5 questions from H2D

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

logo-jpg1In our never ending attempt to find those who love sustainability as much as we do, we recently came across Heidi Helgeson Design, or H2D Architects on Phinney Ave. They put together a list of the “whats, how’s and whys” of the design and construction process, which we found helpful.

1. I’ve never worked with an architect.  What can I expect?

Don’t be shy.  The key is for the client and architect to have good, open communication in order for the design and construction process to run smoothly.  The architectural design process has a language of its own and it is our job to teach you this language and the best way to communicate the design to you.  We ask that you let us know if there is something you don’t understand or that doesn’t make sense.  We also encourage you to get your hands into the design process to convey your ideas in whatever way you feel comfortable-sketches, models, images, etc.

As for the design process, here is a quick summary of the design phases that each project goes through:

Site Analysis:  The first step in the design process is to determine the existing conditions.  If necessary, we help clients to have a survey drawn of the site and any geotechnical work that may be required.  For remodels, we measure your existing house to use as a base for the design.  During this phase, research for zoning codes, building codes, and other regulations will be started.

Schematic Design:  Before we start the design, we begin with a client meeting to go over design ideas for the project.  This meeting may include looking at images from magazines and books that the client is drawing inspiration from for their project.  We will take the ideas from the meeting and create several sketches of the basic design in the form of floor plans, exterior elevations, sections, and site plan (depending on the scope of the project).  We will begin developing the design ideas into one scheme through an iterative process.  Once we settle on a basic design, we like to bring a contractor on board to assist with initial budgeting to make sure we are on track with the budget.

Design Development:  After confirming the design ideas and contractor’s initial budget, the design is developed through adding more detail, thinking about materials, and coordinating with the structural engineer.  We start developing the interiors during this phase and provide the client with views of the interiors.

Permit Set:  The permit set of drawings typically includes site plan, floor plans, elevations, sections, wall sections, and structural drawings.  Most often we submit a set of drawings to the jurisdiction to review for the building permit while simultaneously continuing to develop the Construction Documents as most jurisdictions have an extended review time for the permits.

Construction Documents:  The Construction Documents are the final drawings and documents which are handed off to the contractor for construction.  This set of documents includes all drawings provided in the permit set, plus electrical plans, architectural details, interior elevations (typically kitchens and bathrooms), finish selections, and specifications (depending on the scope of the project).

Construction Observation:  There are many decisions that are completed on site during the construction process.  We find that weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the contractor and client are beneficial to help facilitate any decisions or changes that need to be made during construction.  We are also available to answer contractor’s telephone questions, review shop drawings (i.e. kitchen cabinets, etc), and to help the owner to determine amounts due to the contractor at the time of invoice.

2. Where do I start?

Remodeling your home or building your dream home is typically a one time opportunity for most homeowners.  The design process is creative, challenging, and an exciting process where you see your ideas come to life.  On the other hand, budget overruns, unexpected costs, complex building and zoning code restrictions, and construction delays can become a headache overnight.  We first suggest scheduling an initial design consultation with an architect to discuss design ideas, project scope, and budget.

Early in the design process, we suggest that the homeowner create a priority list.  We’ve all learned from the saying, “Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs”.  The project scope can quickly creep past the budget constraints, so it is helpful to create a priority of needs and wants for the project.

Work with an architect and contractor that you feel comfortable with and who work well together.  Communication is key to a smoothly executed project.  At some point during the design and construction process you will run into an obstacle.  Negotiation will be much easier with a team that communicates well with each other to come up with a solution to the obstacle.

3My budget doesn’t allow me to do my whole project now.  Can I break it down into phases?

H2D has successfully completed several phased projects.  With the current economy, it has become much more common for homeowners to phase their construction project.  It is important to discuss the budgetary constraints at the beginning of the design process, so that the architect can help you determine the best way that the project can be broken down into manageable phases.  In addition, we recommend designing the whole project up front and then breaking the project out into several phases for construction.  This will help to reduce the amount of work that will be redone during a later phase had the whole project been planned up front.

4. How are project costs and construction costs different?

When evaluating the budget for a project, the total project costs need to be considered.  It is important to know the difference between construction cost and project costs.  Construction cost is the money paid to the contractor for the construction of the project, including the contractor’s profit and overhead.  Project costs include, not only the construction costs, but also design fees (architect, structural engineer, interior designer, etc), permit fees, and any other fees that may be associated with the project (i.e. land survey, furnishings, land fees, utility hook-up fees).

5. Is it more expensive to build green?

The answer to this question is yes and no.  There are a multitude of green materials and sustainable construction methods that you can use in the construction of your home.

For new construction, you may build with an advanced framing technique to reduce the amount of lumber that goes into the frame.  This will save you money on materials and labor costs.  On the other hand, you might use this savings to increase the amount of insulation in your home to create a more energy efficient building envelope, saving you money in long term heating costs.  The overall costs of a green home may be more upfront, but the quality, comfort, and peace of mind that you gain from building green may outweigh the extra cost.

For smaller projects, you may want to incorporate green finishes.  Choosing ‘green’ cabinetry is not much more expensive than high quality custom cabinetry.  Most pre-fabricated cabinets are not built with formaldehyde-free substrates due to the lack of demand in the marketplace.  The materials are not significantly more expensive, but you will need to have the cabinets built at a custom cabinet shop which typically runs 30% more.  Returns are immediate in quality of the cabinetry, custom fit to minimize wasted space, exact style, wood, and dimension that you request, and fewer toxic fumes.  Other green finishes, such as paints, tile, and flooring, have become more mainstream and pricing for some of these materials is becoming quite comparable to their traditional non-green counterpart.

3 Responses to “5 questions from H2D”

  1. Good post. Architects need to continue to get the good word out there on the value that we can bring to the process. Most folks still choose to purchase a builders spec home. I think that’s because it is the easy approach. The architect process is largely still “unknown”. Keep spreading the word.

    Simple,Unique, Creative and Green House Plans
    Top 10 green things to do – when building your new home

  2. Thanks Ron. Good insight. I do find that many people are unsure what architects do and what we can bring to the design and construction process. We enjoy sharing information on how the process works and are open to having people contact us with questions.

  3. Good article. Sadly, too many prospective homeowners don’t seem to read articles like this one before jumping into the “design-your-own-home” game.

    May I say that choosing the right architect ensures you get the home you want, but choosing the right builder ensures you get the home you afford?

    When you get a builder, ask to see the project plan. Check previous work. And above all, read the contract with a lawyer who is experienced in the field? I have actually seen contracts where the builder has written in clause stating they have 3 years to finish the project (this for a 4 bedroom house!!!)