Pencils are Cheap, 2×4′s are Expensive
I mean, really, what can be so difficult here? This project is nothing more than a wooden box with a roof on top. Sure it’s got some windows and a door in it. You run a little electrical and plumbing, sheetrock, put up a bit of finish trim and some paint and “Voila!” you’re done! Just move in the furniture, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Often, when homeowners decide that they can design and manage the construction of a project on their own they discover that the process is significantly more complex than it appears to be on the surface. The decisions become overwhelming. A short while ago, I got a phone call from a prospect, saying that he needed a little help with the renovation of his home. After chatting with him for a bit, it became clear that the entire house was completely torn apart and the contractor was standing next to him asking where should he pound the next nail. Now, the nail doesn’t care a whole lot about where it gets nailed. On the other hand, the carpenter does care. He wants to pound that nail just once. If he has to pound that nail more than once, it usually means that what he just put up is being taken down and getting put up again. That’s time, materials and ultimately money wasted.
Let’s talk for a moment, about the risks of designing and managing building a project by the seat of your pants or off the back of a paper napkin, because there are many. Here are several examples.
1. Design. It is very likely that design decisions made during construction will be made out of context of the overall design concept and without taking the time to think thru the impact of that decision on other aspects of the construction of the project. With one idea heaped on top of another, the project will end up looking disjointed and not thought out.
2. Communication. Without a clear overall vision and a good set of drawings and specification, the contractor has to proceed with his pricing, construction schedule and construction based on a certain set of assumptions about your expectations as to what the finished project is to look like.
3. Budget and Schedule. You may get a price that fits your budget, but what if the contractor’s assumptions were not the same as yours? When do you find out? During construction!!!! Now your schedule is blown because you’re having work done over. You’re rejecting materials and fixtures because they don’t meet your expectation for look or quality. You now have no control over the schedule because you’re having to make decisions on the fly and of course, having friendly discussions with your contractor over whether he should be paid for having to build something twice. Did you really know what was included in the contractor’s price and what wasn’t included? Should the contractor be paid for the work that just got torn down and put back up? Without proper documentation, that wonderful vision you held in your head can rapidly turn into a nightmare, as it slides down the slippery slope of frustration and anger.
Hiring a designer or architect who can help you to visualize what it is that is in your head is invaluable. To know what a room or addition or home will look like and having made all the decisions about the design before construction begins makes a huge difference at the other end of the job. Working with your designer or architect, you will have made the hard decisions regarding look, finish profiles, materials, products and finishes before construction commences. With a good set of dimensioned drawings and specifications that communicate the intent of your design a contractor can provide an accurate price and schedule to complete the project.
Bring a qualified general contractor on board early in the design process. Questions about materials, schedule and cost can be addressed and resolved before anyone picks up a hammer. Then your designer only has to do one final set of construction drawings. When construction starts, the contractor can concentrate on meeting the construction schedule, coordinating the work with his subs and being sure that the work being performed is being done in accordance with the drawings and specs.
In summation, a well-documented design and an integrated project team will help you manage your risk. Identify those areas and issues where your exposure is the greatest and solve those problems during the design phase of your project. Document the solutions when construction documents are prepared and your exposure should be minimal throughout the rest of the project. Or as WKD tells their clients, one of the major objectives of the design process is to shoot all the elephants before the contractor gets started with his work. If we’re going to have to make decisions during construction, let’s be sure that they’re small ones, as though we were hunting a mouse, instead of an elephant. When you have a successful hunt, your project will proceed smoothly with minimal disruption.
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