Preparing and sealing documents: Architects

  1. 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 under RCW 18.08 can practice architecture and prepare and seal architectural documents submitted for a building permit. The 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, and 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)

  2. Can 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 who has reviewed the plans in a manner consistent with the definition of “review” as outlined in RCW 18.08.320(16). The Washington registered architect must secure written permission of the owner and preparer of the original plans to adapt and reuse the plans and otherwise complies with all required elements of RCW 18.08.370(3)(b). 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)

  3. 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, but only if the architect has reviewed the documents in a manner consistent with the definition outlined in Question #2 above. RCW 18.08.320(16)

  4. May anyone other than a Washington state registered architect prepare building permit documents for submittal 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. International Building Code gives Building Officials authority to require and define submittal documents prepared by registered design professionals. IBC Section 107.1

    These categories of "exempt" work allow any person to prepare building permit submittal documents and provide project administration for:

    1. any structure that is to be used for a residential building of up to and including four 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;
    2. construction, erection, enlargement, alteration, or repairs of or to a building of any occupancy up to a total building size of four thousand square feet;
    3. alteration of or repairs to a building where the project size is not more than four thousand square feet in a building greater than four thousand 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 four thousand square feet. RCW 18.08.410 (5),(6), and (7)
  5. An owner wants to add 550 square feet to a 3,600-squarefoot 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 aggregate total area will exceed 4,000 square feet, thereby making the building a non-exempt structure as specified in RCW 18.08.410(6).

  6. 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 other two by a common roof, but with separation between buildings as in the original two 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. RCW 18.08.410(6).

  7. 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 submitted for building permit?

    No. Any structure of any size that is to be used for single family residence does not require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for its building permit. RCW 18.08.410(5).

  8. 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 building permit?

    No. Any structure of any size that is to be used for single family residence does not require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for its building permit. RCW 18.08.410(5).

  9. 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 submitted for a building permit?

    No. A farm building or a structure used in connection with or auxiliary to such farm building such as a garage, barn, shed, or shelter for animals or machinery does not require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for a building permit. RCW 18.08.410(5).

  10. An owner would like to renovate two 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(7)

  11. 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 that is to be used for a residential building of up to and including four dwelling units does not require an architect’s seal on the documents submitted for its building permit. RCW 18.08.410(5).

  12. Are there penalties for facilitating the unlicensed practice of architecture or other violations of the law?

    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)

  13. 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 or advertise to offer architectural services.

  14. How does a building official determine which discipline of registered design professional’s seal is required on construction documents for non-exempt construction?

    The architect’s seal is required when planning includes the designation of the use of spaces within and surrounding non-exempt buildings. This relates to the life safety implications of activities within buildings, occupant loads, egress provisions, fire safety and accessibility of buildings. Architectural documents are documents that do not require “engineering education, training, and experience” to prepare but do require knowledge and training in 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”, which is the knowledge and training of an architect. RCW 18.08.320(12)

    The engineer’s seal is required when the extent or complexity of the specific engineering discipline’s application in the building design warrants it. The "practice of engineering" means any professional service or creative work requiring engineering education, training, and experience and the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such professional services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, design, and supervision of construction for the purpose of assuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any public or private utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects. RCW 18.43.020(5)(a)

    The Landscape Architects seal is required when the person preparing the documents submitted for a Building Permit is a Washington State licensed Landscape Architect. State law prohibits the use of the title "Landscape Architect" or the practice of landscape architecture by persons who are not licensed by the State. RCW 18.96.020

  15. Can 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.

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

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

  17. 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. [ RCW 18.08.370(2) as interpreted by AGO 1990 No. 9, RCW 18.43.070, and RCW 18.96.150]

  18. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. The drawings as changed must meet all requirements of law. RCW 18.08.320(16). WAC 308-12-081
  19. 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 sealed 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, and pre-cast concrete building components.

  20. Can electronically or digitally prepared and sealed documents be accepted as architectural submittal documents made to building officials for approval?

    Yes, the details of requirements for the signature or signed electronic or digital submittal documents are contained in WAC 308-12-081(3)(b), “A digital identification that is an electronic authentication process attached to or logically associated with an electronic document. The digital identification may include a scanned or digitized signature. The digital identification must be:

    1. Unique to the licensee using it;
    2. Capable of independent verification;
    3. Under the exclusive control of the licensee using it.
  21. Is sealing (which includes the seal, signature and date) of every page in a plan set always required?

    Yes. Drawings prepared by a registered design professional must be signed and sealed on each sheet. WAC 308-12-081(1).

  22. Questions?

    Contact us: DFCcompliance@dol.wa.gov

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