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  • Writer's pictureBob Barnett

Design & Construction During New Jersey Quarantine

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

With the thought of any type of home improvement in these times may seem unimaginable, the past several weeks have given homeowners a very deep look at their own homes to see what they like and what they don't like.

New Jersey is currently under Executive Order No. 122, banning any new construction projects with some exceptions. The municipalities that we work with are accepting but not releasing new building permits. At left, our recent master suite addition in Scotch Plains was fortunately completed prior to February 2020 (with Galaxy Building Contractors).

What Can YOU do?

Audit & edit your home and possessions. Take stock of what you have and how you live in your home. Going through basements, garages, and closets could keep most families busy well into the summer. Most projects we have worked on have included mudrooms which definitely help day-to-day organization. This one (right) in Maplewood was by AMA Contractors, In House Photography.

Dream. Comb the pages of Houzz or Pinterest to get inspired. This master suite (right) by Kasdan Construction Management included a home office, walk-in closet and custom vanity & shower. In House Photography.

Design: Try your hand at potential new furniture layouts, remodeling or additions using the ancient pencil and paper or modern digital design tools. While AutoCAD is the industry standard for architects, it is also expensive; Google's SketchUp is a great, much less expensive drafting tool. We did the rendering below of a kitchen project in Summit using SketchUp. New Jersey law does allow homeowners to do their own permit drawings for certain projects, but the drawings do have to be approved by the municipality's building officer and adhere to building codes. The building officers may ultimately require an architect or engineer seal on any structural calculations.

Build. Find your tools and challenge yourself (and any willing family members) to a DIY home improvement or landscaping project, but check with your local building department first to make sure that a permit is not required. Be careful, since some home improvement projects (like wiring) can be dangerous. Further, you might get addicted to home improvement like I did in 2002. At right is me with my first construction project on my home in West Orange.

What can professionals do?

Design: Architectural design is not subject to the NJ executive order, so project planning and design is continuing. At CBH Architects, the majority of our tasks are business-as-usual with the exception that all client meetings and site visits are currently being conducted on video conferencing. With resources on three continents, we have a long history with telecommuting, for which we are especially thankful for during these times.

As clients look to plan for their projects, it is important to understand the longevity of the planning and design process. On average, our project timeframe, from initial measurements to submitting for permit, is seven months. Homeowners who want to commence construction in the next year or two should welcome the design process now so that they are ready for that. Time at home - during all hours of the day - helps to digest and visualize design options. One of our current clients recently wrote, "The good and bad is that of late we have too much time to scrutinize and reflect on this 😊"

Build: The current executive order excludes several situations where contractors are needed and still working including projects that started prior to the executive order.

We are working on already permitted projects with limited crews. We social distance as much as possible and wear masks & gloves.  

- David Kasdan, Kasdan Construction Management, South Orange

While contractors cannot currently obtain building permits for new projects, there are several steps that homeowners can take now with contractors. If a future project is on the horizon, now is a good time for homeowners to familiarize themselves with local contractors via online research and reference phone calls. Several contractors will also provide project bids/proposals based on drawings and video site visits.

We have been doing Zoom and Facetime meetings with clients, sharing photos on Dropbox and doing virtual walkthroughs of new projects.

- David Hume, RGH Development, Maplewood

Our hopes are that we all get through this period with limited casualties and with greater understanding of how we live in our homes, our needs, and our abilities to be innovative.

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