To Renovate, or NOT To Renovate

Consider the costs of renovating and how they compare to the value of your house, neighborhood real-estate values and the availability of other properties that could meet your needs.  Many times, renovations are not, or are just barely, cost effective.  Kitchens and master bedrooms typically bring higher return.  Once you have analyzed your wants and needs an architect might ask: Do you want to improve your house for you and your family or do you want to increase its resale value?  If you intend to move three to five years after the renovation is complete, it may not be worthwhile going through the renovation process.


Controlling Costs

It’s easy for renovation projects to snowball when you begin to consider existing utilities, wiring, insulation, and windows-even finishing touches such as window coverings, furnishings and artwork.  An architect can help you to plan your renovation and set the stage for building cost-efficiency into your project.  By setting parameters early in the renovation process, your architect can help you control costs before construction begins.


Making the Best Use of Space

Your architect will help you analyze and understand how you use the space you have now, and how you’ll use the space you want to create through the renovation.  Do you want formal, quiet space separate from common areas or airy, informal space?  How could the spaces serve a dual-purpose?  This can help minimize the additional square footage you’ll create.  For example, you might want to expand the living room to provide quiet space for reading and occasional work at home.  But after exploring how you currently use the space, the architect might demonstrate how the space and privacy you desire is best attained by creating a large master bedroom instead.  Your architect has the experience to show you the possibilities.


Potential Problems

Potential problems can lie behind walls and beneath floors, especially in older homes.  Consider your existing plumbing, wiring, heating ducts and foundation and how these will work with your renovation.  Consider what affect this could have on your budget.  Outdated wiring may not support the increased power needs of your modern home office or considerable rerouting and replacement of existing plumbing.  Or, a weak foundation might have to be reinforced to support an addition.  An architect takes such possibilities into account when assessing your project and developing a design, which can help avoid costly surprises later when you’re under construction.


More Than Just Drawings

An architect’s involvement doesn’t end with preparing drawings for renovation.  As your adviser and agent, the architect will visit the site to protect you against work that is not according to plan.  With an architect observing construction, you get informed reports of the project’s progress, a trained eye toward quality control and even a check on the contractor’s invoices-mandating that the contractor does not get paid until the architect is satisfied that the contractor has fulfilled all obligations to you.

Six Steps Toward Building Your Dream Home

Although conditions may vary, the design and construction of your new home will typically follow these basic steps from inception to completion:


Step 1: Deciding What to Build

This first stage, called programming, is probably the most valuable time you will spend with your architect.  It is at this time you will discuss the requirements for your project: how many rooms, what function it will have, who will use it and how.  It is also the time when you begin to distinguish between what you want, what you need, and what you can spend.

Don’t come in with solutions already decided upon.  Be prepared to explore new and creative ideas.  Be very frank about how you want the end result to feel and work.  The architect will ask you lots of questions to get a better sense of your goals and needs and to determine if your expectations match your budget.  The architect may suggest changes based upon knowledge, experience, and your budget.  During the next step, your program will be realized.


Step 2: Rough Sketches

Once you have defined what is to be built, the architect will then do a series of rough sketches, known as schematic designs.  These sketches are meant to show possible approaches for you to consider, but are not documents for construction.

The architect will refine and revise the sketches until a solution is developed that meets the requirements of your program.  At this point you and your architect may consult with a builder or construction manager familiar with your type of project in order to assemble a preliminary estimate of construction cost.  Remember, this is not a hard “bid” and there are many more details to be established about your project and that this cost estimate is very general.  It is hard to predict market conditions, the availability of materials, and other unforeseen situations that could drive up costs.

Don’t panic if these first sketches seem different from what you first envisioned.  It is vital that you and your architect are clear about what you want and the design fulfills your needs.  It is much easier to make changes now when your project is on paper, than later on when the foundations have been poured and walls erected.  Before proceeding to the next phase, the architect will ask for your approval of these sketches.


Step 3: Refining the Design

This step, called design development, is when the architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design.  The floor plans show all the rooms in the correct size and shape.  Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

Based on these drawings, a more detailed estimate must be prepared, though final costs will actually depend on market conditions.  Review every element with your architect to make sure you are getting the most out of your construction dollar.


Step 4: Preparing Construction Documents

At this point, the architect prepares construction documents, the detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and to build the project.  These drawings and specifications become part of the contract.  When construction documents are finished, you are ready to hire the general contractor or builder.  If you have previously selected a builder as part of the team or are pursuing a design/build service, the contract documents are now employed to secure pricing, hire subcontractors, and select final materials for the project.


Step 5: Hiring the Contractor

There are a number of ways to select a contractor.  Your architect can make recommendations, or if you already have someone you want to work with, you might send the construction documents to him and negotiate fees and costs.  Or you may wish to choose among several contractors you’ve asked to submit bids on the job.  The architect will help you prepare the bidding documents, which consist of drawings and specifications as well as invitations to bid and instruction to bidders.  The bidding documents are then sent to several contractors, who within a given period of time reply with bids, which include the cost for building your project.  Your architect will help you make the contractor selection based on the best value.

While the architect can recommend contractors and assist in the selection process, the final choice is up to you.  Discuss the pros and cons of these methods with your architect to help you decide what will work best.


Step 6: Construction

Up until now, your project has been confined to intense discussion, planning, and two-and/or three-dimensional renderings.  When construction begins, your project moves from an abstraction to a physical reality.

The architect’s involvement does not necessarily stop with preparation of construction documents.  Architects also provide construction administration services.  These services may include assisting you in hiring the contractor, making site visits, reviewing and approving the contractor’s applications for payment, and keeping you informed of the project’s progress.

While the architect observes construction, the contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures.  The contractor supervises and directs the construction work on the project.

The path to a completed building is paved with lots of challenges and uncertainty.  There are literally hundreds of decisions to be made, decisions which have a strong impact on how the project looks and functions over time.

The architect can ease the way by helping you avoid wrong turns, but also can direct you to solutions you never considered.  The result is a unique custom home created to meet your needs, express your individuality, and provide enjoyment for everyone who uses it.