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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Why Alteration Plans Should Be Peer-Reviewed

Ethelind Coblin, Principal
Ethelind Coblin Architect

The Lay of the Land

When someone wants to renovate his or her apartment in a co-op or condo, they have to submit plans to the board for review. An architect or an engineer will then study the drawings to protect the building systems and the shareholders. You don’t want water and noise to penetrate apartments. Peer review is an important safeguard.

In the peer review process, what we look for are structural, mechanical (including air conditioning), plumbing, electrical, and envelope and architectural issues. We find that soundproofing is probably the most stressful issue between shareholders. When people can’t sleep at night because somebody’s stereo is going, that can create animosity. Once the construction has been done, there’s not much you can do to ameliorate that other than putting in wall-to-wall carpeting, which people really don’t like these days.

As for air conditioning requests, through-the-window systems block your view, are unsightly, and are very noisy. They’re also very bad for the exterior of the building because they drip on the facade. The biggest problem is making sure that the AC is water-tight.

Now What?

After we get a submission, we have 10 working days to perform our peer review. We try to set up an onsite meeting with the unit-owner or shareholder and the architect or interior designer working on the job. These reviews are meant to protect adjacent neighbors as well as the person who’s renovating and to move everything along as quickly as possible. Because the last thing a building wants is to have a shareholder who is renovating for two or three years. That spells disaster.

Following the initial meeting, the shareholder/unit-owner goes back, revises the drawings as necessary, sends a “letter of response.” The best folks respond correctly and get approved quickly. Once they complete the drawings and specifications, they hire a contractor. The contractor provides copies of his insurance and licenses to the managing agent, notifies neighbors, and the work begins.We will next return to the site after demolition. This is the most critical point in a project because we will probably find unexpected issues now that the walls are opened. We might find pipes that no one knew existed, or firestopping breaches, or a steel beam with all or a portion of the concrete casing ripped off.

Peer reviews are crucially important to the building because they protect and improve safety and structural stability.

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