A Team Approach
Home building is often a challenging and complex process. As with any involved project in this day and age, the first step is to assemble your team of experts. This team includes: an architect, interior designer, builder and, most importantly, YOU. Other team members are added under the guidance of this core group.
In order for you to build the home you’ve imagined, at the budget you have chosen, these team members must be involved from the beginning. Design and cost are tied together. Doing one without the other is impossible.
Hire all of your team members through an interview process from a short list of candidates referred by family, friends or colleagues. Pay careful attention to the details of their organizations. This is your opportunity to competitively shop for an architect, designer and builder.
Beyond the obvious questions about cost and contracts, policies and procedures, you will develop a “gut feel” for who is truly listening to your goals and understands your vision. Good communication is always the most important criteria for any relationship.
The Design Process
Clearly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of home building is the design process. After assembling a list of desired rooms and spaces, with pictures and sketches, sit down with paper and pencil and begin the process. This is called the concept stage. It is imperative that a budget is set early, and it remains the builder’s job to keep that budget within sight. The interior designer should also become involved at concept stage, understanding the “look” you desire and the budget constraints as well. These drawings are most often done at 1/8” scale.
This is the time to really explore your options. Layouts and room dimensions may change dramatically as you narrow and clarify your needs. This may be a relatively long or short process depending on your input and availability. But diligence at this phase avoids costly changes down the road. At the end of this phase, you should be happy with the overall size and projected budget.
The drawings are now converted to a set of construction drawings of the home, done at ¼” scale. The engineer and mechanical contractors become involved, integrating the structural necessities with the design. Soffiting and other compromises may be required to properly heat and cool the home.
Specifications are now developed, which determine the scope of work for all trades. During this phase, finish selections may begin with preliminary visits to a multitude of showrooms and supply houses organized by the interior designer. Before the completion of bidding all selections should be finished.
At the end of this phase, your plans are put on CAD (computer-assisted drawings) and added to the engineering drawings. Sections through the house and details of stairs, fireplaces and built-ins must be included at this time. Some of these details may come from your designer. The more details provided on the plan, the fewer questions during the bid process.
The Bidding Process
Upon completion of the construction documents and specifications, the home is ready to go to bid. It is at this point that your builder should be able to get a truly competitive bid. Having gotten to know you during the design process, he understands your goals and budget. A qualified general contractor will select two or three contractors in each category who can deliver the final product you’re after. Only with detailed plans and specifications can a truly competitive bid be achieved. As bids are received, adjustments may be made in plans or specifications. Typically this process takes three to four weeks. Often submittals for permits and architectural board approvals are also done at this time.
After all costs are compiled and an actual total cost established, construction can begin. Having spent adequate time on plans, specifications and bidding, the construction process should be enjoyable. Without the pressure of daily decisions and concerns of cost overruns, you can sit back now and enjoy seeing your home take shape. Here’s a brief review of building process.
The Construction Process
The groundwork phase typically takes four to six weeks. Besides excavation and foundation work, utilities are brought on site, a temporary driveway established and grading adjustments made. Underground plumbing, electric and often heat are installed at this time. Prior to lumber arriving on-site, interior slabs are poured and backfill completed with positive drainage as a priority.
Now the fun begins. The framing phase is undoubtedly the most dramatic. As the house takes shape, rooms and living spaces are defined. For those who may have struggled with the two-dimensional plans, this third dimension makes everything clear. There are some inevitable adjustments at this stage, but once again, a well thought out and designed home has few changes. This stage is completed with the installation of doors and windows and “drying in” of the roof.
The mechanical phase now begins. Plumbing, HVAC, electrical and low-voltage wiring take weeks and perhaps months, depending on the size of the home, to complete. What this process lacks in excitement, it requires in attention to detail. Electrical and low- voltage walk-throughs keep the client in touch with how the new home will operate. Next it’s time to get the energy raters involved to make sure the building envelope is tight and efficient. Inspections before and after insulation guarantee this. The house now moves into the drywall stage, after documenting all mechanicals with digital photos.
Meanwhile, the exterior begins to take shape. The weatherproof barrier installed with the doors and windows has provided a protective skin for the home. This prevents water and wind intrusion and keeps the wall cavities free of mold. Stone, siding, stucco or brick are applied using the latest building science techniques to assure low maintenance and long-term durability. Coordination of the trades at this phase is critical. Exterior patios, driveways, walks and decks prepare the site for landscaping.
Back inside, completion of drywall marks the start of the finish phase. Trim carpenters are the first to arrive, followed by cabinets, tile and counter tops. The painter arrives next to add color to the walls, ceiling and finishing woodwork and doors. Here again sequencing is critical as all this work will be part of the final surface of the home.
After painting, plumbers and electricians arrive to set fixtures and appliances and your house takes on the appearance of a home. Carpet is usually the last material to be installed.
At this point a series of cleanings and touch ups begin with a goal of zero defects on everyone’s mind. This stage can last three weeks or more and is critical to completing the home to customer satisfaction. Moving in too soon results in a prolonged “Punch List Phase.” Contractors may come and go for weeks to complete tasks, which might take only a fraction of the time if the house were not occupied. It is imperative that the builder and client allow adequate time to complete the home prior to moving in.
Finally the big day arrives, and you move into your new home, sustainably built with healthy indoor air quality and energy efficient for life.