Planning Ahead

When Should I Start Planning?                                                                                                       

When it comes to planning an addition, remodel or new construction, the mantra should be “plan ahead!”  This simple idea applies not only to the actual construction of the project, but also to the multiple steps that precede the actual ground breaking for the construction of the project.  The amount of time that’s required to plan for a particular project varies depending on the scope of work proposed and the scale of the project; the larger or more complex a project is, the longer the planning process will take: some things to consider in advance; pre-planning (before you hire an architect), finding the architect, designer or design-build Company, financial planning, time of year in which construction is to take place.  Aggregating the time it takes to think through all the various considerations required to plan a particular project will result in a well-considered timeline which in turn ought to garner a planning and construction process that flows smoothly from one phase to another while reducing the potential for delays and added costs that result from construction occurring during challenging weather conditions.


Planning Prior to Design Process:                                                                                                   

Before meeting with an architect, designer or design build firm, it is worthwhile to consider as many aspects of a project as possible.  This would not only include the most obvious question of identifying what the goals are for the project, i.e. remodel a kitchen, bath, or create an addition, but would also include issues of style, materials, color and the like.  Many designers like to see their clients collect pictures, paint swatches and other material samples that help guide the designer start.  Having these materials from the beginning can make for a more efficient use of time during the design process and shorten the period of time required to make the design decisions.

An added benefit to investing a little extra time up front to identify the scope of work and a palate of materials is that it enables the professionals that you hire to begin developing an estimate for the cost of the proposed project.  With additional information as planning becomes more detailed, estimates can be refined and made more accurate, however these initial planning stages are crucial for determining whether the project is within financial means before proceeding too far into the drawing and planning phase of the process.


Financial Planning:                                                                                                                           

With rough estimates for your project, you can determine whether you will have enough money on hand to complete your project.  As many project, even simple interior remodels can prove to be more expensive than most people realize, this is a critical step to realizing your goals.  This is also one of the most difficult steps in the process as it involves much more than simply accounting for the dollars and figuring out where they are going to come from; a mix of savings and borrowing in all likelihood.  Other factors when working through the financial aspects of the project dwell on personal questions related to tolerance for added debt, the value of your home, the value of your home relative to that of other houses in your neighborhood, the long term planning for your house and how long you plan to occupy it, whether you plan to retire soon and if you plan to retire in that house, whether that home will provide an environment conducive to aging in place.  There are many more questions and issues related to planning you future in a house; these are just a few.  Not all problems need to be solved before a project can be considered, however the more issues that can be brought to the table for the purposes of planning for the project the better the outcome long term.


Design Process:                                                                                                                                 

Unless you have an idea regarding which designer you are interested in working with, it is worthwhile to allot a certain amount of time to the selection process.  Some thoughts regarding the selection process can be found in a previous blog post “Finding the RIGHT architect…”.  Once you find the architect or designer you are interested in working with however, it is important to find out how long it might take to get on the schedule with that company.  Some firms have a backlog of clients waiting to start work.  If you are in a hurry to start, it may be advisable to start looking for an architect at the beginning, before you have started to consider the nature of the project.  Given that some architects are backlogged as much as 18 months or more, it is possible that you may be able to complete the pre-planning work identified in the previous section well before your chosen designer is prepared to take the project on.

Once the design project begins, it is also necessary to be prepared to make decisions regarding the design.  Typically, there is more than one design solution for any given project.  So you will need to be prepared to review the options and make decisions regarding which direction seems best for the particular situation.  The more time needed to make decisions obviously affects the amount of time required to work through the design process.


Bidding and Estimating:                                                                                                                   

After a design process is complete, the architect will have produced a set of drawings and specifications needed to describe a project for the purpose of construction and estimating.  These documents, referred to as “construction documents” provide the road map to completing the construction.  The timing of this step is of particular importance as it will determine how long it may take to get estimates back from a contractor.  Of course, if you are working with a design build entity, estimating is likely taking place along the way over the course of developing the design, so the bidding and estimating period may not be separate from the design process but would be taking place simultaneously and perhaps guiding the design along the way.

It is important to consider the time of year and the type of project for which you are hoping to obtain feedback from a contractor.  If your proposed project is largely interior, it may be wise to consider approaching contractors with the documents in late summer or early fall.  They will be busy working projects that require good weather but will have an eye on the cold winter months ahead when it is desirable to have interior projects lined up.  Similarly, a design process that takes place over the winter months in which construction documents are completed late winter to early spring is conducive to getting on a contractor’s schedule early so as to allow a homeowner to get on the contractor’s schedule for the approaching summer months.  Of course, these are generalities; work is done all the time in a wide range of weather and environments and contractors are often creative in finding ways around obstacles that result from working in off seasons.  However, those solutions can come with a price tag and with some pre-planning some major costs can be avoided.



Hopefully, if all the planning is done and the bidding and contractor selection is done in a timely fashion, the project will be ready to start when the weather is most amenable to the type of project proposed; this is the primary focus of the planning and design process.  Careful planning should help to avoid oversights, delays, starting projects at a time of year that adds to the cost of construction and a whole range of issues and problems not addressed directly here.  There are always difficulties inherent to construction and the types of difficulties also vary depending on the nature of the project.  Planning ahead can only serve to avoid the most typical and expected kinds of issues that come up during construction but cannot insulate a homeowner from all problems.  However, the severity of the issues encountered are also likely to be greatly reduced with a little forethought.  The benefit of hiring an architect or designer is that you have a trained, experienced professional who will act as your advocate when steering you through this process and well as guiding you during construction. 


Bottom Line:                                                                                                                                                                                  

1.       Pre-planning: initial design decisions

a.       Style

b.      Scope

c.       Aesthetic Considerations

d.      Functional Considerations

e.      Financial Planning

2.       Choosing a professional: different options depending on personal preference

a.       Architect

b.      Designer

c.       Design-Build Partner

3.      Design Process:

a.       Development of a plan based on preferences and scope identified in pre-planning

b.      Drawing Construction Documents and any required engineering

c.       Write Specifications for products, finishes and other aspects of the construction process.

4.       Construction:

a.       Nature of the proposed work may suggest a time of year to begin this process

b.      Interior Remodel: plan for doing the work in the “off” late fall / winter season

c.       Exterior Remodel / Addition: plan for doing the work in the spring, or summer


Hopefully this framework can act as a guide to starting your planning process. If nothing else it should give you a good basis for starting a dialogue with an architect, designer or design build professional to kick start the planning for your next project.