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Northern New Jersey consultant

jg_nj | Posted in General Questions on

Hello there. We’re looking to renovate our house, which is a 1950s Cape Cod. We’re planning to add a full second story, change the layout of the ground floor, and potentially the basement (if it can’t be salvaged, and if we decide it’s worth it to insulate it). My brother-in-law is an architect, and the firm he works for typically designs homes far more expensive than ours (they recently finished a $150 million house in Florida). We’re confident he’d do a good job, and be able to achieve our vision, and there’s a lot of family pressure to hire him. The thing is, I’m unable to get an idea of how well he’d execute on my vision of something along the lines of a pretty good house. Is it reasonable to hire a consultant to work alongside him? Any recommendations for the northern New Jersey area? Thanks!

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    GBA maintains a "bulletin board" with a list of green building consultants. There's only one listing for New Jersey:

    MaGrann Associates
    701 E. Gate Drive
    Mount Laurel, NJ 08054

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #2

    I frequently work with architects as a specialized consulting/integration engineer for large telecom facilities. I can tell you that if you intend to do any specialized design outside of the norm, then you’ll want to retain a consultant to work with your architect. Architects can get nervous if asked to design specialized structures that they’ve never worked with before and don’t blame them! They have to sign off on the designs so they’re on the hook for problems. Retaining a specialist will help the architect to be comfortable working on something different, and will also help you make sure you get what you want in your design.

    Specialized consultants might also have ideas and suggestions that you’ve never thought of that will be helpful, or save you money in the design. All designs involve making tradeoffs, and experience is what helps you make the best choices.

    If you and your architect haven’t done a lot of projects like you’re planning to do, I think bringing in a consultant who is an expert would be a good idea. You’ll probably want to retain the consultant during the design stage, and also have the same consultant do at least a few checks of progress during the build to make sure things go smoothly.


  3. Patrick_OSullivan | | #3

    Practically speaking, is your brother-in-law licensed in NJ? If not, you're going to have someone else in the party to stamp, even if your BIL does 100% of the actual design work. This could either provide a 'clean' opportunity for another person to be involved, or rather muddy the waters further with a 3rd person on the job (if the stamping architect also needed "consultant supervision").

    I am personally always wary of working closely with friends or family. The sort of things that are right and proper to ensure a well functioning commercial relationship can often be considered too direct or too cold for a familial relationship. Further, what's the angle (regarding the family pressure)? Would the firm be hired or would it be him on the side? If the former, how can this project be big enough to get attention for a fair price (given the other things the firm works on)? If the latter, what happens when your side project is delayed because your BIL is working overtime putting the finishing touches on a $200 million home?

    To put it another way, I'm respectful, honest, and forthright in all my business dealings. But if any of my family had to work with me in that way, I wouldn't have any family left.

    1. jg_nj | | #4

      Thanks Martin, I'll reach out to them.

      Zephyr, thanks for the input. These are all things that have me concerned, and what makes me want to bring in an expert.

      Patrick, yes, he's licensed in NJ. I share all of the same concerns that you brought up. He'll be doing this on the side, and he has two young children, so I wonder where he'll find the time for us. And of course, I'm also wary of doing business with family, especially at this scale. The problem is that my wife's family comes from a culture where there is a huge amount of deference paid to parents, and her parents were very much in favor of having him do it. So, I think I just have to accept that he's going to do it. That said, I have no doubt that, given the the time to actually work on it, he has the skills to bring our vision to fruition (aside from the energy efficiency stuff, which is why I posted). Hopefully it all goes well and we'll end up with a great place to live, and a showpiece as his first major solo project. I appreciate the feedback.

  4. Peter Yost | | #5

    Sorry if this seems like a shamless plug:

    I do design and spec review for builders and architects as part of my business : Building-Wright.
    I don't prefer that this take place electronically and remotely, but I do this with FaceTime and gotomeeting screenshare/conference call all the time, when a project team cannot identify or select a building enclosure consultant they trust and they can work with.

    I will keep your project in mind and maybe a local consultant will come to me from your neck of the woods, but none is coming to mind off the top of my head.

    I do know Magrann Associates and some folks that work there, but not in their NJ offices.

    And it just occurred to me: check out Steven Winter Associates; they have offices in NYC and Norwalk CT; better striking distance than me in southern VT.

    Good luck - Peter

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