Building a new home or remodeling an existing one should be a fun and rewarding process. If you are considering building a home or remodeling, the quality of your experience will be largely dependent on your approach to the project and the decisions you make. Besides hiring an Architect, one of the most important decisions a homeowner needs to make on a project is hiring a good General Contractor.
While an Architect can easily design a home from abroad, it is almost always a good idea to hire a local Contractor if possible. Good Contractors generally have their own tried and true framing crews, as well as access to the best available local subcontractors and materials. If cost is an issue, and it almost always is, buying local can be a big cost savings (assuming they meet your quality criteria). On the other hand, a good Contractor may know of a great cabinet maker who is two hours away but is well worth the price.
A Contractor can also help you get the best value for your construction dollar. Not only is the quality better, good contractors also stay current on the latest construction materials and technologies. Along with the architect, they can select materials and systems that enhance your home without breaking the budget.
A bad Contractor may provide cost savings in many cases, but in the long run they may cost even more money, not to mention your piece of mind. Some horror stories I’ve heard and have sometimes witnessed from under qualified or disreputable Contractors:
- Building into the setbacks
- Building onto somebody else’s property
- Building a home at the lowest elevation in the center of a property, creating an unintended moat around the home
- Houses that leak
- Missing insulation
- Insulation that is not the specified R-value
- Walls that aren’t straight when they’re supposed to be
- Framing studs farther apart in an effort to reduce material costs, and then using those materials on other projects
- Gaps between adjoining materials when they are specified to be connected
- Contractor not insured
- Building differently than the plans specify without consulting with the homeowner and architect
- Building without a permit
A good Architect who is involved in the project’s Construction Administration should catch most of these issues before they become problems.
Good contractors will also add value by increasing the resale value of homes. A custom home that is built by a contractor known as the best in town will certainly sell for a higher price than one built by a Contractor known for building low end spec homes. A smart buyer who uses a home inspector before purchasing will hear the same thing pertaining to the quality of construction and the lack of problems. Good contractors want to uphold their reputation.
I believe it is a good idea to get a Contractor on board as soon as possible after hiring the Architect. This gives you more time to look at the different candidates, and if there is a contractor that stands out and you’re pretty sure you want to hire them, they can provide input during the design process. A good Contractor can provide valuable insight on the costs and availabilities of various materials and methods of construction, and may also provide creative ideas in brainstorming sessions with the Owner and Architect. Frank Lloyd Wright was an egotist, but most architects these days understand the value of collaboration.
Contractors can also add value by giving you some budget numbers during the initial design of the project, and update these as the design progresses. During the pricing of the project, he (or she) will thoroughly review the plans and notify the architect of any discrepancies or missing items. An honorable contractor who has done a careful review will then price out the project with a firm number, and will adhere to that number, barring changes made by the Owner or Contractor. Some Contractors will give a low price to get a job, and then may try to add 25% onto the costs of a house through overlooked items to generate a nice profit. These are often in the form of Change Orders. A good Architect should be able to minimize Change Orders by providing quality, thorough drawings and specifications. I will add an article on how to hire a Contractor in the near future. See also Good Quality Architecture Adds Value To Your Home.
John Hendricks, Architect AIA
Hendricks Architecture specializes in residential design and is located in Sandpoint, Idaho. We specialize in residential design, most specifically in the design of mountain style homes and cabins, though we have successfully designed in several different styles. We take a fresh approach to every project, making every home unique, and enjoy designing above and beyond the Owner’s expectations (in a good way).
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