Q: I’m looking to build a huge addition to my home and I’m a little stressed out. Can you offer any practical advice for ensuring a successful project?
A: It’s perfectly normal for significant residential construction projects to be fraught with stress, anxiety, and tension — for the owner, contractor and designer. For many homeowners, the prospect of tackling a large-scale project is so intimidating they give up before they begin.
Excellent design and construction quality are essential, but if the process of getting there results in cost overruns, broken relationships, or even litigation, most reasonable people would consider the project a failure.
The best way to ensure that your project goes smoothly is to assemble a top-notch team that includes both the architect and contractor working together as a single unit — what we call a “Team Build” approach. And the first step to putting together the right team is understanding what makes a residential construction project successful.
Typically, the architect starts by working with the owner to develop a conceptual design based on their programmatic goals, budget, site conditions and jurisdictional requirements. After establishing project parameters, the owner hires the general contractor and then all of the team memebers work together as a team to develop the design.
Each party plays a specific role in this process:
The owner: The owner considers design alternatives, develops minimum-quality expectations and finalizes the funding budgeted for the project.
The contractor: The contractor provides cost estimates and engineering plans, and also reviews the feasibility of construction plans.
The architect: The architect develops cost-saving alternatives, adjusts the design to fit the budget, and reviews design and construction details with the contractor as well as key subcontractors.
An example of what working together looks like in practice: I had a project where a client wanted to raise the ceiling height in an existing basement.
Our options were to raise the house or excavate the basement. Based on input from the contractor early in the design process — including input from a foundation subcontractor, structural engineer and a house lifting specialist — we concluded that the best approach was raising the house. The result was significant cost savings relative to the much more expensive excavation option.
Based on the input from each member, the team completes the design drawings to match the budget, accommodates the preferred construction techniques and reflects the owner’s preferences for quality and materials.
While this process lengthens the time to complete the permit and construction drawings, it actually shortens the overall project schedule because dramatic changes, left-field surprises and unexpected cost-cutting are greatly reduced. The project launches with all eyes open.
Each member of the project team brings unique and essential information necessary for a successful project. By working together, our combined efforts result not only in a good outcome for the client, but also a pleasant and enjoyable process for all parties involved. The journey should be as rewarding as the destination.
As a homeowner, taking a Team Build approach will save you time, money and stress.
Philip W. Frisk, AIA, is Principal at PWF Architecture, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to email@example.com.