Whether you’re looking for a new place to live or an investment property, you may be tempted to build a home from scratch instead of buying one. If this is a route you’re exploring, you have several options:
- contract the entire project, or parts of it, to relevant professionals - architects, designers, engineers, and a general contractor, or a home-builder who has an inventory of house plans,
obtain a professional design, then act as a general contractor and manage the construction process yourself, or
design your home and oversee construction on your own
From time to time, even pros can find construction a treacherous business. For a non-professional, the first option is the safest bet; however, with quality drawings and the support of an experienced design team, anyone can be a successful owner-builder. Unless you’re a veteran home builder, the third choice may be overwhelming - we strongly advocate the use of professional guidance when designing or building your home.
Whether you want to engage a GC or serve as one, your project’s success will depend on quality planning and a seamless design. Some self-builders assume that an architect’s services are a meritless expense, but the fact is that architects are qualified to do several things that laymen are not. Apart from the obvious, such as ensuring code compliance, these professionals take the time to understand your lifestyle and the needs of your family and base the architectural design on these factors. They also know how to channel your expectations of comfort, privacy, energy performance, and aesthetics into the home’s design.
Plan your budget
Before you hire an architect, your first step should be to figure out how much you can afford to invest in the project. At this stage, also ask yourself why you prefer a custom home rather than the less expensive production variant. Asking this question will help you recognize your own needs - be it daylight, space, extravagance, functionality, or any other architectural feature that suits your imagination.
Create a design brief
After you’ve settled on your budget and brainstormed on a list of design ideas, you can assemble a design brief that will convey these requirements to the architect. Be sure to add sketches and/or photos of prominent architectural features to help your architect visualize your intentions. Also, take the time to establish a start date for construction of your project. These documents will continue to evolve throughout the design phase, but the initial submission should be good enough to get you a design fee proposal.
Determine the site conditions
Next, you will need to assess your site’s existing conditions, and it’s wise to hire an engineer to guide you through this stage. The site assessment may entail a physical survey to establish the site boundaries and topographic features, and/or a geological exploration to determine soil conditions. These procedures will help the engineers draft their initial grading design. Based on the site assessment and the design brief you provided earlier, your architect will produce an initial, conceptual design for you to review and approve.
Once you’ve discussed the conceptual drawings with the architect and given your feedback, they can continue working on the architectural drawings. During the process, the architect will develop plans, elevations, sections, and details, and you will have a chance to discuss and scrutinize these as they evolve.
Now may be a good time to think about your home’s energy efficiency. California’s energy codes are robust enough to offer compliant buildings the best energy efficiency in the nation; that said if you want to take it a step further, be sure to discuss available strategies with the architect. Expect some back-and-forth with your architect while their design is getting finalized.
Coordinate with engineering disciplines
When the architect presents a set of drawings you’re happy with, it’s time to get the other disciplines involved. If the site’s main elements, such as the home’s footprint, driveways, walkways, and landscaping features are confirmed, the grading design can be wrapped up. If you don’t require drastic adjustments to the home’s exterior and interior appearance, send the architectural plans over to your engineers, so they can use them as a basis of their structural design.
A structural engineer’s job is to ensure that your building keeps standing despite gravity, winds, and earthquakes. If the architectural design unwittingly inhibits either of these functions, the structural engineers will propose modifications, and there will be more coordination between them, the architects, and yourself.
When the architectural plans finally align with the structural design, and vice versa, you can start to involve the Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) disciplines in the design process. These professionals will base the layouts of their respective services on the configuration of the building - its architectural elements and its structure.
After the architectural, structural, and MEP drawings are coordinated, your design team will issue a bid set - a package of drawings you can use to solicit bids from GCs, if you’re taking this route (to read more on bidding and GC selection, click here). When you’ve chosen your GC, get their feedback on the design - sometimes field professionals may see a quicker, simpler, or more economical approach to a particular design component, and you should consider their inputs.
Apply for permits and approvals
Finally, your chosen GC can submit the permit application for your project. This stage of the process can take some time, as most agencies require approvals based on zoning and land use regulations. Several committees, as well as your neighbors, can get involved in the approval process. On the permit side, expect several plan check cycles from the building department and more revisions from the design team before you get the permits approved. Once you do, you’re all set to build!
What Design Everest Can Do
Construction can be a challenging process, and its success hinges on an accurate, quality design. Design Everest can bring their 14+ years of industry experience to help make your project a success. Call us at (877) 704-5727 to discuss your project and receive a quote today.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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