5 questions to ask yourself before starting a new construction project

1.  How much time do I have to devote to managing the project?

  • Construction projects are complex endeavors, with hundreds or even thousands of parts that need to be purchased, coordinated, and installed.  Many of these parts require specific technical knowledge and can be confusing to someone not in the business.  If you plan on managing the project yourself, you need to be willing to devote at least a couple of hours a day throughout the life of the project.  If you think this may be too much to take on with your already busy schedule, you may wish to consider hiring a construction manager.

2.  How do I know how much this is going to cost?

  • Project budgets can range wildly depending on the personal taste of the owner, the materials selected, and the contractors chosen to do the work.  The best way to build your project budget is to meet early with a contractor and/or construction manager.  Preliminary budgets based on walkthroughs and/or schematic design drawings can help focus your budget on the items that are most important to you.  Many design professionals will offer a budget, but it is best to speak with the professionals that are actually doing the purchasing of materials and installing the work when building your budget.  Keep in mind that your budget will include design and other fees in addition to the cost of the materials and installation:  architectural design, structural design, permits, interior design, lighting design, landscape design, etc.  It is also important to note that it is impossible to ACCURATELY budget a project without appropriate design and structural drawings.

3.  Who do I hire to design the project?

  • Some projects will require and architect, while some will need an interior designer, and some will require both.  Typically, architects design the outside of the building and major internal features of the house that require structural coordination.  Interior designers typically, work on room layouts, finishes, and furniture selection.  Some architects will also do the interior design, but not always.  On larger projects, it is common to hire both and architect and designer to work together on the design.  There are also other designers that will be involved, such as a structural engineer or Audio/Visual designer.  These other designers are usually brought on board by the design/construction team as needed.  There is a lot of owner participation required, both in the planning and construction phases.  A construction manager can help with the hundreds of design decisions that go on behind the scenes.

4.  Do I need a permit or approval from my building?

  • All construction projects that involve electrical, plumbing, or structural work require a building permit.  If the project involves changes to the exterior, the local planning department will need to approve the project as well.  Projects that require planning approval usually are required to go through some type of neighborhood approval process.  Additionally, water districts, FEMA, and other municipalities may hold some jurisdiction over the project.  Permit expeditors and planning consultants can be very helpful in navigating this complicated and bureaucratic process.  Many condo buildings and neighborhood associations will also have restrictions on project design, schedule, and work hours.

5.  How do I know how long is this project going to take?

  • The project schedule is definitely something that should be built by the construction team,  and not the design team.  Schedules can vary depending the time of year the project starts and the materials selected.  Projects that require foundation work may want to wait until better weather to avoid weather delay or additional costs.  Some materials may come from overseas and need to consider shipping and customs delays.  It is critically important to include design, planning, and permitting times into the schedule.  At the time of this writing, there are huge backlogs in the San Francisco planning and building departments that are causing serious delays to projects.  Again,  your contractor or construction manager will be the best resource for building an accurate project schedule.