Structure The Planning Process
This is largely up to the consumer, but guidance can be helpful. What are the goals of the project? Additional space? A specific use or feature? Form? Function? From an execution standpoint, what is most important to you? Speed? Quality? Cost? It is reasonable to plan a project around two legs of that three legged stool, but your project would be a unicorn if it scored high marks on all three. How would you prioritize them? Under what circumstances or conditions would you allow one of these three criteria to overrule the other two regardless of the impact to them? What about aesthetics and style. How best to gather and communicate what styles and forms you like. Houzz? Pinterest? Magazines? All are great resources, and a little help organizing and directing your thoughts can be immensely helpful when it comes time to meet with the designer (Architect, Draftsman, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect).
What approvals might be necessary for the project as envisioned? Do you have by right zoning in place, or will the property need to be rezoned. Does the property need to be subdivided? What are the setbacks? Are soil tests required? Just for shrink swell or for percolation as well? What utilities are available to the site? Are connection fees required? Is there a well present? Does one need to be drilled? What entities have jurisdiction over the project? Just the city or county? What about The Army Corps of Engineers or DEQ? How much of this should be known before additional costs are incurred for architectural design? Can some of this work be done concurrently with the architectural design to save time on the overall project?
Design Build or Separate Contract
There is no one right answer here. A design build firm provides both the design service as well as execution of construction within one outfit. A benefit of this approach is the one stop nature simplifies coordination and communication for the consumer. The drawback to this approach might be settling for a lesser or less well-matched skill-set for either the design component, the construction component, or both. Hiring a designer based on his or her talents and compatibility while hiring a separate contractor who is likewise well matched to you and your project might increase your chances for a spectacular outcome, but additional coordination and communication efforts might be required. In the end, compatibility with both you and your project should be the overarching objective when selecting both the designer and the contractor.
Competitive Bid or Negotiated Contract
In a competitive bid scenario, a designer produces construction drawings and the project is put out to bid to one or more contractors. Mistakes commonly (read almost always) seen when utilizing this approach, are incomplete drawings combined with missing or incomplete specifications are delivered to diverse contractors, many of whom are not compatible with either the project, the owner, or the designer (or all of the above). When this happens, the result is almost always a wide variation in the bids, and substantial confusion on the part of the owner. It is virtually impossible to make an informed decision as to which contractor to use based solely on price in a bid process conducted in this manner. Conducted properly, however, with completed drawings and thorough specifications delivered to vetted and comparable contractors any of whom the owner would be happy to work with, this process is an excellent way to find the perfect contractor for a given project. Alternatively, there is also benefit to be gained by interviewing and vetting a number of contractors in advance, and selecting your contractor before the design process has even begun (and perhaps before the designer has been selected). By pursuing this approach, the contractor can be involved in all aspects of the design process which will enable him or her to weigh in on various design details that might simplify or improve the structure or aesthetics, and/or reduce the cost to construct. By being involved throughout the design process, the contractor will also be able to provide budget checks at various design milestones to make sure project creep doesn’t become a problem before it is too late. Also, the contractor would have a head start understanding the intricacies of the project and those elements that are most important to you. Lastly, you get a head start working with the contractor and establishing rapport before the project actually commences. If any problems emerge in style or communication, better to know before a contract is signed and the ground is broken. Both Competitive Bid and Negotiated Contract methods have their place and either can be an excellent and appropriate way to conduct contractor selection.
Plan Service, Draftsman or Architect
A plan service is almost never going to be a complete solution, but can often be a good place to start to get ideas. As to whether a draftsman or architect’s services are more appropriate, it really depends on the complexity of the project, the desired level of detail, and cost. Often times a residential project can be undertaken and executed at a very high level without an architect, and typically at lower cost. There are definitely times, however, where the additional experience and skills of an architect will contribute greatly to the outcome of the project, and in these situations unless the budget just doesn’t allow for it, hiring an architect would be the preferred route to take. As so much in residential construction, each situation is different, and a complete understanding of the project objectives will usually direct the owner to one or the other. As to specifically who to hire whether they be architect or draftsman, it is important to understand the style, capabilities, and compatibility of the individual responsible for the design to ensure a proper fit for a given project. Like any professional, draftsmen and architects often have areas of concentration where they excel, and which might make them especially well suited (or not) to your project.
It is hard to say which professional is more important to a residential project – the designer or the contractor. While nothing can replace a beautiful, well-conceived design, a good contractor can often make lemonade from lemons, and conversely a poor contractor can ruin the very best of design. An experienced, honest and professional contractor is a must if you are to have a good experience and a successful project. No contractor is perfect, and no project is perfect. You are looking for that contractor that has executed projects successfully that are similar to yours both in style and scope, and who is comfortable tailoring the project around those drivers most critical to you.
Where to begin. Should we find a plan we like in a book or online? Should we buy it? What about an Architect or draftsman? Are they the same thing? How do we decide on a contractor? What kind of contract document should we use? How much should we expect to pay all these people? – All good questions, some of which might generate different answers depending on the nature of the project and the specific decision drivers important to the consumer. Identifying these drivers and then tailoring the planning and design process around them will ultimately give you the best chance at an enjoyable process and successful execution of the project.