New York City Building Permits: What You Need to Know

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It’s hard to fathom, but from the earliest settlements of colonial days until now, construction has been happening in New York City for more than 400 years! What’s more, New York is the largest city in America, with a population of more than 8.5 million (not including the millions more in outlying areas). With this much infrastructure over the years—not to mention the limited amount of land for so many people—we shouldn’t be surprised that almost every kind of construction project in New York City requires building permits, with significant penalties for infractions.

Whether you’re building a new construction from the ground up, or whether you’re making improvements on an existing structure, you’ll need a State-Licensed Professional Engineer (PA) or Registered Architect (RA) to pull a permit from the city before construction begins. You’ll probably need to repeat this process several times at various stages of construction. The process is more complicated than we can describe here, of course—but here’s a quick overview of the basics.

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Types of Permits

New York City’s Department of Buildings issues work permits of many different types for different aspects of the building project. Here are just a few examples based on information from the department website:

  •  Electrical
  •  Plumbing
  •  Boiler work
  •  Elevator work
  •  Concrete
  •  Scaffolding & Sheds
  •  Cranes & Derricks
  •  Limited Alterations

…the list goes on!

You’ll also need to apply for an After Hours Variances permit if your team needs to work on site after 6 p.m., before 7  a.m. or on weekends—and when the project is complete, you’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy permit before anyone can live or work in the building.

In addition to the specific types of permits, you can apply for four different permit classifications, based on the type of work you’re doing:

  • New Building (NB)—construction from the ground up
  • ALT1—Major Alterations
  •  ALT2—Multiple Alterations
  • ALT 3—Minor Alterations

Are There Projects that Don’t Require a Permit?

Certain minor improvement projects might not require a permit—for example, if you’re replacing cabinets in your own kitchen or bathroom. However, it’s best to be certain before starting any project whether a permit is needed, so consult with your contractor before beginning work.

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Can We Proceed with Construction without a Permit?

We seriously don’t recommend it; the New York City Administrative Code assesses significant penalties for construction that occurs without a permit. For a one- or two-family structure, the penalty is four times the amount of the permit. For larger structures (which is almost all of NYC), the penalty is fourteen times the cost of the permit, with a $5000 minimum! There are rare circumstances in which the department will give leniency and waive penalties, but trust us—in this situation, it’s far better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Given the sheer volume of permits being requested at any given time, it can certainly be frustrating to wait for approval before beginning any stage of construction. (It’s one of the most common reasons why buildings fall behind schedule, in fact.) However, you’ll save a lot of headache and expense by being patient with the process. To learn more about New York City building permits that may be needed for your project, give Wellbuilt a call at 917.475.1207.

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Unwanted Discoveries: When Building Projects Encounter the Unexpected

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It’s the repeating “plot twist” in almost every show you watch on HGTV. The home renovation is going along smoothly, when all of a sudden…the builders uncover an unexpected problem lurking in the attic, or the foundation, or the pipes, or a weakened support beam that could send the whole house crashing down at any moment! You watch with bated breath while the show host tells the owners their building project is going to go way behind schedule. The problem is going to take weeks to fix and add thousands to the budget. (Oh, the drama!)

If you think it’s bad in a home renovation on HGTV, consider the repercussions of uncovering some hidden problem in a major, multi-unit construction project. Multiply the stress ten-fold and you’ve got an idea.

Forgive us for chuckling; we’re not downplaying the seriousness of it. If it’s your building project and your money, an unwanted discovery can be very serious. Rather, we’re chuckling at the feigned surprise. Of course these builders know they’re going to encounter something unexpected. So do the creators of these home improvement reality shows. In the many years we’ve been in this business, we’ve uncovered these lurking problems countless times, to the point that we’re almost surprised when it doesn’t happen.

Building projects in older cities like New York or Boston are especially prone to unwanted discoveries, simply because of how many times the real estate is renovated and reused. We dig into a wall to find the 100-year-old wiring is a fire waiting to happen, an outdated pipe suddenly bursts and floods the basement. Even when clearing a lot and rebuilding from scratch, hidden dangers can be lurking under the soil—leftover relics from buildings that occupied the space centuries earlier. No wonder these projects so easily go over budget and behind schedule!

Dealing with the Unexpected

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So how do you keep these lurking dangers from derailing your project? While it’s impossible to prevent them completely, there are ways to anticipate and deal with them in a way that mitigates the delays and extra cost. Here are some ways to be prepared.

·         Schedule a thorough inspection of the build site. While you can’t uncover every possible problem, you can certainly reduce the risk by learning everything you can before construction or renovation begins. The inspectors might also be able to give you a heads-up if you’re at risk for a particular type of issue, so at least you won’t be surprised if you uncover something.

·         Be conservative with your estimated completion date. Allowing for more time than your current project needs will give you a buffer to help reduce the stress if something comes up.

·         Pad your budget as much as possible. Set aside a special fund designated for unexpected problems so if/when they arise, you have the resources to deal with them.

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Here at Wellbuilt, we maintain the mindset of “expecting the unexpected.” On our end, we do our best to give conservative projections (especially with older buildings and build sites) so when these problems arise, we can keep the drama to a minimum and keep your project on track. To learn more, give us a call at 1.917.475.1207.

Winterizing Construction Sites

Extra Safety Measures During the Cold Months

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Even in colder climates, construction can be ongoing year-round, especially in major cities like New York and Boston. However, winter adds a few variables to the mix which can cause things to move forward more slowly. Obviously, weather events like rain, snow or excessive cold can bring a work site temporarily to a halt—but there are other risks to consider, as well. The cold weather can increase the risk for frozen pipes, fire dangers from heating units, icy surfaces, etc.—all of which require us to work more slowly and methodically in order to keep our workers, and our developers’ investment, safe.

Keeping Construction Sites Safe During Winter

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At Wellbuilt, we take a proactive approach to winterizing construction sites. Here are some of the ways we ensure safety during the winter months:

·       Halting work in inclement weather. We shut down work sites during heavy rain, frigid temperatures or icy/snowy conditions. We’ll also shut down work efforts in high winds unless our work site is equipped with fall-protection. We don’t risk the safety of our crew.

·       Securing equipment and temporary structures. When bad weather is expected, we take efforts to shore up scaffolding, position cranes safely, secure loose materials like netting, tools, sidewalk sheds and other items that could shift or move during a storm.

·       Cold weather. We make sure our crew are properly dressed for colder temperatures to protect against issues like frostbite or hypothermia. We may shorten work hours to reduce exposure to outdoor temperatures, or we may only work during the warmest parts of the day. We close the work site if temperatures become dangerously cold.

·       Freezing pipes. We make every effort to cover exposed pipes and insulate water heaters against the cold, to protect against pipe breakage. We thaw any frozen pipes only with approved warmers to safeguard against steam explosions.

·       Fire safety. If we bring in heating equipment to work in colder temperatures, we make sure the equipment is properly inspected and in compliance with local fire ordinances.  We keep these heaters away from combustible materials, including wooden ladders or platforms.

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·       Snow and ice removal. After a weather event, we make sure work surfaces are free of ice and snow before resuming work, especially focusing on ladders and scaffolding.

·       Clearing debris. We remove loose debris and waste material from the construction site as frequently as possible.

These extra steps can obviously make the work move more slowly during the winter months, but they also ensure that a construction project doesn’t get derailed by accidents, damage or loss. To find out more about our policies for winterizing construction sites, feel free to call or email us: (NY)  1.917.475.1207 or (CT) 1.914.305.4237

Why Construction Projects Fall Behind Schedule (And What Can Be Done About It)

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It’s the news no new homeowner or developer wants to hear: “I’m sorry, your construction project has fallen behind schedule. We’re doing the best we can.”

If you happen to live in New York City (where we do a lot of projects ourselves), all you have to do is walk by a few construction sites to know what we’re talking about.  Read the big blue sign that tells you what the building is going to be, then look at the “anticipated completion.”  About 50 percent of the time, you’re already 6 months to one year past that anticipated date. That’s how common it is for construction projects to fall behind schedule—and it’s unfortunately why we can’t offer an ironclad, guaranteed completion date for your development project either.

Why Do Projects Fall Behind?

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In some cases (not all), it’s the construction company’s fault. Someone eagerly underestimated the time frame, or the workers they hired are slow,  the office itself might be disorganized, or the work done was subpar and needs to be done over again. (Not at Wellbuilt, though—more on that in a minute.)

However, with any construction project (especially larger ones) there are a wide number of variables that are simply beyond the company’s control. Here are just a few things that can put a site behind schedule through no fault of the company:

·         The weathera string of bad weather days can derail a construction timetable.

·         Material shortagesif the supply chain gets disrupted by weather or other circumstances, it can slow the process.

·         Delays by subcontractors or supplierswe do all we can to use only reliable providers, but on occasion these people and companies experience their own delays, which may or  may not be their fault.

·         Bureaucracysometimes municipalities take their sweet time processing necessary permits, and they’ll penalize you for moving forward without them.

·         Unexpected changessometimes a developer changes his mind about a certain aspect of the project, and everything slows down while the changes are made.

·         Budget shortfallsif funding falls through or gets delayed, the work grinds to a halt.

As you can see just from these few variables, there are many things that can slow down a construction project and cause unexpected delays—none of which are actually caused by the company itself. And the bigger the project, the more variables there are—meaning more that can go wrong.

How Can We Mitigate Construction Delays?

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The good news is, we know the potential for delays is inherent in our line of work, and while we can’t control every circumstance, we can lessen the risk of delays by focusing on the things we can control. Here are some of the things we do at Wellbuilt to mitigate delays and help keep things on schedule:

·         We run a tight ship. We have a streamlined process in place that ensures  as much as  possible that we are not the direct cause of construction delays.

·         We hire reliable workers. Our people show up consistently, on time, and work hard.

·         We work with trusted vendors. If a vendor or supplier is late too many times, we stop using them.

·         We are conservative in our estimate.   We anticipate some amount of delay in our completion estimates. We’d rather get done ahead of schedule than behind it.

·         We make up for lost time. When delays happen, we find ways to accelerate the schedule when we do get back to work.

At Wellbuilt, we’ve staked our reputation on our ability to produce reliable results, including staying as close to the construction schedule as humanly possible. To learn more about the scheduling process and to talk about your next development project, call us at 917.475.1207

 

Should You Source Your Own Materials in a Construction Project?

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Frequently when a developer contacts us for a large construction project, he suggests that he can tap his own resources for materials and supplies in order to save money. It’s an understandable reflex: Large construction projects are expensive, and who doesn’t want to save money? Perhaps you’ve known this supplier a long time; perhaps it’s a relative you want to help out. However, if you’re a developer working with a construction company, this approach can backfire in a number of ways, adding unnecessary stress and confusion to your project. Here are a few reasons why sourcing your own materials might not be the best idea.

Confuses the Chain of Responsibility

When you take it on yourself to arrange for your own materials, you effectively insert another person into the communication chain—namely, yourself. This raises a whole set of questions, including:

·         Who signs for the delivery? (Your construction team is more likely to be

          on site than you are)

·         Who is responsible for coordinating delivery?

·         Who carries the materials from the footpath to the space?

·         Who becomes responsible for missing or damaged items?

·         Who is responsible for resolving conflicts with the suppliers?

·         Who is responsible for payment?

·         What legal or liability issues might arise from this?

As you can see, adding yourself into the production chain can create far more problems than it solves. At the very least, the resulting delays will likely eat up any money you might have saved.

Confuses Quality Control

Perhaps you’ve established a relationship with your suppliers and you trust them. That’s great. Unfortunately, your construction company doesn’t have that relationship, or that trust. Here at Wellbuilt, for example, we maintain extremely high minimum standards for the materials we use, and the suppliers we work with have consistently met or exceeded those standards. When we accept materials from a supplier we don’t know—even if the developer vouches for them—our quality control becomes compromised. If we find ourselves working with substandard materials, who is responsible? If the materials are unusable, the project may suffer additional delays and expenses to reorder and redeliver. So much for saving money.

 

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You Might Not Have the Better Deal After All

When you work with a reputable construction company, especially on a large or high-end project, consider the fact that this company has chosen its own suppliers based on a lengthy history of mutual benefit, as well as quality. Many such relationships result in significant bulk discounts—savings that are passed on to you. Chances are your construction team can secure at least as good a deal, if not a better one—and any additional amount you do pay for those supplies will easily be made up in reliable quality and expedited timetables.

In our experience, when developers attempt to source their own materials in a construction project, the resulting confusion and potential issues usually negate any time or money the developer intended to save. By trusting the construction company to source its own materials, you’ll be far more likely to finish on schedule and on budget, with a finished project you can be proud of.

The key, of course, is to hire a construction company you can trust with these decisions. At Wellbuilt, we’ve spent years building a solid reputation for streamlined, high quality results. To learn more, give us a call at 1.917.475.1207