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Design Process
Step 1 - Design Step 2 - Refinement  l  Step 3 - Construction Documents Step 4 - Bidding / Negotiating
Step 5 - Construction Step 6 - House Warming  Items to Be Selected  Other Costs

Preliminary Work Needed

  • Have a tree and topographic survey done depicting the contours of the land, property lines, building setbacks and tree locations.

  • Write a program for the house design. The program is a list of wishes and desires. It should include a list of significant rooms needed, sizes and description of these rooms, if possible, the interrelationships you want the rooms to have, photos and drawings you may have clipped from magazines or photos of other houses you might have. These clippings serve as good communication tools.

  • Establish a budget, either in dollars or in target size (square footage) for the project.

Step One
- The Design

We will begin the process with an initial meeting to discuss the program for the house, your clippings and notes, site considerations, such as access, orientation of views and the sun, terrain issues, etc. This meeting will take several hours, in as much as we will try to be as thorough as possible. Following this meeting I will begin to design the house.

My design process will involve examining several conceptual ideas for the house and its location on the site. I’ll make every effort to incorporate all that we have discussed into these initial concepts. Usually, other issues and opportunities arise and we investigate these ideas, and how they work with the initial thoughts, during subsequent design meetings.

My design meetings usually involve a great deal of discussion and sketching of possibilities. We will gradually develop a design that captures the optimal amount of each of the criteria we have established.

The design phase is where we decide what the house looks like and where it should sit on the lot. We will develop the floor plans and I will do sketches and/or a model of the building, giving you views that provide a realistic view of the house. It is a good idea to have the landscape architect selected and under contract at this point.

During the design phase, we will discuss the choices of builders. I will help you select one who is reputable and whose type of work and schedule of work suit our needs. If we select the builder that we plan to work with in this design phase, we can ask him/her to run a preliminary estimate of the construction costs for the house. The information concerning things we have not designed yet would be given to the builder in a written description format, just to give him an idea of what we are thinking about. Although the early estimate from the builder will not be binding, it often provides useful information we can use as we make decisions concerning the design of the house.

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Step Two - Refinement of the Design

After the conceptual design of the house is substantially complete, we will gradually design the details. These include cabinetry, built ins, floor and wall finishes, mouldings, electrical layouts, bathroom details, etc. Often this design work occurs after the construction has already begun. But the more detailed we can be prior to commencing the construction, the less fluctuation there will be in the ultimate final construction cost.

It is quite common for people to defer the decisions on items like cabinetry and tile until after the beginning of construction. When this happens, we establish realistic allowance figures for the undecided items. These allowances are included in the contract with the builder. When we ultimately make the decisions, these allowances become our “shopping budget”. It is for that reason that we must be careful to realistically assess the sorts of things that you might select and include a realistic cost for them. Unrealistic allowances are often a source of friction during construction. That is why it is advisable for the clients and the architect to establish these in conjunction with the builder and not let the builder, who may only be guessing at the client’s desires, establish these figures.

During this phase it is helpful to begin to involve an interior designer, if one is being used. Through an interaction with them, we will be able make final decisions regarding mouldings, finishes and such. On selections we plan to defer and need to assign allowances for, the interior designer can add valuable data for use in establishing appropriate allowances.

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Step Three - Construction Documents

Following the creation of the Schematic Design of the house, I will begin the task of preparing construction drawings and specifications. These are the drawings that will become our contract with the builder for the house construction. These drawings will include:

  • detailed and dimensioned floor plans
  • roof plans
  • all of the exterior elevations
  • sections cut through the building
  • large scale sections describing the methods for construction and the materials to be used
  • electrical layout plans
  • framing and structural information
  • interior elevations showing built-in cabinetry, staircases, special door openings
  • any details of the construction we feel are necessary to describe the construction
  • finish schedule describing the floors, walls and ceilings of each room
  • and anything else we need to show.

This set of plans will include the final plans from the landscape architect. Also included are my written specifications that detail the materials to be used in the project.

These drawings take considerable time to prepare. Allow at least 6 to 8 weeks for this phase and sometimes longer.

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Step Four - Bidding or Negotiating

Following the completion of the Construction Drawings, we will give a number of copies of the drawings to the builder(s) for pricing. He will distribute these among his subcontractors and suppliers, soliciting prices that he will include in his final price to us. Questions always come up during this process. I will field these for you and involve you in any issues that need decisions we might not have already addressed.

When the builder is ready, he will submit his price to us. This is usually followed by a meeting to review and discuss the project in detail. It is at this time that we will examine any other options the builder may suggest and we will make sure that everyone understands the plans properly.

Sometimes this phase includes a round of revisions, or possible revisions. The builder works with us, providing cost information to help us decide what may or may not be omitted or changed the project.

It is important to know that once a final price is reached, a contract is signed with the builder for a fixed sum contract. It will include all of the house construction costs, including fees, permits, site work and landscaping, exterior paving, items installed and built in to the house and the builder's overhead and profit. His price to us will not change unless:

  • unforeseen site conditions appear, like rock or unsuitable soils
  • selections for allowance items run over the amounts we have allocated for them.
  • changes are made by you, the Owner.
  • something has been overlooked and needs to be added.

To that last item, please remember that we will be designing a unique and custom house with lots of parts. Because we will not have the benefit of a practice run at designing and building this house, it is quite possible that something unanticipated will come up. With an experienced architect and an experienced builder, these items are usually small, if they occur at all.

Having said that, also know that the builder does not have the prerogative to come back for more money for items he wrongly estimated or missed completely. His bid to us is fixed in all regards, except for the reasons noted above.

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  Step Five - Construction

After the pricing is complete and all parties agree on a figure, any revisions are made to the drawings and I issue a final set. I stamp several sets with my architect’s licensing seal and the builder takes these to the County for review and issuance of a building permit. Often the building department will have some questions that I will handle and resolve.

After the building permit is issued, the work commences. The builder will supply us with his written schedule of the construction. He will also give us a list of suppliers he wishes to use for items we have already selected or still need to select. Items such as plumbing fixtures, countertops, cabinets, etc. are examples of these types of items. He will also provide us with a list of “drop dead dates” by which we must have made the selections or else we are hindering the schedule. I customarily go with my clients to these suppliers to assist in making these selections, either before construction starts, or after if we started construction using allowances for the unknown items.

During the construction, I will make regular visits to the site, often for weekly project meetings, and review the work with the builder. If one of the suppliers or subcontractors has any questions, these are often answered at these meetings. I also review the builder’s monthly requests for payment before he sends them on to you, the client for payment. These requests break down the work into numerous categories and the usual form for this request indicates a percentage of each category that has been completed. This sort of breakdown helps us evaluate the progress of the work and ascertain if the amount of his request is appropriate.

When the work is nearing completion, I go through the project and develop a “punchlist” of missing items or items that need correction. I don’t do this until the builder tells me the house is substantially complete. Sometimes I develop this list with my client.

When the items on the punchlist are completed, the final payment is made to the builder. He will provide us with a Certificate of Occupancy, warranties and manuals of operation for any items installed in the house and his one-year warranty will begin.

During the first year of any newly constructed house, it is common for some shrinkage cracks to occur. Doors and cabinets may go out of adjustment. Items may break or breakdown. The builder will be obligated to correct any of these things for a period of one year. No money is retained from the contract for this warranty. We are depending on the builder’s good reputation to assure that he will take care of everything. Money is retained only if there are any special circumstances that arise during the construction that would make us uncomfortable with the builder's dependability.

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Step Six - House Warming

I am pleased to say that most of the time, at the end of my projects, everyone is still very friendly and we all get together to congratulate ourselves on our good work.

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Items to Be Selected

The following items must be selected, eventually, during the course of construction. Of course, the greater number of these that we can select prior to commencement of construction, the smoother everything goes. But please be aware that even my most diligent and determined clients have not managed to select everything up front. Also, there are always several items that get rethought and changed. Allow yourself some latitude for this to happen. It happens to everyone. Items that need to be selected, in no particular order, include:

  • type of driveway material
  • brick selection
  • stone pattern and color
  • stucco colors
  • cast stone or limestone features
  • fireplace units, if prefabricated
  • exterior colors
  • roof shingles and colors
  • gutters, material and shape
  • front door color, stain and wood species
  • window manufacturer, color and details
  • patio and walkway design and materials
  • heating and air conditioning systems and features, such as humidifier, air cleaners, etc.
  • plumbing fixtures, including tubs, toilets, sinks, faucets, whirlpools, etc.
  • cabinetry layouts, styles, materials and finishes
  • lighting fixtures
  • appliances
  • countertops
  • security systems
  • data and television systems
  • home electronics
  • specialty items, such as whole house vacuums
  • paint colors, interior and exterior
  • wood flooring species and stain plus any special inlays, etc.
  • floor and wall tile and/or stone selections, accents and patterns
  • door handles and hinges; style and finish
  • mirrors and special glass items
  • towel bars, paper holders, etc
  • wallpaper
  • shower enclosures
  • carpet
  • other floor coverings
  • crown mouldings, door and window casing (trim), baseboards, chair rails, mantels
  • fireplace stone or tile
  • garage doors
  • other items not previously listed

Some of these items may not apply to your house.

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Costs Other Than the Architect and the Contractor

The following items must be selected, eventually, during the course of construction. Of course, the greater number of these that we can select prior to commencement of construction, the smoother everything goes. But please be aware that even my most diligent and determined clients have not managed to select everything up front. Also, there are always several items that get rethought and changed. Allow yourself some latitude for this to happen. It happens to everyone. Items that need to be selected, in no particular order, include:

  • Community fees
  • Fees to the surveyor for the tree survey.
  • Cost of other consultants, such as the Landscape Architect or an interior designer. The structural engineer is included in my fee and the coordination of any other consultants is, too.
  • Window treatments and furnishings.

I hope that this information is helpful. Please call me with any questions. I hope that I will have the pleasure of working with you on your new home.


Image - Bill Hirsch

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