General Question

JLeslie's avatar

Any architects here?

Asked by JLeslie (47973 points ) February 11th, 2014

I have some questions about designing a house.

How much time is typical to design a 4,000 sq ft house?

Typical amount of meetings with the client?

Once the floorplan is done and the final architectural plans are drawn up is it typical for all the electrical to be perfect, or does the client usually change one or two things before everything is finalized?

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30 Answers

Judi's avatar

When I had a custom house built we walked the house with the electrician before the drywall went up and we marked our where I wanted every plug and every switch. The archetect wasn’t even involved.

ragingloli's avatar

Of all the floor plans and autocad files I had to sift through, not one of them had anything about power lines, water pipes or anything. Not even light positions.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi The salesperson said something to me similar to that. But, they gave me an electrical plan they want me to sign of on, and so I get worried it is in writing even though verbally they are telling me I will get a chance for an electrical walk through. The process with this builder has been so difficult. The architect did an entire electrical plan and I want to change about 10 things, but I know what I want, so it isn’t like I am going back and forth. We never discussed electrical so this is the first time I am seeing what they intend to do.

I will never build a house this way again, and I have built 4 houses before this. Although, previously they were more cookie cutter, but still had quite a bit of options.

CWOTUS's avatar

My name is George VanDeLay, and I am here to answer your questions about architecture. (And the New York Yankees. They suck, by the way.)

Regarding “how much time is required to design a 4,000 sq. ft. home”: How long is a piece of string?

Typical number of meetings with the client: Are they paying by the hour?

Does the client change things after the design is complete: When was the last time that you ever had a manufactured or constructed product that was “perfect out of the box”? Change orders are the name of the game (and can be the margin between profit and loss on a tight bid price in a super-competitive market).

Judi's avatar

Sign it but write above your signature :“Pending walk through with electrician prior to drywall. ”

Cruiser's avatar

The key to my only comment here is you said “salesman”. Undertaking a project of this scope and magnitude I would not want to deal with a salesman and instead at least have a face to face with a principal or the architect themselves. Find a firm where you can deal with the guy signing the blue prints.

If they balk then you are too small for them to truly care and they are too big for you to feel secure they are working for your best interests

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi Good idea.

@Cruiser I have been working with their architect.

rojo's avatar

I can’t answer your questions about the architect/meetings/etc. Some provide you with plans and that is the extent of their involvement. Some will make regular inspections at critical times (prior to pouring the slab, during the framing, before drywall, etc). Some will set a limit on the number of onsite visits they have to make. Others will act as the builder and do the job of the General Contractor, hiring subcontractors, purchasing materials, scheduling etc. It depends on the individual architect and what his contract with you says.

As for whether the plans will be perfect the answer is no. Most architects I have had dealings with just cut and paste from one job to the next so usually there is something left out or conversely something included that does not need to be there. I have also found that there are architects out there who, while they may know how to draw, they have no practical knowledge regarding actual construction and what it takes to construct a three dimensional object from their two dimensional plans. Simple things like you can’t put a three foot door in a three foot wall (you need room for the door, the framing members and the door frame, not to mention the trim). And sometimes you just can’t put a switch exactly where it is show because of some conflict. Most are practical and as long as it looks like what is on paper they are fine with it but every once in a while you get a prima-donna who will say something like “Well that’s the way it is drawn, you should have brought it up when you were bidding it” or my personal favorite “I don’t care how you do it just do it the way I drew it’! (Ya know, if I could do that I would not have brought it up to you in the first place).

Take the plans home and study them and if you see something glaring or missing or if you want to have a 3-way switch or think a row of recessed cans would look good in the dining room have the architect put it on the plans before it goes out to bid. Same goes for every other sheet. Add doors/windows/wood flooring/tile surrounds/relocate walls, etc while it is still on paper not while construction is in process. Also, expect to miss something and have to change it. Set aside some $$$ for items missed or things that you suddenly realize you can’t live without.

Most home plans, particularly those custom ordered, will have an electrical plan. It will show switch, outlet and fixture locations. It will indicate whether you have a light, ceiling fan or ceiling fan with light and if the latter whether it is controlled by two switches or one.
Outlet spacing is set by code and most of the time the electricians will try to get them as close to where they are shown but unless they know going into it that they have to they will not place them exactly where they are show; they will go alongside the nearest stud. Switch height and outlet heights are usually set by code but there is some flexibility in the vertical location just be sure you have them set where you want if you want something other than the standard location.

As for the actual fixtures, there are two main ways of doing this. Either the architect will specify exactly what brand, style, model etc. he wants or he will specify a fixture allowance so that the contractor will know how much to include in his price and you will have some flexibility in choosing exactly what you want.

Most homebuilder subcontractors are used to homeowners coming in and making changes and, if it is done beforehand, and no additional cost involved, they are willing to make the change. What I am trying to say is that if you want to locate a switch from one side of an opening to the other side there should not be any cost involved unless the switch is already wired in (if they only have the box nailed to the stud, no charge, unless they are a-holes or the architect has been an a-hole to them). However, if you want to add another switch to the other side of the room they will probably pop you a few bucks. Most contractors who have been building homes for a while will have a little money set aside to make unforeseen changes that the know the “little lady” will have to make but also be aware that none will admit to it.

Remember that it is your home that is being built and that you are paying for it. You can walk through it whenever you want, as many times as you want and if you see something that you do not think is right let your builder know immediately,

Also, if you bring cokes for the guys actually doing the work it is a cheap goodwill gesture and you can get little changes made just by asking them without actually involving the “bosses” if you have a good relationship with the workers.

Judi's avatar

I got my BBQ stucco’d for a pizza and a case of beer.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo That was helpful, thanks. I actually do want to add a three-way switch and change switches to the other side of the wall and move some recessed lighting.

rojo's avatar

@JLeslie One additional thing, most if not all the electrical contractors I have dealt with in home construction price it out by the square foot and do not do actual takeoffs to figure out exactly how many boxes they need, how many feet of wire, how many bulbs, that kind of thing. For instance at $2.00/sf a 2000 sf home will cost $4000.00 and a 4000 sf one will cost $8000.00. They may charge less per square foot for a larger home but that will depend upon their past experience and whatever historical data they have.

So, if they say “well, I didn’t figure a 3-way in that room in the bid, they are telling the truth but only because they did not figure/count ANY switches.That’s why I say it should not cost you for minor revisions along the way as long as they have not installed something and have to take it out again to put it where you want it. The only caveat to this would be the cost of the actual light fixtures. As I said earlier, they either bid what the architect spec’d or have an allowance.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo Oh, that is extremely interesting. The builder wants to charge a lot for every recessed light, that sort of thing, so it’s interesting that the subcontractor isn’t looking at that.

rojo's avatar

Well, recessed lighting is one of those things that is in the grey area. On a spec home they may or may not be included but on a custom home, particularly one at 4000 sf., they are not unusual and so should have been covered especially if they were shown on the plans originally. and all you are doing is just relocating them on paper, then there is no reason it should cost extra. As light fixtures go, they are relatively expensive however. So if they were not included in the base bid you will expect to pay for them. Depending on the location they could also require additional work to insulate around them, again, not a big deal IF they were on the original plan.

Judi's avatar

I would think that there would be an allowance for can lights and a fee for adding more.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi That’s exactly how it was done. I expect to pay more for extra canned lights, but I just feel they charge unfair prices for the upgrade. In TN a lot of builders did a flat 10% over what the subs charged. It might be a little higher now that the market is better. Here they are charging for “perceived value” also. Like I wanted to upgrade to a in cabinet trash drawer in my kitchen and the upgrade is over $300. Probably it is $100 for the cabinet maker. I can buy the metal insert and do it myself for $50. If the builder fee was $150 I would probably pay the extra amount, but $300 pisses me off.

Judi's avatar

Yes they do. Especially if your also having to pay a sales person.
Then again it’s expensive all around when you’re doing custom. I’m almost embarrassed about how much my little yoga building is costing and we are our own general contractors, Jeff has been a general for years and knows the language, and he is great at coordinating things. I’m afraid to total up the receipts!!

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi When I used to sell new construction (I was on the buyer’s side) we didn’t get commission on any upgrades, only on the base price of the house and what came with the house automatically. Basically all the “level one” choices for the customer.

Judi's avatar

Come to think of it, I didn’t either when I sold new construction (on the sellers side.) But I was selling only 3 basic floor plans that could be customized.
It’s still an extra layer of costs they they don’t have when you’re dealing with the builder directly.
When we built our custom home we bought the lot from the sales people and that was all they got commission on. We then negotiated with the builder for the house. We had a basic plan we agreed to and all the finishes like cabinets, countertops, lights, faucets, flooring, baseboards, doors, (it seemed like it went on and on! Even windows) all had an allowance. If you went over the allowance it was extra, if you were under you hot a credit.
Jeff kept a real good running tab on that job. The builder was shocked when the job was done and we were less that $500 over.
The same builder had one lady that went over by $800,000

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi This builder has an allowance for the kitchen and also what is considered standard for the house, the allowance makes me uncomfortable, but I understand it is dine that way a lot. What really bothers me is they use a decorator to do the upgrades, they don’t have a design center, and they don’t make it easy for me to choose some of my own fixtures. They don’t prohibit it, but they want everything through their people, so they can upcharge it obviously, but the upcharge is not even my main complaint anout it, my main complaint is I can go into Lowes and find all the things I want, but at the decorator they show me 5 tile floor choices, 5, just 5 and then it is open to anything the decorator could find as an interior decorator with no idea how much it will cost until a week or two later when the builder gives me the price. They either need to have a good 15–20 choices of tile divided up into price levels or let me know prices as I look at samples. The pricess they use is time consuming, frustrating, and now they are pissed the whole thing is taking so long. I tried to get out o nthe contract two months ago and they did not want to let me out. Now the sales person is telling me prices are going up and since this is taking so long the builder is worried about costs and sale prices are going up also. Well, if they can sell it for more, let me out of the contract. They are selling a ton of houses, I can only assume they are making a lot of money on mine ifbthey did not want to oet me out, I would have paid for what the architect had already done to get out.

Judi's avatar

This sounds more like a “semi custom” builder than a custom builder. We were given an allowance for flooring and given a few flooring contractors that the builder liked. We could choose anything in their store. We didn’t like either and went to a different contractor and chose exactly what we wanted. Our builder was ok with that as long as the guy was licensed and had liability and workers comp.
Now they (your builder) have another layer of people to pay. The designer.
Maybe you could just buy the plans directly from the architect if they want to let you out. You can take the plans to any builder.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi That’s what I told the sales person yesterday in my frustration. That it really isn’t custom. This builder builds a lot of cookie cutter and that’s what they are used to. They assigned the architect to me, and it is their lot, I’m stuck unless I take some sort of legal action. At one point I was going to switch to one of their plans and stop with doing our own plan, but we forged ahead. I really wish at this point I had used one of their plans.

What happend was when we first started dealing with them they only showed us 4 or 5 plans ans the salesperson quickly told us to meet with the architect and do a custom plan. Then a month into it someone mentioned they have a lot ofmplans online, and I found a plan a liked enough and could have gone with, with minor changes. I don’t understandnwhy they did not provide the whole book of plans initially like other builders.

Judi's avatar

If you haven’t even broken ground yet you are probably going to continue to be unhappy. :-(
Can you talk to someone else above the sales person and negotiate some sort of settlement?
Edit: Do you have a rapport with the architect? Maybe he could intervene.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi I thought about talking directly to the builder, because I have my doubts the salesperson was compelling. When she talked to them. But, I was kind of pushed into submission. Or, rather, I became apathetic from exhaustion. Yesterday when I talked to the salesperson she said the builder was working on my requests for the electrical and final tweaks. I said, “work on what? I wrote up a list of questions and some were changes I wanted, but some are up in the air because I need to talk to the architect to make sure I understand what he did, why he might think it is best, and his vision.” I had titled the page Questions for Al (Al is the architect) and the salesperson asked that I send her a copy so I did. The communication is terrible with the builder, with the architect it has been ok more or less.

One thing I asked about was having fewer recessed lights for the back patio and add electric for some motion capable lights. I went to home depot yesterday and there are actually outdoor ceiling lights with motion capability. My architect probably knows that, or the builder does, if someone had talked to me that would be quickly resolved if they have already changed the plan to electric on exterior walls it might be double work.

The sales person is a gatekeeper and an obstacle in my opinion.

Judi's avatar

If it were me, and my hubby is a contractor so it’s easy for me to say, I’d just have them put the electrical where I want it and buy the fixtures myself. A motion light is just a fixture. You don’t need any special wiring. You can change it from their cheap standard fixture.

JLeslie's avatar

That’s what we want to do, my husband puts in lights all the time. I just sent an email a few minutes ago asking them to just do the prewire, but I was torn between keeping the lights overhead or move them to the wall. Do you have an opinion?

rojo's avatar

@JLeslie If an allowance was included in the original bid, then the profit is already included on said allowance. Only additional profit is justified if you go over the allowance amount. Also, if you have a kitchen allowance of $15000.00 and a carpet allowance of $10000.00 and you end up spending 10k on the kitchen and 15k on the carpet, the difference should cancel out. They don’t get to keep whatever is not used in the allowance.

rojo's avatar

I would raise holy hell if they tried to limit my choices to five. Nope, none acceptable show me some others.

And even more so if they tried to tell me where I could go for what I wanted. You got 5k in there for fixtures, fine, here is what I want and here is where I want it from.

You really do need to get out from under the salespersons thumb.

rojo's avatar

by the way, did they tell you or give you a list of the allowances and the dollar amount available for each one? They should have so you have an idea what you are working with.

CWOTUS's avatar

A contract – especially one as extensive as this one seems to be – without a clear and detailed specification attached is just a lawsuit that hasn’t happened yet. Somewhere there needs to be a specification list of “features”, “options”, “selection criteria” and perhaps even “finish standards” that determine whether an item (or its later state of completion) is within tolerance (or “to spec”) or not. Even having an agreed-upon specification is no guarantee of peace, because different people can interpret the same words differently, but if you’re not even on the same page as far as what the words should be, then there will never be agreement.

If you haven’t yet signed a contract then there is still a chance to obtain that specification and review it to see that it matches your expectations, or to revise it – and have the contractor accept or reprice based on your changes – or reject it entirely and start the bidding process again.

susanc's avatar

YIKES. I just call whoever knows how to build something, ask him what it will cost to do what I want with the materials I’ve already picked out, and tell him to do it. Then he does. Then I pay him.
This stuff is crazee.

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