Questions & Answers

Should we design and build our home?

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 Designing and building your own home can be a highlight of a lifetime. The home will be a constant source of satisfaction. As you drive up the street and see your home you will take pride in this significant accomplishment. As you sit in the living room or work in the kitchen you will be happy because everything is beautiful and just the way you wanted it to be. You will retell fun stories about the design and construction throughout your lifetime.
 

If you are a bit adventuresome and desire to make decisions rather than have others make the decisions for you, you just might be a perfect candidate to take this path that most people only dream about. There are great contractors out there who put the needs of their clients first and make the construction phase a delight. 

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Process Questions:

1.  What comes with the house plans?
What documents does the architect / designer give to me?
You get two sets of signed structurally engineered blue prints for submitting to the building department. You will get pdf files of the plans throughout the design process. You will get the pdf file of the final plans, so you can print as many additional sets of plans as desired. You can email the files to contractors. If the building department requires a change we will make that change and submit a signed letter or updated plans as required.

2.  Should I deal directly with the architect / designer for house plans?
In general, yes. Having a direct relationship with the design team is best during the critical design phase of the home building process. Involving one of the builders you are considering using during the design stage is very good; they can bring additional ideas to the table and give accurate cost estimates.

3.  Is a soils test necessary?   Yes. With soil conditions along the front range, it is very important to understand exactly what the soil and ground water conditions are prior to design and construction. In the mountains where the structure will be built on bedrock, a soils test may not be necessary.

4.  Does your company do the structural engineering?  Yes, our company supplies the homeowner with structurally engineered plans.

5.  What quality of workmanship should be expected?
Homes are built to a quality of “standard workmanship”, not perfect or near perfect workmanship. If close to flawless quality is desired, you need to be willing to pay extra for that. It is important that the homeowner treats the builder fairly. If a disagreement arises regarding quality of workmanship, pay a fair minded professional in that trade to inspect the work and give an opinion. This information will help the homeowner understand what is reasonable.

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Process Questions:

6.  What can the homeowner do to help the home design process move quicker?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. The design team is possibly more interested in finishing your design project quickly than you are. 1. Communicate as clearly as you can what your desires are: style of home, layout if you have preferences, materials, square footage, ceiling heights, amenities, etc. 2. Make yourself available to the architect/designer. Questions will come up during the design process that need answering before the design can proceed. Make yourself available to the design team by phone throughout the day and evening. 3. When plan files are emailed to you, go over them that day and have your comments back to the design team very early the next morning at the latest. 4. If you have a design contract with a builder and your communications go through the builder to the design team, that will lengthen the design time. 5. Realize that if the design team cannot get answers to their questions, they may have to put your project aside and work on another project.

7.  What happens if a change or problem comes up during the construction and a design change is needed?
If the change does not involve any structural elements, the builder can generally make the changes as you direct; if it is a bit more complicated the architect/designer can make a drawing change and provide a shop drawing of the change. If the change involves a structural element the engineer will detail the change in a signed letter or provide updated signed blueprints. If the change is simple and only requires a letter, there may be no charge from the engineer or architect/designer.

8.  Is the architect/designer involved throughout the project?
For most homes the design team is not needed during the construction phase.

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Process Questions:

9.  How long does the home design process take?
This has a lot to do with the needs of the homeowner. If the homeowner knows exactly what they want and have a layout they desire it might only take two weeks. Most often, however, it takes about a month. It can stretch out much longer if the homeowner is not quick to make decisions, reply to questions, or is not readily available to the design team. 

10.  What are some of the problems that develop during the house design process?
Generally the process goes smoothly; an exhilarating, satisfying, and happy experience. 1. Sometimes sticking to the desired square footage might require adjusting expectations a bit. As stairways, hallways, and wall thicknesses eat into the square footage, the rooms may end up smaller that you originally hoped for. 2. There are lots of decisions to be made and that takes time and energy. This process is a lot easier with modern technology because files are emailed to you and you can look at the plans and 3-D images in the comfort and convenience of your own home or office. You will have more confidence in your decisions. You will be able to make decisions quickly and this will reduce the architectural design time. 3. You might wake up more in the middle of the night as new, helpful, and exciting ideas come into your mind. 

11.  Should changes during construction be avoided?
Yes. Try to make as many decisions as you can think of prior to putting the plans out for bid. However, some changes are necessary. Every project we have been associated with have had necessary changes. It may be because of a plan oversite or omission, it may be that after living with the plans for a while it becomes obvious that doing something a bit differently will meet needs much better. Because our company has built homes in the past, we have both architectural and building experience. Because of this acquired knowledge, many potential changes are completely avoided.

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Process Questions:

12.  What are additional things the homeowner should spend time on?

 a. The physical design of the home; things that will make rooms interesting and fun. This might include varying ceiling heights, different wall angles, soffits, upper windows, a wall niche, roof lines, detailing on the front of the house, etc.

 b. Prioritize desired home features so you know what is most important to you.

 c. Colors

 d. Material combinations

 e. Moldings and detail; this is the jewelry for the home. Don’t forget the ceiling.

 f. Lighting and accent lighting

 g. Cabinets; quantity and quality

 h. Plumbing fixtures

 i. Furniture layout and walking space

 j. Doors & windows and quality

 k. Floor covering & quality

 l. Appliance size and quality

 m. Landscaping

 n. Storage

13.  If a friend of mine is a subcontractor, should I press my builder to use them?   

We suggest not doing that. Builders spend years developing a corps of subcontractors they know and trust. A team that works very well together and understands each other’s needs is very valuable to the builder and the homeowner. Disrupting that organization often causes problems and lengthens build time.

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Cost & Cost Containment Questions:

1.  How much do house plans and working drawings cost?
If the homeowner has a fairly solid idea of what they want, the architectural design and engineering would cost $1.50/s.f. of finished area of a normal custom home and $.50/s.f. for unfinished areas. If there are expansive soils, the engineering costs would be a bit more.

2.  What comes with the house plans?
What documents does the architect / designer give to me?
You get two sets of signed structurally engineered blue prints for submitting to the building department. You will get pdf files of the plans throughout the design process. You will get the pdf file of the final plans, so you can print as many additional sets of plans as desired. You can email the files to contractors. If the building department requires a change we will make that change and submit a signed letter or updated plans as required. 

3.  How can I be assured I am getting a fair price from a builder?
Get multiple bids on the project, making sure everyone bids on exactly the same things. If you have great confidence in a builder, a cost-plus building contract option may be good choice. This is a contract where the homeowner is responsible for paying all the costs of construction plus an additional agreed upon percentage is paid to the general contractor. A cost-plus contract takes some financial risk away from the general contractor and transfers that risk to the homeowner.

4.  What are the biggest ways to stay within the construction budget?
1. Stick to the square footage you decide on. 2. Decide on all the features you want during the design process to eliminate as many changes as possible during the construction phase, 3. Do some projects yourself if they won’t interfere with the project time-line. 3. Budget for important esthetic things like landscaping, nice lighting, quality finishing materials, and furniture.

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Cost & Cost Containment Questions:

5.  How quickly should I pay invoices from the builder?
If you want a home built well and on-time, hire a builder with happy subcontractors. If subcontractors are paid quickly, the next day or two after invoicing, they will love that builder and generally give them priority treatment and excellent workmanship. So, when the builder invoices you, pay him that day or the next day.

6.  How can we save money on landscaping?
Plan a decent landscaping budget at least for the front yard. Often the homeowner can do the landscaping labor. Small tractors for soil grading can be rented. Friends, family, and neighbors are often happy to help with the planting. Don’t be afraid to tackle the sprinkler system installation. Often the material supplier will design the sprinkler system at no cost if you purchase the supplies from them. Trenchers can be rented. If you want to save additional money and get in better shape, you can dig the trenches by hand.

7.  What projects on the construction should the homeowner do?
Try to choose things that won’t interfere with the critical path of the construction. Possible projects might include exterior and interior painting, tile work, landscaping, sprinkler system, fence, and clean up. Consider wood floor installation, moldings, and door installation. You can purchase tools you need then sell them on Craigslist; often it is less expensive than renting tools.

8.  How can the homeowner help keep the structural design specifications adequate but not over-designed at higher cost?
Don’t get overly concerned about structural details. For example, if a homeowner keeps expressing his concern about expansive soil when the soils report show that a standard spread footing is sufficient, the engineer may get nervous and design a more substantial foundation system that costs more to construct.

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Cost & Cost Containment Questions:

9.  Should I be the building general contractor?
Maybe. If you have the desire, the time, willingness to study about home construction, and skills that fit the job, it might be a good idea. A rule of thumb is, the market value of the house you build will be about 20% more than the actual direct cost of construction.
I was the contractor on the first home my wife and I built; the summer I completed graduate school. People thought we were crazy, but it ended up being one of the best financial decisions of our life. We loved that home and we are still take pride in that accomplishment. We look at that house on Google Maps and it continues to look modern and well designed.

10.  How much detail should be in the house plans?
The International Residential Code with some local variations is the benchmark for homebuilding. The plans reference this code and the structure is to be built to those standards. If the homeowner wants to put lots of details into the plans describing with exactness things that are already covered in the code, a builder may look at the project as complicated or that the owner is a stickler for the smallest details; that could lead to higher bids on the construction. Desiring lots of detail also adds to the cost of the drawings. It is helpful to the builder if you supply them with a list of your decisions on the major cost items prior to the bidding process; cabinets; windows; doors; appliances; plumbing fixtures; molding preference; roofing material, counter top material; allowances for carpet, tile, and light fixtures. The design team and builder can give you suggestions for these items.

11.  How important is design detail on the front of a house?
Budget for some nice detailing, and place that detailing on the plans. Having a beautifully designed home will make you happy every time you pull into the driveway and it adds to the curb appeal and resale value of your home.