3:56 PM 01/31/2013
Hey Brownstoner Community,
We're getting ready to renivate a 4 story 20 ft wide brownstone in Clinton Hill. We've been in a planning stages for 9 months now. We're about half way through overcoming the DOB's objections to our plans, and we've just started evaluating contractors proposals.
Our filing is an Alt 1 - Major renovation, changing occupancy--We're converting SRO to 2 Family. So we're going through the conventional channels, including an architect and a structural engineer.
The bids that we've been getting from contractors have been (not surprisingly) significantly higher than we'd expected based on conversations with the same contractors before giving them thorough plans to bid on. One thing that I'm hearing from contractors is that they think that the structural plans are overkill.
When we got the structural drawings we were blown away by how much sistering and structural steel he was calling for. Before coming to inpect the condition of the house the Engineer had us make a bunch of probes, where he says that he observed some splitting in the joists. So he's called for "sister splitting joists as needed" throughout the house. The thing is, there's only one room with noticeably saging floors, so we hadn't anticipated even opening all of the ceilings. When bidding, these contractors have to assume that they're going to have to open up all of the ceilings, and sister a lot of joists, which also means destroying and then repairing our very ornate moldings. Furthermore, there's a ton of steel called for in the roof dunnage for the AC and a small roof deck. Where we'd assumed that we'd run 2 beams from party wall to party wall, he's got beams under the roof membrane, and then the dunnage only comes half way across the house and has legs that sit on the beams below the roof (fire code allowing unobstructed passage from the front to the back of the house???) It seems excessive and super complicated to us, but we've also been hearing from contractors that we should get a second opinion.
Does anyone have any words of advise? We paid a lot for this structural plan, but it seems like it's really driving up our construction costs. Seems woth second guessing.
A couple of thoughts:
For the sistering, are you removing the interior hallway partition that runs front to back in the building? If you are, then even if the joists run from side wall to side wall, the reality is that they've been bearing on that intermediate wall for 100 years, and will sag when you take them out. If this is the case, assuming that you'll need extensive sistering is not unreasonable.
If that wall is staying, then the scope of work you have is too vague, and the contractors are protecting themselves by assuming the worst - and charging you for it. Of course, too frequently if the worst does not happen, it's hard to do the accounting for exactly how much should be backed out of the contract sum...how much was in the framing/sheetrocking/trim/rough carpentry numbers for that work? To avoid overpaying, I recommend that you specify which areas (the ones that are sagging) are to be repaired, and then get a 'cost per joist' for any work beyond that area - that number would include $ for patching, trim, etc. You and the bidders want to agree to the cost per joist before you sign up the contractor, so that you don't find that you both have very different ideas about the costs when you're 1/2 way through the job and have no leverage in negotiating the price.
For the dunnage, you can run the beams above the roof, but have to provide a 6' wide platform and two sets of 6' wide steps so that FDNY can have their clear access from back to front of the building. In terms of the cost of the steel, it may be marginally more to do the dunnage with the steel, but the G.C.'s costs for carpentry, etc. would be much higher with the dunnage below the roof. The engineer may have had blinders on when doing this, only thinking of the steel costs, but not the other trades involved.
Good luck with your project!
James Cleary Architecture
4:26 PM 01/31/2013 | 1 Votes
Use common sense - you'll uncover a good number of joists, or at lease sections of joists, when they open things up for plumbing, hvac, and electrical work. If damaged joists are found, they need to be repaired. But short of opening up the ceilings, you want to include the sections of floor that are already sagging, and any other suspect areas. Are you putting a tub, or new partitions, in areas that didn't have these loads before, you should probably sister some/all joists in those areas, as a 100+ year old piece of lumber plus a new load = potential problems. Are there areas where, if you jump on the floor it has too much bounce? Have the contractor do some surgical explorations to see if the joists are damaged and need sistering. Again, by having a cost per joist established before work starts, it'll be much easier than debating the cost down the road.
Remember, from the engineer's viewpoint, there's zero upside to being conservative in how many joists he calls out to be sistered. If he says "only sister the sagging area," and after the work's done, you say that the floors are too bouncy, he might be sued for negligence. So he's going to protect himself - you would to in his shoes.
James Cleary Architecture
9:38 PM 01/31/2013 | 0 Votes
I would say that structural engineers recos are negotiable. Sometimes taking them out to lunch gets them away from their office and more reasonable.
12:34 PM 02/01/2013 | 0 Votes
As a contractor working primarily on Alt 1s right now, I see a lot of structural plans. Some details seem to be overkill and some underkill. Wherever old joists become exposed - if there are visible cracks, etc. - they simply need to be repaired. As for your roof, yes we've seen plans calling for dunnage at an angle, etc. for fire access. We are actively building in Clinton Hill. If you want another opinion, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10:23 AM 02/02/2013 | 0 Votes
Except creating the ceilings, you wish to include the areas of floor that are currently drooping, and other suspect areas. Are you putting a tub, or new partitions, in locations that didn't have these loads previously, you ought to probably sister some/all beams in those areas, as an ONE HUNDRED + year aged piece of lumber plus a new load = potential problems.
5:43 AM 02/03/2013 | 0 Votes
does your structural Engineer´s name start with M.... and end with ...N by any chance?
I had the same situation - GC was laughing his ass off at the plans. Said it would be 60k at least just to put all the steel beams in the building. Another 2 architects confirmed that the structural reinforcements are totally unneccessary.
I then hired a different structural engineer who was much more experienced and drew in only what was necessary. More by mail if you´re interested email@example.com
4:28 PM 02/03/2013 | 0 Votes