Designing Homes that are Environmentally Conscious

There has been a lot of “buzz” lately about “green building”.  There are many issues that come under the heading of environmentally conscious construction.  Even before the current focus placed upon being “green”, we have taken a conservative approach towards design and construction.

We begin each project by studying and analyzing site features; topography, solar orientation and landscaping are all considered.  As the design begins, we efficiently plan rooms and spaces that maximize their potential uses.  Our designs often incorporate open plans that not only provide spaces with multiple uses; it allows views and vistas through the home.  The reduction of wasted space is the greatest contributor to reducing the environmental impact of the project.

There are varying degrees of “green” building materials.  We can assist in understanding the breadth of choices as well as the benefits and costs of these materials.  Our projects are designed with features such as; higher levels of insulation, energy efficient windows and low levels of air infiltration to reduce the energy required for heating and cooling. -jfa

Visit www.jfa-architecture.com to learn more.

 

Working with an Architect

Collaborating with an architect is often the name of the game for remodelers working on home improvement projects.  Sometimes a client comes to a contractor with architectural plans already done, and in other instances, a designer is brought in to help with the layout of a specific area of a project.  Navigating the relationship between contractor and architect can sometimes be a touchy situation, but it does not have to be.  Like most relationships, success comes from good communication and teamwork.

Architects and remodelers come to the table with different skill sets.  Architects have the reputation and schooling for creative design and often take the time to stay up on current product trends.  Remodelers take stock in having the means and the methods needed to get a project done successfully.  They rely on years of hands-on experience to troubleshoot projects and often take a practical approach to specifying materials and products used in a remodel.  For these two professionals to work together, both parties need to set aside the ego and share control of the project.

The success of a project is contingent upon the tripartite relationship of owner, architect and builder.  Each party has a unique role that they must contribute to the project.  A remodeler is a skilled craftsman that excels in the art of construction.  They are not trained designers or space planners.  To expect a remodeler to design a building, places an unnecessary burden upon them that they are not educated to solve.

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.

In many cases, it makes sense for the architect to oversee the design decisions while the contractor takes charge of how to get the building done.  Control should be shared, or passed back and forth, during different stages of a project.  If there are differences in opinion, it is best for architects and designers to work out a solution that will best satisfy the client’s needs, not their own.

The essence of the relationship is collaboration.  The collaboration of an architectural firm proficient in design excellence and a remodeler that excels in quality construction is the foundation for success.  If this is true, then it only seems logical for remodelers and architects to align themselves in strategic partnerships from the beginning when marketing projects.

When remodeling projects are approached from a design-build basis, the architecture and budgeting are developed concurrently.  As each phase of the design is completed by the architect, the remodeler is able to inform the owner of the probable cost of the project.  This checks and balance keeps all of the team members enlighten without the fear of surprises.

A design-build approach avoids the pitfalls that some homeowners incur when presented with bids from multiple remodelers 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.

Therefore, it appears to be most apparent, that the architect and remodeler need to rely upon the unique skills and expertise of one another to successfully design and construct an award-winning project.  The design-build collaboration affords the homeowner several benefits; a project that is distinctively designed; a project cost that fits within their budget; and a project constructed in a beautiful manner.

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.

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

Visit www.jfa-architecture.com to learn more.

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.

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.