How the term “Design-Build” is often misused?

Often times, a general contracting company will inappropriately use the term “design-build” to describe their services when in fact a licensed architect is not being consulted.  They may simply have a “creative” draftsman in their office that has basic drafting skills.

The fact is, general contractors are expected to be skilled craftsmen that excel in the art of construction.  They are not trained architects or space planners.  Expecting a contractor to design a building, places an unnecessary burden upon him that he is not trained to solve.  One just needs to look at the many mediocre homes that populate our communities!

Conversely, while architects are trained in the design and constructability of a building, they cannot provide a definitive construction budget.  At best, they can consult trade publications that may or may not accurately reflect the current costs based upon industry averages.

Architects take a holistic view of the entire project.  They realize that no part of the project exists in a vacuum and therefore, each and every component of a project affects the others.

By the way, most townships and communities in Pennsylvania require construction documents to be prepared by a licensed architect.

JFA Architecture Receives Three NARI Contractor of the Year Awards

Wyncote, PA—JFA Architecture was recently honored with Contractor of the Year (CotY) awards in three categories: Whole House Under $250,000; Historic Renovation; and Residential Exterior Under $100,000. The awards were presented by the Bucks-Mont Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) at a ceremony held at the Manor House in Horsham, PA on Friday, January 28, 2010.

“It is a tremendous honor to have our designs recognized by this highly respected group of professional remodelers”, remarked JFA’s Joseph Augustine, owner and president of JFA Architecture. “Receiving an award in three categories is well beyond expectations and a testament to our clients and their wonderful projects”, commented Augustine. During the awards ceremony, Augustine was also presented with a professional distinction when he was named Committee Chairman of the Year.

NARI Chapters are not-for-profit trade associations committed exclusively to the service of the professional remodeling industry. The NARI remodeling contractor is pledged to uphold the Association’s Code of Ethics and is dedicated to the professionalism and integrity of the remodeling industry. Each year, the Bucks-Mont NARI chapter awards contractors for their exemplary work in a variety of categories, depending on project type and cost.

   The award for Whole House Under $250,000 was for a new home built on the existing foundation of a condemned Levittown house by Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County. JFA Architecture designed the four bedroom, raised roof Cape Cod as part of a Habitat program that provides an opportunity for low-income families to increase their independence and well being through home ownership. The project is an excellent example of green building, the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient. The energy efficient home received Energy Star® certification indicating it meets strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and includes energy-saving features that typically make a home 20-30% more efficient than a standard home.

   The award for Historic Renovation was received for a project in which JFA Architecture teamed with Gemmi Construction and Conti Design to enlarge the kitchen of a classic circa 1825 Italianate style home. The project involved the removal of a dilapidated porch/mudroom and the recreation of a new room on the old porch’s original foundation to allow for expansion of the kitchen without removing the existing 18 inch load bearing wall. All of the aesthetic elements of the newly combined space are harmoniously unified to respect the character of the original historic home.

    JFA Architecture teamed with Gemmi Construction once again to win the award for Residential Exterior Under $100,000. The project involved the creation of a new entry, the first of a series of phased projects intended to transform a typical two-story suburban colonial in Bucks County into a traditionally inspired home reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg. The period correct portico designed by JFA Architecture features millwork details painstakingly recreated in an authentic manner.

   This is not the first time this pair has been awarded for their work. In 2010, the JFA Architecture and Gemmi Construction team received a CotY Award for their collaboration on a project in the Entire Home Remodeling category valued between $250,000–$500,000.

 For more information on JFA Architecture visit or contact Joseph Augustine at: (215) 517-8068.

The Design-Build Process

The majority of the projects that JFA Architecture participate in are on a design-build basis.  Sometimes we provide professional services directly to the home owner and other times we are hired by the general contractor.  However, in both scenarios the intention is the same; to establish the relationships of owner, architect and contractor as early as possible in the project.  This allows the architecture and budgeting of the projects to proceed concurrently.

This avoids the pitfalls that some homeowners incur when presented with bids from multiple contractors that are all beyond the anticipated project budget.  This occurs when the construction documents are completed without the benefit of accurate cost estimating.  After several months of the homeowner becoming intimately attached to the project of their dreams, they are confronted with the reality that it is beyond their budget.  Even after the project is redesigned to conform to their budget, the homeowner is left with the regret of what the project could have been.  This series of events is a detriment to the homeowner’s time, budget and patience.

We can share others experiences about projects that were awarded on the primary basis of a bid; the bidders are aware that, everything being equal, (which it never is), the project will be awarded to one of the lowest bidders.  Therefore, they are motivated to under-bid the project to win or to include only exactly what is shown on the drawings – even if it is incomplete.  Therefore, before work has even commenced on the project, the contractor is aggressively seeking opportunities for change orders to recover his profit margin.

We can also share our experience with projects that were constructed on a design-build basis; the general contractor is interviewed in much the same way as the architect.  The general contractor is involved in the project from its initial inception and are the sources of cost estimating throughout the design phases of the project.  Once the project is ready to commence construction, the relationships of the team have been firmly established.  The general contractor has a much deeper understanding and therefore respect for the project.  In addition, the adversarial nature of a traditionally awarded project is removed.

In actuality, the subcontract work performed on the project is still awarded by bid.  The general contractor is really functioning as a construction manager and each of the different trades are sub-contractors.

We believe the essential components of a successful design-build relationship are a licensed architectural firm and a competent construction company. -jfa

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Construction Contracts

JFA Architecture, P.C. has the capability and experience to collaborate with a contractor to build a variety of projects under various contract formats. Design/Build, Stipulated Lump Sum, and Cost Plus Fee with a Guaranteed Maximum Price are some of the more typical contracts used today.

A brief synopsis of the various construction contracts:

Design/Build – This is a single contract between the Owner and an Architect/Contractor who will design and construct the project. Costs and fees for the project are generally established at the time of the contract. Costs and fees for the design phase only are then confirmed leaving the construction costs to be set as the project plans and scope are firmly established.

Stipulated Lump Sum – A stipulated lump sum agreement is used when an Owner contracts with a General Contractor to pay a specific amount for construction, regardless of what the actual costs might be. An owner may have received specific bids from numerous contractors or may have worked with only one contractor to arrive at a cost for construction. A stipulated lump sum contract simply defines the specific dollar amount which will be paid for the work.

Cost Plus a Fee with a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) – This is really an extension of the Construction Manager At Risk in that the Construction Manager establishes the final budget during the design phase and is guaranteeing that this amount will not be exceed. Included in that GMP is a fee for the contractors overhead and profit, identified as either a percentage of the cost or simply set as a fixed fee. With this GMP identified, the Owner is assured of a Guaranteed Maximum Cost for the project. However, as a Cost Plus a Fee contract, the Owner may be able to realize some savings if the construction costs come in less that what was budgeted.

The type of contract to be used is as important as the timing and selection of the General Contractor. The traditional method of soliciting Lump Sum proposals for a specific scope of work is still used today. However, realizing that this method sometimes leads to ‘cheap’ construction (the low bidder) by someone who may not be fully qualified, other methods of selecting a Contractor have become prevalent in today’s construction market.

Selecting a Construction Manager to work with the Architect during the design phase of a project has rapidly become the more favored method of selecting a Contractor. Utilizing some of the same guidelines used for selecting an Architect, an Owner can select a Contractor/Construction Manager to work as part of the team during the design/pre-construction phase of the project. With this comprehensive team utilizing their various areas of expertise, the Owner is assured of getting the best product possible based on whatever budget parameters have been established. Based on the various contract types, jfa architecture, p.c. urges Owners to select a Construction Manager during the design phase and plan on using a Cost Plus a Fee, Guaranteed Maximum Price contract. The CM can provide valuable assistance during the design phase to help the Owner get the highest quality project that falls within the budget constraints. With a Cost Plus, GMP contract in place, the Owner is assured of paying only those costs incurred for construction of the project with the added guarantee that the costs will not exceed a specified amount.

Welcome Home!

By: Manasee Wagh
Bucks County Courier Times

On Thursday, the McWhite family will move into their new home, built by Habitat for Humanity.

The McWhite family just got an early Christmas present: the keys to a new home in Bristol Township.

The green, four-bedroom house with white trim has a generous front porch, a backyard surrounded by trees and a full basement.

Seven months ago, it was a small, crumbling structure with a broken roof and boarded windows, but the hands-on work of Habitat for Humanity volunteers and donations turned the dilapidated building into a distant memory.

Strung across the porch railing on Saturday was a “welcome home” banner signed by volunteer builders and supporters. About 50 friends, family members and volunteers gathered in front of the pretty home to congratulate the family with prayer and well wishes.

Latarsha McWhite, her kids Ronnie Wilson, 10, and Ronald Wilson, 7, and her mom Irene McWhite, couldn’t stop smiling.

Ronnie said was very excited to find out that they were getting a new home.

“I’m really happy because I helped build it too. I painted, did clean up,” she said, sitting next to her mother as the group enjoyed cake and coffee.

Latarsha had just moved her family into a two-bedroom apartment about two years ago and was looking for items to furnish and decorate it. She stumbled upon Habitat for Humanity ReStore online and bought a few things. At the time, it never occurred to her that a Habitat house was a possibility.

As she read more about the organization, she discovered that she could qualify. Months later, the family was offered the new home in Bristol Township.

“We saw the floor plan on Feb. 22. We saw that day as a blessing from God,” said Latarsha, who now lives in Trenton, N.J.

She and her mother thanked the assembled crowd of volunteers profusely.

“I love each and every one of you in a very special way – words can’t say,” Latarsha said. “When you see this great accomplishment everyone has taken the time to do, you just feel so grateful, when people put their hands, their hearts and their souls into it.”

Her mother, Irene, added a piece of advice based on her own experience.

“When I let go and rely on God to guide my path, my family’s path, I find peace,” she said. “And look what God has brought me. There’s other families out there who probably need help. I would tell them, if you need help and you don’t want to go to Habitat for Humanity, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”

Dozens of volunteers worked on the home, and dozens more collaborated on the innumerable details, from coordinating the volunteers to overseeing construction, and finally adding homey, useful gifts, including a picnic table and hand-knitted afghans.

The Craftsman-inspired Cape Cod-style house is the first Bucks County Habitat for Humanity home with an Energy Star rating, said architect Joseph F. Augustine, JFA Architecture.

Among other features, it’s well insulated and has double-hung windows, and it should save the family about $900 per year in energy bills, said Mike Fallon, Habitat for Humanity project manager.

Since the previous house was in such bad shape, it had to be razed, and the foundation had to be repaired.

Most challenging was coming up with a feasible design to fit all the desired features into the existing 24′ x 32′ footprint.

JFA Architecture was able to transform a small structure into a two-story house with 1,652 square feet of living space, said Augustine.

From May until the end of October, volunteers spent hundreds of hours working on the house from the ground up, including hammering, putting in drywall and painting, said Sandy Mullican, a volunteer who brought Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Habitat for Humanity together and organized the volunteers. Thrivent Financial is a partner with Habitat for Humanity to build homes internationally.

Colin Davis, 18, said he didn’t know what to expect when he signed on to help.

“I had a lot of fun building this home and cleaning up the messes we made,” said Davis, a volunteer from Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Lower Makefield.

Members of local Lutheran churches signed 2×4 support beams that form the home’s frame, said Mullican. Several of the churches raised $14,500, she said.

In all, 18 Lutheran churches all helped in some way, by fundraising, donating and working on the house, she said.

Arteshia Darby of Morrisville scrutinized the house inside and out.

“It’s incredible to see the finished product. I put in so many hard hours. This is amazing,” she said, admiring the pristine white walls and sunny basement with windows.

Darby’s going to be the recipient of a Habitat for Humanity home in the township herself in a few months, and Latarsha McWhite is helping build it, Darby said. They’ve become friends.

“I’ll be just around the corner,” she said. “Now I’ll know where to go for backyard barbecues!”

The McWhites move in on Thursday.

Architectural Services

What type of services can JFA Architecture, P.C. provide?

Most everyone understands that architects design things, and they prepare drawings to convey their ideas to their clients and builders. But that is as far as the understanding goes. Also, people can have misconceptions about even these two basic concepts. The truth is, architects provide their clients far more than only preparing designs and drawings, and every one of these services will result in you getting a better project, and with better cost control. Following is a very brief summary of these services, how you could expect to work with our firm, and how the service can benefit you.

Site Design

If you have not selected an actual building site already, we can help. Most people do not realize that architects are trained to analyze site conditions, and can help you choose a site that is best for your needs. We can review the site to make sure that it is the right size, that the soils have the proper characteristics, that it does not have easements or other problems that would make construction difficult or impossible. Beyond the nuts-and-bolts issues, we can help you analyze a site to determine the best placement of your home on the land. Positioning your home properly can certainly optimize views, but can also permit the house to function more efficiently by making good use of prevailing breezes, solar orientation, shading from trees, and other environmental concerns that can make your home actually function smarter and more efficiently. We can help you by reviewing a site for its potential, or can explain the opportunities and constraints of several sites that you may be considering, in order for you to make the smartest land purchase.

Building Design

Regardless of whether we are going to design an entirely new home for you, or a simple renovation, the basic process is the same. First, we listen to your needs and goals for the project. We can quickly ask you questions about these goals, offering you additional issue to consider. The odds are that this is the first, or maybe the second time you have done this. We can raise additional options for you, and can quickly resolve problems that you may not have considered, based solely on our past experience.

Once we have worked with you to flesh out your actual goals for the function and design of the project, we will prepare preliminary drawings for your review. The content of these drawings will vary based on the actual project, but they could include a conceptual site plan, floor plans, and exterior views of the building. Generally, we will provide you with a few different options to consider. If this is an addition or renovation project, we will have taken an additional step in the process – we will have taken initial measurements and analysis of your existing home, and drawn the existing conditions, so that we can effectively do the new design work.

We will discuss these options with you in a “design review meeting”. Often, at the end of the meeting, we will have developed a plan that has evolved, and may incorporate bits of all of the options shown. We will take this input, and prepare a revised set of preliminary design drawings for your review. For relatively simple projects, this process may happen only once. If we are designing a larger project, or a completely custom home, this process may be repeated several times. But eventually, we reach a set of preliminary design drawings that outlines your project.

After the preliminary design is agreed upon, we will prepare more detailed drawings, sometimes called “working drawings”, and written specifications to more fully describe the work. Together, these drawings and specifications are often referred to as the Construction Documents. These are the documents that the building permit application will be made with, and that the project will be built from. Typically, they will include a dimensioned, scaled site plan; floor plans; exterior elevations; cross-sections showing the makeup of walls, floors, and roof; framing details, layouts of cabinetry, and other details. While still a very detailed set of drawings, the working drawings for a residential project are generally a bit less comprehensive than drawings prepared for a commercial design project. They usually leave a bit more of the final details open-ended, to be resolved between the homeowner and builder. Most sets of residential working drawings will include the “general” drawings, and electrical layouts, but the site utility work, HVAC and plumbing designs are generally provided by the installing subcontractors.

Cost Estimating

One of the greatest values that an architect can offer to clients is cost estimating services. Based on past experience and knowledge of current trends in the construction industry, your architect can give you good estimates of the cost of your project long before construction quotes are actually received. Remember, he will have had the details of your project in his head long before it gets completely detailed on paper. And this is not only important at the end of the design process. Probably even more importantly, your architect can keep you continually aware of the probable costs of various options during the actual design process. Your architect’s estimate is also a good way to gauge competitive bids prepared by builders, to see if the bids look unreasonably high or low. While almost always requested on commercial projects, many residential clients prefer to not retain the architect for this service. To be honest, this is not a very smart decision, as the information that you can find out upfront, before drawings are complete and bids are received, can save the clients far more than the additional architectural fees.

Construction Bid Phase Architectural Services

There are hundreds of builders in the Yellow Pages. Some of them are very good, others not so good. How do you tell one from the other, and who is a good match for your project? Lots of factors come into play, ranging from basic questions of business stability and experience, to more intangible aspects. We have worked with many different builders, and can offer you a wealth of assistance in selecting one. Not only can we offer referrals to contractors that we know, we also have the experience and tools to check on builders that are not familiar. We can help cut through the industry jargon and qualifications of several builders’ proposals, and set up a real “apples to apples” comparison for your review. We can give you additional pointers in making the final selection of a builder, which can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the course of your project.

Construction Phase Architectural Services

Here is a simple truth that most people do not understand: it is simply not possible to completely and perfectly detail a three-dimensional object like a building, by using two dimensional drawings. There will always be parts of an architect’s design that stays in his or her mind, and can never be translated to paper. Some people may not like this, but it is true. For this reason and a few others, it is very important to meeting your design goals that your architect be involved in the project during construction phase. By the time your project begins construction, your architect will have spent many hours designing your project, and will be more knowledgeable about its many overlapping requirements than even you will be yourself – and will certainly know more about the project than the builder, who has to pick up “cold” where the architect left off, if not hired to provide construction phase services.

In addition to interpreting the drawings, an architect is experienced in reviewing the acceptability of construction work. During construction, your architect is on the jobsite to be an additional, professional set of “eyes and ears” to make sure that the intentions of your project are actually being carried out, and in a proper manner. Your architect is trained to review contractor’s pay requests for correctness and accuracy, as well as making sure that you get appropriate lien waivers to help protect your property from future mechanics’ liens.

If all of these services sound time-consuming, you are right. Doing a proper job of designing your project, and providing construction-phase architectural services takes a fair amount of time, and of course, time translates into money.

And the CotY Goes to: JFA Architecture!

JFA Architecture, along with Gemmi Construction Inc, has been honored with a Contractor of the Year (CotY) Award by the Bucks-Mont Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI.) Their work on an entire home remodeling project in the $250,000–500,000 category stood out from the competition, earning them the coveted 2010 CotY Award.

The award winning work by JFA Architecture and Gemmi Construction was performed on behalf of the Scott family of Maple Glen, Pennsylvania. The Scott’s have lived in their 1960’s era home for more than 20 years, raising 5 children there.

Both Greg and Sally come from large families and regularly host family gatherings with 30 or more people in attendance. With their children grown–three of five having left the nest–the Scott’s felt it was the right time to make a few changes around the house. Having a large extended family, the Scott’s wanted better space for entertaining big groups. Plus, they wanted to update their dated master bedroom and bath, finish their basement and add a few features they had always wanted, like a mud room and home office. Aware that it lacked curb appeal, they also wanted to give their home an exterior face lift.

With their wish list of improvements and budget set, they approached Bucks-Mont NARI members Joseph Augustine of JFA Architecture and John Gemmi, of Gemmi Construction for a proposal on their project. Fewer than 12 months later the Scott’s were living in the home of their dreams, complete with a finished basement, great room, mud room, home office, spacious master bedroom suite, renovated exterior with new siding and windows, a renovated garage and more.

In designing this project, Augustine was careful to incorporate the features the Scott’s desired in a harmonious manner, with great consideration given to the functionality and transition between rooms. He was also successful in balancing Sally and Greg’s desire for a craftsman style home with the realities of their budget. “Joe really got our vision,” commented Sally Scott. “The details Joe included in the design made all the difference.”

Augustine teamed with Gemmi Construction to bring the design to life for his clients. “I enjoyed working with John Gemmi and his team on the Scott’s home. It was a great collaborative effort.” Clearly, the Scott family and the CotY judges agreed.

House & Home Magazine – Montgomery County – May 2009

“A New Beginning for a Beloved Home

…Ends with an Award-Winning Outcome”


NARI – Contractor of the Year Regional Winner – “Entire House Renovation”

HBA – Pinnacle Award Winner – “Best Residential Renovation”

Dream Home Award – “Best Whole House Remodel”

  Click this link to read the article!