Sunday, August 16, 2009
The construction phase is critical
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
Last week we discussed Lucynthia Knudsen's remodeling experience, but there's another aspect of her project that we would like to discuss.
Knudsen's story is intriguing, but it was actually a record project for us in the area of construction observation — we logged more than 200 hours on site during the construction process.
That equates to a visit to the site each week since the construction began last October.
One reason for this level of involvement is that Lucynthia lives in New Mexico. So, though she made numerous visits to Salt Lake City during the construction, we not only served as her architect but also as her project manager.
You may not have a project in another state, but even if you are able to visit your job site regularly (or if you are living in the middle of it!), there are good reasons to hire your architect to be involved in the construction of your project.
Knudsen made the comment more than once that she was glad to have us involved because even if she had been in town, she would not have known what to look for or what questions to ask.
While an architect should always be available to answer questions during the construction phase, most architects also offer additional options for various construction observation services, based on your needs.
The construction phase is the most critical time of any remodeling project. This is when what looked so good on paper becomes a reality.
We always remind clients that you never know for sure what is inside a wall until you open it up. This is when you find that the wiring needs to be redone, the plumbing has leaked so mold fills the cavity, or that there was an untreated termite problem.
Whether large or small, unexpected problems will come up during construction.
In addition, no set of plans is perfect or totally complete. A good contractor will have numerous questions after carefully studying the plans. Therefore, the architect must be open and available for communication throughout the construction process.
By meeting regularly (usually weekly) on the job site with the contractor and owner, the architect can keep the lines of communication open and facilitate the execution of your project.
Construction is also the time when changes may need to be made to your project. Although your architect has done his or her best to help you visualize your finished space, actually seeing the job taking form may bring new ideas. Your architect will help you evaluate the various ramifications of changes you are considering, both in terms of design and budget.
Though it may sound strange, builders don't always build what is on the plans.
Because of their expertise in construction methods, they may contribute constructive ideas of ways to alter the plans to save time or money.
On the other hand, a contractor may lack the enthusiasm or experience to try something new or to deviate from the standard "builders' design."
When they want to disregard the plans, contractors have been known to use the excuses that something can't structurally be built or that it violates some code or another. Homeowners are hard pressed to argue these points, but architects can go to bat to defend the design that you have carefully worked out.
Whether your contractor's suggestions for changes come from good or less desirable motives, having your architect involved will ensure that you will have all the facts so you can make an informed decision.
Another benefit of construction observation is to help keep the contractors and subcontractors on task. If a contractor knows he will be asked to account at the weekly meeting to the owner and architect, he will be more motivated to stay on schedule. Contractors don't want to deal with an unhappy customer or unhappy architect. Ultimately, they want both to happily refer them following the completion of the project.
Having your architect involved throughout the construction process will obviously increase the fee you will be paying. You need to ask yourself the following questions:
Do I have the skills and experience to manage the process myself?
How important is it to me that the project turns out as it is designed?
Is this investment in my home significant enough to warrant professional supervision?
Remodeling is a complicated process from beginning to end, and ultimately you will get what you pay for. So, the more minds you can get involved in the process, the more likely you are to come up with the best possible outcome. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.