Dennis Fletcher Design Studio, LLC

Helping you get the home centered around who you are, how you live, work, and play, no matter the size.

Custom Home Design – Part 5

We have now moved into the final stage, Construction Documents.

Construction Documents are just that, documents used for the purpose of securing a building permit and to use to build the structure. (If a contractor tells you he doesn’t follow the plans, walk away, you will not get what you want, you will get whatever he builds.)

Construction documents are comprehensive and issued to be built from

These documents are the fruit of your labor, so to say. They visually and textually communicate your ideas and desires to the permit review office so they can determine if it fits within the codes they have set forth for their area and also communicates how you want this structure to be built and what materials you want to use and where you want them.

It dictates the placement of the house on your lot and of the rooms within the house. It dictates the room sizes and the door and window sizes and placement. It dictates the exterior materials and can dictate the actual colors you want inside and out.

These are very important documents and you worked hard to get to this stage. With these in hand, you have the ability to finally see your build come to life. Now you can sit back and relax. Well, maybe not.

Your building permit will be issued based upon these documents

First, as stated above, these plans will be used to acquire your building permit. Several copies will be needed. Hopefully, by this stage, you have chosen a contractor to build your home and have made your selections of materials and finishes.

Your contractor will then send these drawings into the permit office for approval. Yes, they may make comments and require some corrections. They may have a requirement that exceeds the standard codes, which they are allowed to do. At this point, comments are sent back to the contractor, who should send to the designer to get revised drawings with the comments addressed. This is actually very typical as designers do not know every detail of every localities codes. The corrections should be made expediently and returned to the permit office for review. Once this is done, you should get an approval and you can move to the next step of construction.

Your construction can now begin

It should be noted that every locality has their own timeline on getting permits approved and their own set of guidelines to go by. They are based on the International Residential Code book, but it is within their right to add to this set of codes. As of this post, the IRC2022 is being planned out and most localities are still using the IRC2012 to the IRC2015 codes, so your designer may know the main code book, (Which is about 2″ thick) but may not realize that your area has added something more stringent to a specific code.

Got the permit, now what?

Work with your contractor, not against him/her. They are going to build you a great home, so understand that they cannot control things like the weather.

At this stage, your house has probably already been staked out, silt fence up and equipment brought in to begin digging for the foundation. At the very least, your contractor will have a start date for all of this scheduled out. You will begin to see your site developed and your foundation placed. During the construction, there will be many inspections, depending on the permit office and your area. Your contractor can let you know what their schedule is and it is your responsibility to stay on top of the schedule and the budget.

Things like weather and material delays can change the schedule, often dramatically. So, when you go over the schedule with your contractor, you may want to find out what his/her contingencies are for things like “acts of God”, or just severe weather that stops the project for days. What they do if materials are delayed, what they have in place to secure your lot and materials.

Now, you are under construction and your dream home is being built. Congratulations and enjoy it for years to come.

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Custom Home Design -Part 4

We left off with preliminary drawings, so let’s take a look at what you should do when you receive the drawings.

PDF files are currently the best way to share drawings electronically

Your designer will send you some plans and at least one elevation so you can see their interpretation of what you have communicated to them. These are usually not very detailed as a lot of structure and selections have not been addressed yet. At this point, the basic layout is figured, with exterior doors and windows placed.

Some details, such as bathrooms and closets will show up and a few design features may be evident. Otherwise, there won’t be a lot of extra details to look at.

As the homeowner, you now have a job to do to move the project forward.

1. Make sure the layout is What you want. Some changes may have been made to meet code, or make the flow work. Keep an open mind and write notes so you can discuss it later. Look at how you live and see if this layout truly reflects that.

Preliminary plans are just a preliminary idea and not for construction

2. Make sure the front elevation looks the way you want it to. You may have to imagine how the sides and rear will look at this stage, because they will be dependent upon the layout and front elevation. Are the main design elements in it that you wanted or did you have to sacrifice a lot to get the look that fits the layout?

3. Make sure to note any changes you want to make. Maybe you now see where you want a patio instead of a deck or you want to add some space to a few areas. This is your chance to discuss all of the possibilities. If you have the ability to mark the PDF, or printed sheet up with a red marker, this helps with visual communication.

Remember that sometimes things you thought you wanted may not work with your layout. If things are missing or different than you asked, make notes and discuss it with your designer. They may have missed it or just hadn’t added it yet, or there may be other reasons they can share with you at your next meeting.

There is a difference between “budget” prices and actual costs

This stage is the infancy of the preliminary stage and you may need to go through it more than once to finally get a layout or look you are good with. I have had clients who have gone through this three or four times because their layout didn’t match what they envisioned, but they didn’t know any other way to communicate their desires other than to address and ask questions during this stage. They were finally able to agree on a good layout/elevation and we moved into the final part of the preliminary stage.

Prior to this, you may have been working on a preliminary budget. This is where prices will now change. This is where the plans get sent out to be estimated off of and you begin to see actual costs of building your dream home.

The final part of the preliminary stage is when you are good with the layout and the elevation, you have begun to make some selections, but now, you have a preliminary plan that you can send out to contractors and vendors to get pricing.

Unfortunately, this is also the time you may find that there are areas you may have to scale back. Things like the flooring and the kitchen may have originally been a “budget” price, meaning this is the allowance we are going to put towards that cost. Allowances, or “budget” prices, are an amount placed in until an actual cost can be ascertained. Generally an amount based on previous project prices.

For example, you may see an allowance of $25,000 for your kitchen. This may have been a general amount figured based on a mid-range cabinet and Formica countertop. Maybe based on a standard used by a contractor, etc. However, when you go to have your kitchen designed, they showed you a lot of options. The options you chose and the type of countertop you want will come in at $35,000.

Once you have finished your selections, your actual budget to build is determined and any last minute changes based on the selections are made, you can move into the final stage, construction documents.

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Custom Home Design – Part 3

So, now that we have covered some basics about where to start and what to expect from the beginning, let’s take a look at what the design process will look like, or could look like, with some modifications as needed.

The initial meeting

The initial meeting has traditionally been either at the designer’s office, or place of general meetings or at your current location of residence. As I said, this is generally the tradition, but as times have changed, so have meeting venues.

Online meetings can bring people closer than ever before, allowing more freedom in choosing the right designer for your project.

A Zoom meeting, or GoTo Meeting, or Face time, or even Skype can offer the virtual meeting space across long distances, making your choice of designer much broader and the designers clientele, much broader. This allows for meetings over long distances at a reduced cost, and offers each party more flexibility.

This meeting will be the meeting you bring information to. Your plot plan, deed restrictions, survey, etc. Anything regarding the land you want to build on. Refer to part 1 for information regarding what you should do and what you will need.

The designer should be very attentive to what you are sharing with him/her. You should bring any pictures, articles, product specifications that define the style and feel of your new home. More information is better than nothing at all. This doesn’t mean your designer will put it all into your home, but it does give them reference material on how you want your home built. They will take notes and refer to this information throughout the design process.

The initial meeting is also where any contracts are discussed and often signed. This contract/agreement will cover the scope of work expected from the designer and the responsibilities and pay schedule expected from the client. A down payment is usually made to start the project and a timetable for at least the preliminary plans will be agreed upon.

Should you decide that this is not the designer for you to use, or they decide that they are not the designer for you, there may be a fee for the time spent in the initial meeting. This should have been discussed prior to the meeting and should not be a surprise.

Starting the Preliminary drawings

This is a process. It may require a site visit before anything is started. This may be done right away, or, if it is a busy firm, it may be scheduled out. Either way, this is optional, depending on the circumstances and the designer or firm. A site visit is good, however, not always feasible or possible.

Preliminary drawings are to show you what the designers interpretation of all of the information is. They can include a myriad of drawings types, including things like 3D floor plans to help you visualize the layout better.

If the site is multiple hours away, there may be a separate fee for travel. This may make the site visit not feasible. In such a case, Google Earth can be a great resource. Any pictures you provide can also help. With today’s smartphone technology, you can do a video of your property and surrounding community, either live or shoot it and send it to the designer. (Live would be best, in case they have questions.) The purpose is to get a general sense of what can be built in the area and on the land. The foundation may change dramatically if the area you want to build on is a steep hill as opposed to flat ground, or if it is a wet area as opposed to a higher, dryer climate.

Some things that are taken into consideration are overall lay or slope, as discussed prior, Where the best views are, where the worst views are, how the sun travels across the property, what type of trees/foliage are there, what scenery is naturally available, how the wind and sun effect the land and so much more. These are details that will often decide things like the location and orientation of the house, any outdoor living spaces, outbuildings and even driveways.

This is where the survey or plot plan is required. The setbacks, sewer/water hookups and other site issues are discussed and considered.

Preliminary drawings

So, the designer has a lot of information to sort through. Ideas, pictures, site evaluations, etc. They will take that back and begin to interpret everything into a drawing. They will start with some concept sketches and move onto something they are ready to show you.

Often times the front elevation is included so that you can get a feel for the way the house will look, but sometimes a 3D rendering can be added to showcase any features that just do not show as well on a flat, 2D drawing.

Preliminary plans will generally be a layout of your floor plans and an idea of the front elevation. These should be detailed enough to allow you to see the basic sizes of each room and understand the flow. The elevation should give you a good idea of what the street face will look like.

At this point, these are a rough draft interpretation. They are for you to look at and decide if there are any changes that need to be made to the layout and flow. This also allows you to start choosing materials. Things like exterior finishes, flooring, colors, cabinets and countertops.

We will stop here for now and resume on our next blog post.

If you have started here, make sure to start at the beginning with Custom Home Design – Part 1

To see the post prior to this, check out Custom Home Design – Part 2

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10 ways to best communicate your ideas to an Architect or Designer

As a professional designer, who has a degree in Architecture and has worked in several Architectural firms, I am going to lay a foundation that will enable homeowners and contractors alike, deal with an architect or designer in communicating their ideas or desires.

Rough sketch to convey correct materials

First, you must understand that Architecture is a very proud discipline. An architect or designer has always been known as one who should know about the history of the building industry as well as have the ability to almost predict the future of the industry. They also have to be able to inspect a sketch given to them and say whether or not it will withstand the sands of time. Yes, it is a very proud discipline, and rightly so.

That said, approach an architect or designer with a sense of wonder. Check to see how they react to your ideas. If you know what you want and they keep saying no, you really want this, maybe you should find another architect or designer. Before doing that, see if they are just trying to get you to change so that you avoid problems that you may not see. Sometimes they have just as hard of a time communicating their thoughts to you as you do to them.

Here are 10 simple steps to follow to make your time with the architect or designer of your choice easier and more productive for them and for you.

1. Go in with a clear sense of what you want. Prepare a quick sketch, or bring in photos and articles of what you would like to incorporate.

2. Be willing to listen to the architects or designers experience. Sometimes they really do know what they are talking about. Part of their job is to make sure the building is structurally sound and that it fits the neighborhood, or area you want to build in.

3. Allow the architect or designer to give you ideas that are different, even the opposite of what you are looking for. This may possibly open up ideas you would never have thought of, or just didn’t think of until it was presented to you correctly.

4. Make sure that your architect or designer has all of the information required to lay out your project. Don’t expect them to read your mind; they can’t, no matter what anyone says. Also, the more information you can bring in that is relevant to your site, the area of build, the HOA requirements and the permit requirements, the better. This allows them to focus more on the design and less on the codes.

5. Make copies of everything you have before giving it to the architect or designer. Projects can get delayed and even stopped because of one missing piece of paper. You always want to keep these documents to go back to in case there is a discrepancy, or some issue.

6. Be persistent. If the architect or designer is just trying to get you to do the things he likes because he doesn’t want to do it the way you like, then leave. You’re the boss, not him/her. However, remember that most are just trying to give you the best possible solutions, so, be careful not to jump to conclusions.

7. Check the style of Architecture he or she designs, prior to accepting the firm. If the firm’s signature is modern and you’re looking for Gothic, there may be a major problem just in getting the preliminary plans correct. Time may be wasted on research, or plan changes that would have been non-existent had you chosen the correct firm.

Going from sketch to design

8. Make sure the architect or designer knows exactly what you expect from them. They tend to be the type of folk who take over a project and make it their own, stop this before it starts if you want full control, or you’ll never get along with them. However, understand that they have done this before, probably a lot. Their experience and ability to take control is exactly why you went to them in the first place.

9. Allow the architect or designer some of his or her own style to be incorporated into your project. This allows you to see a different perspective and allows the architect or designer to share their knowledge and design capabilities.

10. Understand that the architect or designer you initially meet with may not be the one actually drawing your project. You might have meetings with the design staff on a regular basis. What the chief architect or designer knows, their staff has plenty of access to. The architect or designer will be checking over the plans as they go, so, no need to worry about that.

Remember, the architect or designer is there to work within your perimeters and try to make your project functional and fantastic, not just one or the other. They come with a lot of experience and knowledge, so, let them do their job and help them help you.

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Custom Home design – Part 2

So, you have financing, a lot (Or your looking at one) and you have a list of contractors, or an actual contractor. What do you do next?

Should you let the contractor show you his designs and work off of those? After all, he/she has built this before, it should be cheaper, right?

Why shouldn’t I just let the contractor design my house? He/she knows how to build it, right?

Maybe I should just go to one of those house design websites and purchase a design from them. They should be easy to work with, right?

As a custom home designer, let me just say that all of the above options are valid and workable. However, that being the case, I suggest sitting with a designer. Here is why.

  1. The designer should be able to sit and talk with you to find out information. He/she has been trained, through school or experience, to ask specific questions and gather information through general conversation. Basically, they have been trained to communicate and listen.
  2. They have been trained to prioritize your wants, desires and needs. To take what you are looking for and begin the process of creating the “must haves” and the “would be nice” and even the “saw it and wanted it, but not important.” lists that will define how your new custom home is laid out and how it will function for you and your family.
  3. Contractors know how to put a house together, quite well. They know what designs have worked for them in specific regions or subdivisions, they even know a lot about the flow of the house, but they are not designers generally. A good contractor will work well with a good designer. They will want the designer to take the time to communicate with you, so they can get a set of plans they can build from.
  4. You want the home you are building to be yours, not something someone else has built multiple times, but slightly modified to appease you. Yes, you can get a lot of good ideas from contractors and home plan sites, but the designers job is to tailor those ideas to you and to make sure that it is functional and build-able as well as within your budget.
A designer is specifically trained to work with you and the contractor to create complete and accurate drawings depicting what you want and how it is to look and be built

You may speak to a few designers before you settle with one. There are many factors that may stop you from choosing a designer. Personality, experience, cost, etc. This is your home, it is alright to ask questions before you sign a contract. Interview them, find out if they are a good fit for you and if you are a good fit for them.

Yes, a designer may choose not to work with you. It could be because they already have too much work going on, your personality may clash with theirs and a myriad of other reasons. Don’t take it personally, there is too much at stake to settle for someone you aren’t a good fit with.

Be ready to sit for a long time with your designer. They require a lot of information from you and will take the time to gather as much as possible in one meeting.

You are at the beginning stage, remember to take it one step at a time. The house must be framed long before it can be painted.

Be prepared with pictures, with talking points and with notes you’ve gathered. You know what you want, no one else does. We cannot read your mind, so please do not expect us to. We can often anticipate based on the conversation, but we cannot actually read your mind.

Click here for a planner that you can use to keep track of your home construction. Planner for building a home.

The designer will often interject ideas and options he/she thinks are good fits. It will be in your best interest to consider these options, but do not do something because someone suggested it. This is your home, you will live there and you have to live with all of the choices made, make sure it is something you will be happy with in 5 years.

Do not try to design every detail on the first meeting. This is your initial meeting and your biggest responsibility is to decide if this is the designer you will choose to design your new home. If he/she is, then great, sign the contract and allow them to get you a preliminary drawing so you can decide if what they shared with you will be what you live in, or if you need to make changes. If they are not, let them know and go to the next appointment.

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