Building Professionals


We live in a DIY culture–and that’s fine for things like making a holiday wreath or changing the oil in your car.

But one thing you shouldn’t do on your own is navigate city requirements as part of a business start-up or expansion. Why not? One reason is that the City will only accept plans that have been stamped by a state-licensed design professional, such as an architect or engineer.

Also—in most situations, it makes more sense financially. As a business person, you have a lot to worry about—marketing, sales, product development, etc. It’s neither practical nor efficient to spend your time trying to understand how complex municipal and state safety codes apply to your project. Going it alone undoubtedly will cost you more time and money than if you hired the right professionals to help.

Here’s a list of the types of building professionals you’ll want on your team.




Let’s say you’ve found the perfect space and all the equipment you need for your business. And you have a vision of how everything will together to make your business successful.

The challenge comes in turning that vision into a reality while addressing various City and State requirements, according to your timetable and within your budget.

That’s where architects come in. They would create a design plan that takes into account what’s in your mind, in the building, in the code books, and in your bank account. Architects typically offer project management services in addition to their design services. In other words, they’ll help you navigate city processes and oversee the actual work that’s in the plan.

The Redwood Empire chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) offers access to its member list as well as other helpful information on its website.


Some projects require the services of a licensed engineer, in addition to an architect. Examples include doing work that involve the lot or the structure of a building, installing equipment, or changing the way your space is being used (e.g., changing a retail space to a restaurant or a warehouse to a manufacturing plant).

In California, engineers are categorized and licensed under three practices: civil, mechanical, or electrical. In addition to their practice, engineers may receive certification in specialties such as structural engineering or fire protection engineering.

Here’s a useful guide that describes the different types of engineers published by the California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.


General contractors connect the design process with the build process. The client has the vision, the architect or engineer creates a plan from that vision, and the general contractor takes those plans, hires appropriate subcontractors, and then oversees the build-out of your dream into reality.

The DIY-oriented, budget conscious business owner might be tempted to oversee construction him/herself, without a subcontractor. However, it’s important to recognize that experienced general contractors bring a wealth of knowledge about requirements, permit processes, and the best subcontractors to hire. They will have built strong relationships with people on all sides of the process and thus are often able to solve problems quickly.

Check out the Contractors State License Board website for more information.


California’s energy and green building requirements can be triggered in seemingly innocuous ways, like reworking the lighting system in your space or changing windows. Your architect may have this expertise or may choose to hire out for it. What’s key is that someone on your team know when these codes are triggered and how to meet them in a way that aligns with the functionality and aesthetics of the rest of your project.

The California Association of Building Energy Consultants provides a list of its members on its website. You can also find more information about energy requirements from the California Statewide Codes & Standards Program, the State’s Calgreen website and the State Energy Commission.


Businesses that don’t see themselves as a high fire risk may be surprised to learn that their project needs a fire protection specialist. Sometimes the reasons don’t have to do with the operations of the business per se, but on other factors such as water pressure in the area or how the building’s exits are designed.

How do you know if you need a fire protection specialist? First, as early as possible, scope your project using the City’s online tool at

Follow up with the City’s Fire Prevention team to confirm which permits might be needed and where to get help. Some reasons you might need a fire protection specialist:

  • Changing occupancy classification or occupant loads from under 49 to over 49 (anywhere within the city limits)
  • Location in downtown Petaluma, which requires fire sprinklers in all buildings
  • Commercial kitchen
  • Soda machine
  • Storage racks over 12 feet high (high-piled storage)
  • Hazardous materials storage, production, or use


Food facilities and commercial kitchens must meet County Health Department requirements, and a kitchen design specialist can help you do that. However, kitchen design specialists typically are not state-licensed architects or engineers and, as a general rule, do not have expertise in navigating City and State requirements. Thus, if you hire a kitchen design specialist, you will also need to hire a state-licensed architect or engineer to review the plan and design the connections between the kitchen equipment and the building’s mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems.  You might also need to hire someone such as licensed contractor to manage the equipment installation process, including making construction plans and including them in permit application.


Some equipment vendors offer design and installation services. You will need to make sure that any plans associated with the installation are stamped by a licensed professional. Permit applications for equipment installation must include proof (in English) that the equipment meets California’s health and safety codes. If the equipment does not have this proof, you will need to hire a licensed design professional to reverse-engineer the equipment and create suitable plans.


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