I live in New York City and I am thinking about renovating my kitchen. I’ve heard there are a lot of technical code requirements, and that sometimes you need a permit while other times you don’t. I’ve also heard about huge ranges in construction costs - What do I need to know to make the best choices for my home?
This is a great question, especially since kitchens are the #2 most renovated room in New York City (bathrooms are #1, in case you were curious). It’s important to keep in mind that while I will be discussing city-wide code requirements, individual buildings may have their own additional rules and constraints to consider.
In the blog post “Why Should I Hire an Architect or Interior Designer?”, I touched on New York City’s 3 different classifications of renovation projects - Alt1, Alt2, and Minor Alterations, but let’s take a look at them in more detail:
ALT1: Major alterations that will change use, egress or occupancy, for example:
Changing the number of apartments in a building.
Adding floors on top of a building.
Any change that contradicts the existing certificate of occupancy.
Any change that alters the mean of egress (A continuous and unobstructed path of travel from any occupied portion of a building or structure to a public way, aka street).
ALT2: Multiple types of work, not affecting use, egress or occupancy, for example:
Most interior renovations.
Removing and/or building walls to change the layout of rooms in an apartment.
Minor Alterations: Also considered ordinary repairs of limited scope, for example:
Replacing existing electrical fixtures in the same location (you will still need an electrical permit, but not a building alteration permit).
Replacing existing plumbing fixtures in the same location (you will still need a plumbing permit, but not a building alteration permit).
Replacing existing cabinetry/countertops in the same location
Replacing existing finishes, like wood flooring or wall tile.
Removing any portion of a non-load-bearing, non-fire-rated partition limited to the lesser of 50% of a given wall surface or 45 square feet in area, provided the apartment is not located in certain specially designated zoning districts.
Minor alterations that do not in any way affect health or the fire or structural safety of the building or the safe use and operation of the service equipment therein.
On top of the permitting requirements, there are also several codes and regulations that need to be followed. Specifically:
NYC Local Law 58 of 1987, which states that all dwelling units in buildings with elevators shall be adaptable to meet accessibility requirements.
New York City Building Code (NYCBC) which mandates compliance of residential kitchens in elevator buildings with national standard ANSI 117.1, which defines the minimum clearance between all opposing base cabinets, counter tops, appliances, or walls within kitchen work areas as 40 inches min.
National Electrical Code (NEC), which mandates a minimum depth of 36 inches about all electrical equipment and as a path of travel from the front door to said piece of electrical equipment.
So, what does all this mean for your kitchen renovation???
In the words of my sister, it could be a lot of things.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Brief: Replace the outdated cabinets, countertops, and appliances in this elevator building kitchen. The overall layout is acceptable to the client, and the clearances in front of the electrical equipment and between opposing elements meet NYCBC and NEC requirements.
Strategy: This would fall under Minor Alterations, and only electrical/plumbing permits would be required in addition to board approval as applicable.
Brief: Replace the outdated cabinets, countertops, and appliances in this walk-up building kitchen. The overall layout is acceptable to the client, and the clearances in front of the electrical equipment meet NEC requirements. However, the clearances between opposing elements do not meet NYCBC/ANSI 117.1 standards.
Strategy: As this kitchen is in a walk-up building that is already inaccessible, ANSI 117.1 standards do not apply. Since NEC requirements are being met, this would fall under Minor Alterations, and only electrical/plumbing permits would be required in addition to board approval as applicable.
Brief: Replace the outdated cabinets, countertops, and appliances in this elevator building kitchen. The overall layout is acceptable to the client, however the clearances in front of the electrical equipment and between opposing elements do not meet NYCBC and NEC requirements. The co-op board has a strict “no-wet-over-dry” policy.
Strategy: While “no-wet-over-dry” is a nice general policy (no wet spaces, like kitchens or bathrooms, over the lower apartment’s dry spaces, like bedrooms and living areas), it is a preference, not a law. In contrast, the NYCBC and NEC are legally binding statutes that must be followed. In this kitchen, the existing footprint is simply too small to accommodate current appliances and their associated clearances. The kitchen must be expanded, which will involve the removal and construction of one or more walls. This will require an ALT2 permit with associated architectural filing, as well as electrical/plumbing permits. The board may not like the solution, but they also cannot refute it.
Brief: Reconfigure the layout and finishes in this condo elevator building kitchen.
Strategy: There are several options here, depending on what the client is looking for. As this is an elevator building, NYCBC and NEC clearances must be satisfied. If the revised layout maintains the locations for the sink and range (the only hard piped connections), and does not add/remove any walls outside the scope of Minor Alterations, then only electrical/plumbing permits would be required. If the desired changes are more substantial; for example removing walls greater than 45 sf or moving plumbing lines, then an ALT2 permit with architectural filing is required.
Still unsure which path is appropriate for your kitchen renovation? Schedule a complimentary discovery call and we can figure it out together! And make sure to check out Part 2 of this question where I'll talk about construction costs.
Till next time…
PS - Do you have design questions? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer it as quickly and completely as possible in an upcoming blog post!