More Progress With Stairs

The contractor took a 2 week break which is why I haven’t been posting much about things getting done at our place. The delay is because the plan examiner we have at DOB reviewing our sprinkler plans is pretty awful at his job. He gave us an objection for having 68 heads on a 3″ water main connection when there aren’t 68 heads – there are 38. Even if we did have 68 heads the size of the water main connection is irrelevant if the calculations are based on pressure and flow (which ours were). He’s also more concerned about formatting than substance. We had a 2 week delay because he didn’t like the formatting for the sprinkler head schedule. Initially he said we didn’t have a schedule at all – when we did. Then he said the schedule our mechanical engineer came up with wasn’t formatted properly when our mechanical engineer does sprinkler plans (that get approved) all the time. He also basically refused to tell us whether we had all the paperwork in that we need to have in. Monday morning we have yet another meeting to try to get him to approve the plans. Hopefully he won’t come up with some new objection or piece of paperwork that delays us another two weeks. The problem is that by looking at the form of things rather than the substance, plan examiners like him can miss important items. They don’t do anyone any good.

This past week work resumed and the most noticeable thing that got done was stairs. Another story of stairs went in and temporary treads went in all around. Here’s looking down – you can see the the progress so far…

steel & wood stairs from above

When it’s all done the steel will be painted white and there will be white oak treads. We were thinking of doing a gun metal blue finish on the steel, but it was complicated, rust prone, and visually it was a distraction. The stairs are supposed to be about the plexi side panels and the old joists that will create a screen along the stair hallway. A gun metal blue finish on the steel would have been distracting.

Here’s looking at parlor from the kitchen (in the front of the building), towards the dining & living room in the rear… (the temporary construction stairs are finally gone).

Steel & wood parlor stairs - looking from front to backAnd looking the other direction from the living/dining room towards the kitchen…

Parlor stairs looking towards kitchenYou can’t see it clearly, but there will be a bathroom under the stairs.

That steel was done before we decided to paint the steel. On the floor above they’ve primed the steel so it looks red…

Steel stairs primed redAnd looking from the other corner you can see down the stairs more easily…

Steel stairs going from 2nd to 3rd floor in Harlem townhouseProgress has also been made with the stairs in the rental unit going from the basement to the cellar. I’m not sure why they’re not in completely, but here’s where things stand so far…

Wooden cellar stairsThe contractor also put the gutter and downspout on the building, which will stop much of the water from getting into the building. Rain water was sheeting off the roof and hitting the window sills as it went down the building at which point much of it was getting in the building.

A few other things have gotten done but those are the major items. Hopefully we’ll get our sprinkler approval on Monday at which point things will really pick up again.

The NYC DOB Continues To Be A Problem…

Before the project started the biggest issues were with the NYC Department of Buildings. We thought we had pretty much everything worked out, but once again they’re holding up progress on the project for the simple reason that they can’t manage to get their work done in a timely manner.

The problem is the sprinklers. When the mechanical engineer reviewed what the architect had proposed (and gotten preliminarily approved) he found that there wasn’t sufficient coverage and we needed a lot more sprinkler heads. We finally got everyone on the same page and the new sprinkler job was submitted to DOB on June 28th. It took them until July 1 to get it entered into the system and assigned to a plan examiner. The DOB says that they’ll get the initial plan review done on new jobs within two weeks. Well, today is 3 weeks since the job was submitted and the initial plan exam still isn’t done. I check the job status once or twice a day but it still just says “Assigned to P/E”.

The problem is we can’t do the new water main connection until the sprinklers are approved and we can’t get electrical and gas into the building until the water main connection is done. So we still have no running water and no electricity in the building. It’s amazing how much has been accomplished without water and electricity, but things would move a lot faster if we had them.

The issue is that there’s a decent chance they’ll come back with objections and then it will be at least another two weeks before we can get those resolved… It just never seems to end with DOB. Yes, we could self-certify, but that’s a dangerous thing to do in this case since if we’re wrong we might have to do the water main connection all over again (big $$$).

NYC’s Department of Buildings just seems like more of a hindrance than anything else. It’s one thing to enforce rules, it’s another to just arbitrarily slow down projects…


We finally got the list of objections. Here they are…

DOB Sprinkler Objections

68 heads? We don’t have 68 heads, we have 38 heads. All our documentation says 38 heads. The plans show 38 heads, but apparently we got rejected because the plan examiner couldn’t be bothered to get it right. He says the cost estimate is missing. It’s not. He says the certificate of no harassment is missing when it’s clearly available in the parent job for the sprinkler application. And now his objection is that we have 68 sprinkler heads.

Honestly, he just didn’t seem to care enough to get it right. Welcome to the NYC DOB. Meanwhile our project is delayed.


The mechanical engineer chimed in and told us “<name of plan examiner> has never reviewed a set plans correct[ly]”. He then went on to detail for our expediter exactly why everything was fine and should have been approved. In other words this entire problem is because of an incompetent plan examiner. We have a meeting with him on Tuesday morning. Hopefully he’s not obstinate as well as incompetent.

A Frustating Day @ The Dept. Of Buildings

The Post Approval Amendment Meeting

Yesterday we went to the Department of Buildings for a Post Approval Amendment (PAA) meeting. PAAs are how you get changes approved after you have approved plans. Long story short – we were denied because a measurement was missing…

We had a few minor items, but the two big things were 1) changing the shape of the bulkhead and 2) taking exhaust pipes up and through the roof rather than exhausting them through the sidewall.

First a thanks to architect Peter Holtzman for warning us that, even though the plan examiner had stamped plans that included exhausts through the sidewall, they were a potential source of (expensive) problems when it came to C of O inspection. You can intake air across a property line, but you can’t exhaust air over a property line. Good catch – everyone (including the plan examiner) had missed that.

The other major change was to change the shape of the bulkhead. We started out with a smaller bulkhead that looked like this…

Elevation of small bulkhead

So one glass door and two windows with a 3′ walkway to the side for easy access to the front part of the roof. In plan view that looked like this…

Plan view of small bulkhead

As the plan examiner was stamping the plans he saw a problem and told us he’d continue stamping but we needed to come back to get it fixed. Even though 3 feet is sufficient inside a building for a hallway, according to zoning regulations that’s a “side yard” and side yards have to be a minimum of 8 feet wide. He said our two options were to reduce the size of the bulkhead and get 8 feet of “side yard” or extend it all the way across the building and have a ladder up and over the bulkhead for firemen.

So the next rendition looked like this…

Elevation showing bulkhead all the way across a townhouse

So we just put in an extra window. In plan it looked like this…

Plan view of wide bulkhead on townhouse

Then one day I was sitting there and realized the ceiling on the top floor was so tall we might not have enough steps between the top floor and the roof deck. (Turns out we were 5 steps short!) So now the plan looks like this…

That means the door has been switched to the other side and there’s an extra run of stairs.

[If you’re really detail oriented you’ll wonder how we’re draining the front roof. There will be a pipe running through the bulkhead wall from the front roof to the back roof. The one error in the plan above is that the cricket needs to change and the pipe location switched to the other wall.]

Getting back to the plan examination.. The examiner said that now that it was going all the way across the building it was no longer a bulkhead – it was “something else” – though he didn’t say what. I suppose it’s now a cathedral ceiling. I believe bulkheads are exempt from building height restrictions but “something else” isn’t. Our architect had dimensioned the height of each floor and the roof but hadn’t dimensioned the height at the top of the bulkhead. The plan examiner said were were limited to 60 feet (off the sidewalk) and so he refused to stamp the plans because the height of the bulkhead off the street wasn’t specified.

The height of 60 feet comes from the fact that buildings in residential areas that are less than 45 feet in width are limited 100 feet or the width of the street, whichever is less. (Buildings taller than that are considered “sliver buildings”). Our street is 60 feet wide, so we’re limited to 60 feet in height.

I did the calculations when I got home and we’re at 60′ 4 1/2″. The plan examiner said he didn’t mind if we went 6″ over, but just to be safe I think we should modify a couple things to get closer to 60 feet.

Trying To Clear Violations

When the PAA meeting was over we decided we’d try to clear some violations. We had gotten two complaints, two violations, and a stop work order back in January. At the time, after a lot of investigation, an expediter had told us we got the violations because we had two Alt-1s open at the same time.

We hunted around to figure out where to ask a question. Then we waited on line for 20 minutes. And we showed our paperwork to the clerk in the construction division who took it and said it would need to be reviewed by the chief and that we should wait. Well, we waited and were then told that the letter only applied to one of the two violations. A day later that violation still hasn’t been cleared… Hopefully it will get cleared.

After some confused and frustrated questions we went down to the deputy boro commissioner’s office to ask questions since it was his letter that we thought was supposed to clear things up. More questions, more confusion and then someone finally explained what was really happening. Our stop work order wasn’t because we had two Alt-1s open at the same time – it was because the engineer who was on the old plans from the previous owner had filed paperwork to get his name off the jobs. Since the jobs were active, that resulted in a stop work order.

All the information was on the paperwork, but you had to know the lingo to understand it. I know I didn’t understand it when I saw it the first 10(+) times I looked at it. And the expediter apparently didn’t understand the lingo either.

We have another PAA appointment on Monday. Hopefully we can clear up everything at that point.

Look Ma… No Roof!

No Roof…

Last Friday the contractor took off the roof. It had been pretty badly damaged in a fire nearly 15 years ago. It’s sorta amazing it was still more or less in one piece.

Having the roof off was a curious thing… it was a bit like having a private deck on the top floor of the building…

Roof off of Harlem townhouse shell

Roof off of Harlem townhouse

Once again, nice big windows – 🙂

New rafters going in a Harlem townhouse shellThey’ve started putting in the rafters for the roof. It’s going a little slowly because the bricks in the parapet aren’t in as good condition as the ones lower down in the wall.

Hopefully by the end of the week I can get up and walk on our “roof deck”. I put the ladder up on the top floor at one point and tried to see if I could see the Midtown skyline – not quite, but the roof deck will be 10′ higher. I’m sort of obsessing – wondering if the townhouse behind us will block our view. I’ll know soon enough.

More DOB Issues…

In other news, we passed our first plumbing inspection by default – the inspector didn’t show up. Apparently that’s pretty common – the inspectors focus on inspecting the work of problem plumbers or unknown plumbers and don’t worry so much about well-known plumbers who always pass inspections. That means we can now pour the concrete for our cellar floor.

Also DOB related is that our Post Amendment Approval (PAA) meeting was canceled at the last minute today. I’m guessing the plan examiner was out sick. That wouldn’t be a big deal except that we’ve been trying since mid-February to get the appointment and now it’s delayed another two weeks – to 3 months after we first requested it.

And here’s one gratuitous picture I thought was sorta cool…

Quiet time on a construction site

The mason stands on those rolling scaffolds to do brick work between the joists.

Historic Buildings Exempt From Energy Conservation

This morning I was browsing Brownstoner and came across a post that mentioned that landmarked buildings are exempt from the NYS Energy Conservation Guidelines. I sent off a note to our architect and his expediter (who’s also an architect), and it seems the exemption is somewhat new. It’s somewhat ironic though, considering all the hassle DOB put our expediter though last year to show compliance with the 2007 energy code when it now appears we’re exempt.

Here’s the explanation of the exemptions:

Buildings & Spaces

  • National- and State-designated historic buildings, buildings certified as contributing buildings within National or State historic districts, and buildings certified as eligible for such designation are exempt from the NYCECC (ECC 101.4.2).


  • The building thermal envelope of low-energy buildings is exempt from the NYCECC (ECC 101.5.2).

Work Types

  • Life-safety work types: FA, FP, SD, SP (ECC 101.6).
  • Other work types not regulated by the ECC: FB, FS, EQ, CC, OT/BPP, OT/FPP, (ECC 101.3).


Those codes will probably mean more to your architect than it does to you or me, but the big one is exemption from rules about the thermal envelope.

Of course, for practical reasons you want to be as energy efficient as possible, but this is the first case I’ve seen where landmarked buildings had less regulation than regular buildings – so it’s notable.

C of O issues @ DOB

Another post on Brownstoner is worth mentioning as well. DOB is requiring some poor homeowner to prove that their place is really 2 family when the DOB lists the building as 2 family and the DOF also lists it as 2 family. In other words, the DOB is not honoring their own building classification. The problem is larger buildings have I-Cards (the precursors to C of Os) which can prove prior approved usage, but with smaller buildings it’s extremely difficult to show when buildings were reclassified. In the case in question the building was converted from 1 family to 2 family in the 1930s.

Homeowner’s Night @ DOB

And lastly, I’ve been saying DOB really needs to help homeowners with their difficulties getting projects through the DOB bureaucracy. Well, it turns out DOB already does exactly that (who knew?) Tuesday night is Homeowner’s Night at DOB – from 4pm to 5:30. Just show up at your borough office and there will be someone to answer your questions. Though I did see someone recommend that you call first to confirm the meeting hasn’t been canceled.