to us to create the permit drawings.  (He didn’t want a new design.)  We wanted to help him—we are customers of his store.  But we couldn’t figure out an easy way to rescue the project (as it was currently laid out) to make it compliant.  Basically, he would have to start from the beginning with a new design to fix the deficiencies.  He felt that he couldn’t afford to do that because he had already spent money on it.  We had to turn down the project.  We are not sure how he will resolve the problem.  The remedy will doubtless be much more expensive than what he saved with his do-it-yourself design.

On the other hand, we currently have a client who is an interior designer herself.  She works on huge hotel projects, but the project she brought to us is the remodel of her home.  Obviously, she knows how to design and draft, but she understands that she’s not a specialist in residential projects.  She felt that she could use the guidance of an architect who has done a lot of residential work.  This creates an ideal situation, where we have great ideas coming from the client who relies on our expertise to make sure that the project is designed properly, and the permitting process goes smoothly.

So, don’t be penny-wise, pound foolish.  Hire an architect to go through the design process with you.  It will save you money, time and aggravation in the long run.  Thanks 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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Residential Design: Include your pets in your plans

We consider the needs of children, possibly aging parents/in-laws, and our client’s tastes and desires when designing or remodeling homes.  But what about the furry family members?  Pets are a big part of our lives and making homes comfortable, secure and convenient for pets can improve the livability of our homes.


Our office dog, Mafi.

Thinking of the daily activities of our pets will lead to features that are not difficult to design in a well-planned residential environment.  Where will the food & water bowls be?  Are they in a spot that can easily be cleaned and is not in a part of the room where they will be kicked or tripped over?  Where will the cat’s litter box be located?  Is there adequate storage nearby for large litter containers, scoops, refuse bags? Where is the storage for dog food, harnesses, leashes, brushes, toys?  Will a pet door be needed?  Those should all be considered in the design process.

If there is room in the budget, other conveniences are possible.  In a laundry room or mud room, a pet washing station might be a great idea.  Here is an article for reference:  Dedicated Dog Showers Are A Hot Trend In Home Design

Maybe you’d like to build in a climbing station/scratching post for your cats.  Cats like to be up high.  Do your furnishings, shelves, and window sills offer safe vantage points for the cat to climb up and rest or look outside?  Will any valuables be in danger of being knocked off?  Here are some ideas for cat-friendly features:  Cat Furniture Creations Take Over the House

Think about the durability and cleaning requirements of flooring materials, rugs, and window treatments when you have pets.  Beautiful finishes can become stained or tattered if subjected to daily rubbing or pawing by pets.

If you have a bird, think about where the cage will be.  Does the area have the proper lighting and temperature, away from drafts or direct sunlight?  Some birds like hearing the television, and some birds do not.  Be sure that the cage is in an area that allows some quiet time for the bird.  Will the flooring be protected from falling seeds, etc.?

Tanks or cages with fish, turtles, hamsters, rabbits, rats, gerbils, snakes, and so on all pose issues.  Do you need a dedicated outlet for a heat lamp or a circulating pump that runs constantly?  Where will the cords be?  Do you have a secure shelf?  Is there adequate height for the cage and air circulation around it?  Is it close to a source of water to replenish the water bowl?  Again, think about the windows in the room to avoid direct sunlight or drafts.

Where in the yard will your dog be playing, or pooping?  Do you have the appropriate landscaping for those activities?  What will be your normal door to use when going out for walks?  Is there a good spot for the dog to clean-up inside before running back into the house with muddy feet?  Is that door in a safe area if you must let the dog out at night?  Is there a trip hazard near the door if you are sleepy?  Do you need to add a gate or motion-activated lighting or any additional security measures?

Taking the time to think about your daily interactions with your pets and sharing that information with your architect is a worthwhile exercise and may even add value to your home.  It will certainly create a more pleasant environment for both you and your pets.

Thanks 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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Sharing the business of architecture with high school students

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to students at Burlingame High School who are taking beginning and advanced architecture classes.  They have a nice design studio with up-to-date computers and design software.  Their teacher has an architectural degree and is teaching them not only how to use the tools to design buildings and interior spaces, but also having them participate in charrettes and competitions.  It was exciting to see this level of instruction available to high school students as early as 9th grade.

My presentation started out with photos of architectural bloopers, flubs and fails, (photos pulled off the internet) which made them laugh and got their attention for my more serious points about how important it is for architects to have knowledge, skill, experience and creativity gained in the many years spent obtaining a professional license.  We went over examples of actual projects done by The Kastrop Group.  I made the point that life safety concerns were of utmost importance.  We talked about “Designing for Your Reality” and how every client has a budget and specific goals in mind for their project.  Our job is to make the client’s project come into existence at the intersection of dreams, resources, code requirements, architecture and engineering, time and materials available, and the builder’s skills.

A rendering, one of many, done by Mike Kastrop in 2006.

A rendering done by our firm Principal, Mike Kastrop, in 2006.

The students helped me write down a list of the attributes it takes to be a successful architect.  I pointed out that, maybe surprisingly, most of those attributes could lead to success in any career they might pursue.  We talked about valuing their time, and how their ideas and their time are precious resources that should not be wasted.  We talked about organizational skills.  We even talked about 3D visualization, sustainable design, biophilic design and other trends in the industry.  We covered a lot of ground.

I was impressed by their intelligent questions, and their eagerness to hear stories about my many years of working in an office with creative architects, designers and drafters, while managing the “business” side of the firm to see that it stayed financially healthy.  I hope I gave them a realistic peek at what daily life in an architectural firm is like.

A few days later their teacher emailed me a collection of thank you letters from the students.  I got a kick out of reading the letters and finding out the parts of the presentation that the students enjoyed and the concepts that resonated the most with them.  The letters will help me the next time I prepare a presentation.  I hope to be invited back next year.

I’d like to encourage all people who have careers in design and construction to share their knowledge and experience with students at all levels of the educational spectrum.  Let’s help young people understand that the built environment is constantly evolving.  It needs their new ideas and energy to keep improving our world.  Let’s encourage them to follow in our footsteps and beyond.

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

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

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I need it yesterday! Why does it take so long? (Part 2)

On July 2, 2014 I posted a blog article with the same title.  This is an update to that article.  Now that the construction boom is the new normal, we have noticed several other factors that are slowing down the design and construction process.

New permitting requirements.  Over the past few years, cities and counties have become very risk-averse.  They are requiring more of what one might call “due diligence” before approving projects.  Information such as a site survey conducted by a professional surveyor, soil information provided by a geotechnical engineer, and site drainage designed by a civil engineer are required more frequently than they used to be.  Contacting, getting estimates, signing agreements, and scheduling these other professionals for the project takes time.  If these engineering professionals are in high demand in your area, it will delay the project.

New laws and building codes.  Of course, the building code is revised regularly.  In addition, new laws sometimes have a big impact on construction, such as SB1069 which relaxed restrictions for Accessory Dwelling Units built in California.  Whenever changes occur at the state level, all Planning and Building departments must update their local ordinances and procedures to comply with the changes.  They must train and educate their staff about the new requirements.  That rollout can sometimes add to the permitting time.

Supply shortages.  High-demand products may be in short supply and require more time between the ordering and the receipt of goods.

There are, however, positive trends that are reducing the time it takes to complete projects.  Let’s look at some of the ways we can speed up the process.

Electronic (soft) documents.  More and more jurisdictions are allowing us to submit documents in electronic format, such as on a flash drive.  This allows updates and resubmittals to be handled much more quickly.  We are also sending contract documents to clients by email, and by using digital signature software, the turnaround time for a response is vastly reduced from the old days of ink-signed paper contracts and agreements.

Improved Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) software.  The innovation in CADD software is fantastic, and 3-D drawings are more and more common, leading to more accurate understanding and interaction between the architectural design team, client, permitting agencies and contractors.  The time to create multiple iterations or design schemes is reduced.

Cloud computing.  Uploading and downloading large files used to be a problem.  It isn’t anymore.  Most offices have switched to cloud storage of their drawings to make it easier and faster to access them in the field.

Electronic tools and equipment.  Devices such as electronic laser measurement tools, tablet computers and smartphones are all adding to the speed and efficiency of work at job sites.  (Not to mention 3D printers and other fabrication tools that can speed up construction.)

The bottom line is that there are a lot of variables in play when you begin a construction project.  Some are within the control of the architect, but many are not.  So, asking when you can “get the plans” doesn’t really indicate how fast your project will get started.  We will continually try to give you our best estimate of the timeline as we move through the process, taking into account all of these other factors.  As always, we are Designing for Your Reality.

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



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