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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I am starting a project....and the question is?

The most asked question I get as a designer and builder is...........wait for probably guessed it by now........"How much will it cost?" This question is asked at all stages of a project and rightfully so! However, most owners want this question answered before the project has even started! "I'm not going to hold you to it, but what do you think it will cost?" Every project, especially renovation projects have their own unique issues or owner desires that affect cost. For example, if I asked you 'how much does a car cost?' Your answer would would probably start off by asking details about what kind of car, what size engine, etc. Same for a building, there are so many variables that it is unrealistic to ask cost before the details are known. In reality the owner should state their budget initially and let the designer/builder develop a program to that budget. This process will let the owner know if their desires match their budget.    

Any project should have a process to develop the project successfully. If it doesn't, that's when things go wrong and it all starts to unravel for the owner. After 27 years of developing, designing and constructing, here is a 3 step outline of a process to develop an accurate cost for your project with the right builder.

1. Develop a 'Program'. I define architectural programming as the research and decision-making process that identifies the scope of work to be designed. This can be as simple as a list of the spaces you want to develop for your project. Or it can be more complex for a new home or commercial building. For design programming for a new building, we propose a six-step process as follows:
  1. Research the project type
  2. Establish goals and objectives
  3. Gather relevant information
  4. Identify strategies
  5. Determine quantitative requirements
  6. Summarize the program
Ultimately your program should reflect a list of spaces with sizes and finishes you want in that space as well as the relationship between them. Once a program is developed it is now more realistic for the builder to start putting budget numbers together based on square footage. But more importantly it allows the designer/builder to start developing a preliminary or schematic design for your project.

2. Develop a 'Preliminary Design'. From the program that has been developed, it is now easier to develop a design which should as a minimum a floor plan, building elevations and site plan. This will allow the owner to visually see the program that was developed as well as the aesthetics of the proposed design. From this preliminary design the builder can now develop a more specific construction budget. At this point the owner can make decisions based on his original budget. Is the original budget realistic for the program we desired? This is where you can adjust your budget and/or your design. It is a lot less expensive at this point to know that your desires don't meet your budget!

3. Develop "Design Development Drawings". These drawings will now develop the preliminary drawings in more detail. There should be wall sections describing the construction type as well as finish schedules describing finishes selected such as flooring, wall finishes (tile), etc. Finish selections can be one of your projects most varying costs based on what selections are made. There should also be descriptions of structural, electrical, a/c and plumbing designs as well as exterior finishes if applicable. From these DD drawings any builder with experience should be able to develop an accurate construction cost for your project. This is the point you will have a realistic cost for your project and can make the final decision on your budget and design.

Once you have approved the DD Drawings you are now ready to get started in the construction process which will first require developing 'Permit/Construction Drawings' to submit to your local building department for approval and receipt of a Building Permit to commence construction. 

So there you have it, three steps to get an accurate cost for your project before you spend alot of money on permit/construction drawings and construction. As anxious as you may be to start construction on your project, a little planning goes a long way in saving you money and headaches down the road!     

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Green"...what does that really mean?

Go Green! Ok...sounds good...if nothing else politically correct, right? We all want our planet to be healthy and contribute to it,  but what does that really mean to you? There are so many companies that lay claim to that buzz word..."Green", especially in the construction industry. Just google 'Green Construction" and 606,000,000 results come up including "green buildings", "sustainable design", and the new LEED certified construction culture for their measurable "green" classifications. Hey all good intentions, but why does it always cost us more to buy and participate in the new 'Green' sub-culture? Well..... obviously there is always money to be made when it becomes an "industry".

But if it is so important, why are not all Architects specifying white reflective roofs and why in climates like Florida are home and commercial building owners not demanding white roofs? Scientist have known for centuries that putting white roofs on homes and commercial buildings is a simple and effective way to reflect the sun's powerful rays. Similarly, cool-colored pavements aid in the reduction of  "urban heat islands". Some states are starting to demand it, check out this article: Global Cooling

So, what does 'Green' mean to you? In environmental terms it is the practice of using methods that contribute to the health of this planet we all share called Earth. Green living incorporates conservation into our daily life, whether it be through consuming less non-renewable energy, recycling reusable materials, or even eating less meat.

With regard to your home, here are some simple steps from the bottom line newsletter you can take to conserve energy that will directly put money in your pocket. Most families could trim their energy bills significantly without sacrificing any quality of life. Using the following easy ­energy savers could cut as much as 40% from home-energy expenses, you could save $2,000/year in your energy bills!

Use an electric space heater when everyone in the home is gathered in one room. Turn the home’s thermostat down to 55°F or 60°F so that the vacant sections of the house are not heated unnecessarily.
Savings: This could trim your heating bills by 10% to 30% if done regularly. Some families in cold climates, who pay as much as $5,000 per year for heating, could save $500 to $1,500.
Unblock heating registers. Move furniture, rugs and drapes clear of your system’s vents. Impeded airflow can undermine a system’s efficiency.
Savings: Depends on your overall system and how badly airflow was blocked. You might save very little, or you might save hundreds of dollars a year.

Set your water heater to 120°F. Most household water heaters are set between 130°F and 145°F, but 120°F is hot enough for washing dishes and showering.
Savings: It’s been estimated that every 10 degrees of temperature reduction can reduce water-heating costs by 5%, so lowering the water heater temperature by 20 degrees could save the typical family $30 to $50 per year.
Install a modern low-flow shower head. Most shower heads use about three gallons of hot water per minute. The best low-flow shower heads offer equally enjoyable showers using just 1.5 to two gallons per minute. Quality varies, so read product reviews on shopping Web sites such as Helpful: A low-flow shower may initially feel less satisfying than a three-gallon-per-minute shower, but give it a week or two. After an initial adjustment period, most people agree that it’s fine.
Savings: Varies greatly, depending on how much time your family spends in the shower -- but it has been estimated at as much as $150 a year.
Wrap your water heater in an insulated blanket. Do-it-yourself wrap kits are available at hardware stores for less than $25. The blanket pays for itself in less than a year and offers savings after that. It is worth wrapping any water heater that does not carry a label specifically warning against this.
Savings: Usually around 4% to 9% of total water-heating costs, according to the US Department of Energy. That translates into an annual savings of $12 to $45 for most households.

Replace your refrigerator if it is more than 15 years old. Avoid models with through-the-door ice and water dispensers. They detract from energy efficiency.
Savings: A new refrigerator could save you about $80 per year in electricity costs compared to a similarly-sized refrigerator made in the early 1990s or earlier.
Clean your refrigerator’s coils at least once a year -- every six months if there’s a dog or cat that sheds heavily in the house. Dirt, dust and pet hair on refrigerator coils can impede airflow and make heat transfer less efficient, forcing the appliance to work harder. Refrigerator coil brushes are available at home centers and hardware stores.
Savings: The Sacramento Municipal Utility District estimates that coil cleaning can cut a refrigerator’s energy use by 6% -- a yearly saving of about $15 on an old fridge and $5 on a modern one.
Set your refrigerator’s temperature to between 30°F and 40°F. Set your freezer temperature to between 0°F and 10°F. Colder temperatures increase your electricity bills without significantly improving food freshness.
Savings: Setting your refrigerator 10 degrees higher and freezer five degrees higher has been estimated to cut the appliance’s electricity consumption by at least 20%. This could save you $50 a year with an old fridge and about $10 with modern one. If you don’t have a temperature dial in your refrigerator, place an ordinary household thermometer inside for 10 to 15 minutes. Read it the moment you open the door.

Replace your dryer’s flexible plastic-vent ducting material with a four-inch rigid (not corrugated) metal duct. This creates less airflow resistance, allowing your dryer to dry more efficiently.
Helpful: It might be necessary to use a small section of flexible ducting material to connect the back of your dryer to this smooth metal duct so that you can move the dryer away from the wall for cleaning or service.
Savings: As much as 20% of drying costs, or $10 to $40 per year for the average household.
Clean lint from your dryer vent at least once a year by disconnecting the vent from the dryer and the wall and reaching in as far as you can to pull out lint. Clean lint from the dryer’s lint trap before every load of laundry. Lint buildup can increase drying time and energy consumption by more than 50%.
Even better: Hang clothes from a clothesline outside, weather permitting.
Savings: Serious lint congestion could cost you more than $50 per year if you do a lot of laundry. Hanging laundry from a line could save you as much as $200 per year.

Use name-brand compact fluorescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent consume one-quarter to one-third as much electricity as incandescents. Stick with brand-name bulbs -- store-brand or no-name-brand bulbs might be cheaper but are likely to burn out sooner.
Savings: Your annual savings might be less than $20 if you typically have just one or two bulbs burning -- but more than $150 if your house tends to be lit up like a jack-o’-lantern.

So, what does "Green" mean to you?