Preparing and sealing documents: Architects

Who can prepare and seal architectural documents submitted for a building permit?

It will depend on the scope of the work for which a building permit is sought. The practice of engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, and land surveying are regulated professions and, except for limited exceptions, the type of work described in the documents being submitted for a building permit will need to be prepared and sealed by the applicable professional. The practice of architecture is defined in and regulated through RCW 18.08.

Only an architect registered to practice architecture in the State of Washington may practice architecture and seal architectural documents submitted for a building permit.

  • Practice of architecture means the rendering of services in connection with the art and science of building design for construction of any structure or grouping of structures and the use of space within and surrounding the structures or the design for construction of alterations or additions to the structures, including but not specifically limited to:
    • Predesign services
    • Schematic design
    • Design development
    • Preparation of construction contract documents
    • Administration of the construction contract.
  • Architectural documents are the drawings and specifications prepared in the course of the practice of architecture depicting, among other things, the art and science of building design for construction of any structure or grouping of structures and the use of space within and surrounding the structures. RCW 18.08.320(12)

May anyone other than a Washington state registered architect prepare building permit documents for submittal without a registered architect’s seal to Washington State building officials?

Yes, Washington State law, RCW 18.08.410, lists categories of design work that may be prepared by any person, subject to the State Building Code. Some of the more frequently encountered categories of “exempt” work that allow any person to prepare building permit submittal documents and provide project administration are:

  • Any structure that is to be used for a residential building of up to and including 4 dwelling units or a farm building or is a structure used in connection with or auxiliary to such residential building or farm building such as a garage, barn, shed, or shelter for animals or machinery. RCW 18.08.410(5)
  • Construction, erection, enlargement, alteration, or repairs of or to a building of any occupancy up to a total building size of 4,000 square feet. RCW 18.08.410(6)
  • Alteration of or repairs to a building where the project size is not more than 4,000 square feet in a building greater than 4,000 square feet and when the work contemplated by the design does not affect the life safety or structural systems of the building. The combined square footage of simultaneous projects allowed may not exceed 4,000 square feet. RCW 18.08.410(7)

May a non-architect prepare architectural documents for a design-build architecture project?

No, unless the project itself falls within one of the exemptions listed in RCW 18.08.410. There is no specific exemption under RCW 18.08 for design-build projects. Design-build projects are subject to the same restrictions and exemptions as other buildings.

  • Any business entity offering design-build architectural services must meet the standards established in RCW 18.08.420 and must register with the board as an architectural firm.
  • Projects that are otherwise exempt can be designed by a non-architect as part of a design-build program. However, only licensed architects and registered architectural business entities can offer advertise to offer, or provide architectural services.

May Washington state-licensed architects, engineers, or landscape architects prepare documents for submittal to public authorities for an exempt structure such as a residence, a structure of less than 4,000 square feet, or for other exempt work without their professional seal and signature?

No, regardless of whether the structure or work is exempt or non-exempt, Washington state-registered architects, engineers and landscape architects must seal and sign all drawings they prepare when filed with public authorities. See:

Do pre-engineered structures need to be sealed by an appropriate licensed architect, engineer or landscape architect when submitted to the building official for approval?

Pre-engineered structures such as “manufactured” buildings are treated no differently than other buildings. The plans for non-exempt structures must be prepared and stamped by an appropriate design professional registered in Washington. Examples of such structures are:

  • Prefabricated metal buildings
  • Roof truss systems
  • Post-tension or pre-stress designs
  • Pre-cast concrete building components

May plans prepared and sealed by an architect registered outside of Washington State be submitted for a building permit in Washington?

Yes, but only if the plans are also sealed by a Washington-registered architect. RCW 18.08.370(3)

  • The Washington-registered architect must have reviewed the plans in a manner consistent with the definition of “review” as outlined in RCW 18.08.320(16).
  • The architect must conduct an examination and evaluation of the documents for compliance with applicable laws, codes, and regulations affecting the built environment that includes the ability to control the final product.
  • The architect is then responsible to the same extent as if he or she prepared the documents. RCW 18.08.370(3)(c)

May an owner or builder or contractor make changes to an architect’s, engineer’s, or landscape architect’s sealed documents?

No, when plans are sealed by a Washington state-registered design professional, changes including addenda and change orders must be approved by that professional or another registered design professional in the same profession who then assumes responsibility for the changes along with all affected documents.

May a Washington State registered design professional make changes to filed plans prepared by another Washington-registered design professional?

Yes, but only in the following circumstances (RCW 18.08.320(16) and WAC 308-12-081):

  • The changes and all other related or affected portions of the structure must be shown on separate plan sheets that are stamped by the registered design professional making the changes. The seal on these change sheets means the professional is certifying that he or she takes responsibility for all portions of the structure that are related to or affected by the changes even if some or even most of the affected work is not being changed.
  • The drawings as changed must meet all requirements of law.

May a building official accept documents for permitting that have been sealed by an architect who has not personally prepared the documents but has reviewed them?

Yes, an architect may seal permitting documents that have been prepared by persons listed in RCW 18.08.370(3), but only if the architect has reviewed the documents in a manner consistent with the definition outlined in the question above. RCW 18.08.320(16)

May Washington State registered (licensed) architects, engineers, or landscape architects practice any of the 3 professional disciplines in Washington?

No, they cannot practice any of the 3 disciplines or represent themselves as practitioners of any of the 3 professional disciplines unless they are specifically registered or licensed by Washington State to practice in that specific professional discipline.

Are there penalties for facilitating the unlicensed practice of architecture or other regulated businesses and professions?

Yes, “aiding or abetting an unlicensed person to practice or operate a business or profession when a license is required” is against the law. RCW 18.235.130(9)

Examples

  • An owner wants to add 550 square feet to a 3,600-square foot restaurant. Do the plans for the addition require a registered design professional’s stamp?
    Yes, the addition will add enough area to the building that the total area will exceed 4,000 square feet, making the building a non-exempt structure.
  • Two offices of 1,500 square feet each are in separate structures on the same site and joined by a common roof. A third 1,500-square-foot office is proposed that joins the others by a common roof, but with separation between buildings as in the original 2 offices. Must an architect or engineer stamp the new drawings?
    Yes, the aggregate structure will be 4,500 square feet, which puts the complex into a non-exempt status.
  • An owner wants to renovate 2,000 square feet within a building larger than 4,000 square feet. Is an architect’s seal required on the documents for a building permit?
    An architect’s seal is required on the documents if the alterations affect life safety of the building. If life safety isn’t affected, an architect’s seal isn’t required. RCW 18.08.410
  • An owner plans a single family residence of 5,000 square feet. Is an architect’s seal required on the design documents submitted in the application for a building permit?
    No, any structure of any size to be used for single family residence doesn’t require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for a building permit. RCW 18.08.410
  • An owner would like to build buildings on a farm property that will house tractors and animals. Will an architect’s seal be required on the documents for a building permit?
    No, a farm building or a structure used in connection with or auxiliary to a farm building such as a garage, barn, shed, or shelter for animals or machinery doesn’t require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for a building permit.
  • An owner would like to renovate 2 areas of 2,500 square feet each in an existing building. Will an architect’s seal be required on the documents submitted for a building permit?
    Yes, the limit of the cumulative size of exempt projects within an existing building is 4,000 square feet. RCW 18.08.410
  • An owner plans a multi-family residence of 5,000 square feet with 3 dwelling units. Is an architect’s seal required on the design documents submitted in the application for building permit?
    No, any structure of any size to be used for a residential building of up to and including 4 dwelling units doesn’t require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for a building permit. RCW 18.08.410

Questions?

Contact us: DFCcompliance@dol.wa.gov

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