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Home Improvement

4 phases for how to successfully plan your next home project


Most people who undertake a home improvement project underestimate the amount of time required to properly plan it from start to finish. In a nutshell, there are four phases to any home design project: Design, Construction Documents, Pricing/Permitting and the actual Construction Phase

The first phase involves working with an architect or design professional to identify your building program (“wish list”), to explore possible design concepts, to select the design concept that works best for your lifestyle and budget, and to develop that concept fully. Of the four phases, the time component for this phase is the most difficult to predict. Some people are able to zero in on a design concept quickly others take a more circuitous path. Generally speaking, it is best to leave 4-8 weeks for smaller projects, more time for projects which are larger in scope. If zoning variances or wetlands approvals are required, this could add several months to the process. 

The second phase involves turning the design concept into a set of drawings and specifications that one can build from. These documents are used by the builder to prepare a price for the project, and they are required to be filed with the building permit application.  Decisions related to such things as the building materials, finishes, millwork, lighting and mechanical systems are made during this phase. For smaller projects, you should plan on this phase taking 4-6 weeks.

The third phase involves bidding or negotiating a price with a builder. I typically allow three weeks for bidding one of my projects, because it takes that long for builders to get competitive pricing from subcontractors and material suppliers … and I would leave another week or two for meeting with bidders, value engineering (trimming scope if the cost is too high) and signing a contract.

Only now are you ready to begin actually constructing the project.  The length of the construction phase is entirely dependent on the size and scope of the project.  It is also dependent on such things as the weather (rain, snow and extremely cold weather can slow things down), and on lead times for such things as millwork and ceramic tile.  Kitchens and bathrooms require the most time because almost every subcontractor is performing work.  Generally speaking, a project that requires a modest amount of new construction and/or interior remodeling, and includes a new kitchen and bathrooms, will take at least six months to construct … and new houses will take a minimum of a year.  I recently met with a developer who claimed that he built his houses in 83 days.  But these houses are built in assembly line fashion.  Custom home design requires a different pace … it is analogous to the difference between the time it takes to prepare a Big Mac versus “Sogliola”  at Paci Restaurant.  Another apt metaphor is that home remodeling is nothing short of surgery.

At this point in the calendar, it is still possible to begin planning a project that will break ground in late spring … but you have to start NOW … and you have to hustle a little.

Next Month: I will share one of my favorite sources for contemporary lighting.

Neil Hauck, AIA, established his architectural practice in 1988. Since then, his firm has produced a diverse body of work, including new homes, home renovations, civic, religious and commercial projects. He takes a holistic approach to the process of design, whereby each project evolves as a unique response to the client’s intentions, as well as the site and surrounding context. Visit his website for more information