Taking time and steps in the planning process makes for a successful architectural project

By William Gati

Here are steps for designing and building an architectural project:

1) Create a plan

After choosing a design firm, it’s time to start creating a plan. There are usually several good ways to reach your design goals.

 The plans are called schematic designs; they usually involve a rough layout of the floor plan and some simple views of the exterior of the home if there is an addition. It takes time for the design professional to work these out, and then usually another week or two for the homeowners to consider them and make decisions. If the project is larger or the homeowners want additional changes made to the schematics, this initial design phase can take several months.

 2) Interview contractors

Contractors are frequently brought into the process once a final schematic design has been selected. Usually there is at least a general idea of how the home will look from the outside, a dimensioned floor plan and some preliminary material selections. With this much information, it’s possible to provide preliminary estimates of cost.

Contractors are often asked to estimate the schematic design as part of the interview process. It may take a couple of weeks to set up the interviews and generally at least two to three weeks after interviews to receive the estimates. Altogether it could take four to six weeks to interview candidates and receive estimates. After that you may want to call references, visit jobsites or do additional research before making a decision about the contractor you will hire.

 3) Go shopping while others are engineering

Love to shop or hate to shop? This may determine whether you enlist a designer to help with your material selections. Even those who like to shop may be overwhelmed by all the options and want professional input. Do not underestimate the number of things that need to be selected, from doorknobs and windows to countertops and light fixtures. To really keep a handle on your project cost, it’s best to select every last thing ahead of construction. This will allow your contractor to tell you the prices for what you’d like and properly schedule material purchases based on lead times.

 Allow yourself one to two months to choose everything. While you are shopping for tile and hardwood floors, your architect or designer will finalize construction drawings, work with a structural engineer on how the project will be built and put in the details required for permitting. If it all goes well, you will work on this step and the previous one concurrently and finish at the same time.

 4) Get your permits

Depending on the scope of your project and where it’s located, permitting can take a day, months or even years. You should have some idea ahead of filing for permits about the length of the process, which will allow you to identify a likely start date for your project. Permit fees can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on where you live and how big your project is.

 5) Ready, set…

With the plan submitted for permits and material selections made, your contractor will be able to finish up pricing and write up a contract for construction. If the selected materials cost more than the budget allows, there may be a round of “value engineering,” which means changing scope of work or materials to reduce cost. By the time the contract is signed, your contractor will have identified the longer-lead items (like cabinets, windows, doors, tile and sometimes plumbing or electrical fixtures) and may even have them on order ahead of the start of construction, depending on the timing of your project.

By the time all of these steps are complete, it may be four to six months or even more since you started talking with design professionals.

The planning process can be lengthy, but each step you take will put you closer to starting your project with a clear vision of what’s to come. That investment of time on the front end means your entire construction team–design professional, contractor and you–can start the project on the same page with a clearly articulated plan. That makes it much easier say, “Go!” without any hesitation.

William Gati, AIA, is the president of Architecture Studio, Kew Gardens, N.Y.

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