Why Do I Need A Detailed Set of Plans?

From on July 03, 2008 in General Remodel

Ron MulickToday, we’ve got a special guest post for you from Ron Mulick, President of Mulick Construction and Design, Inc. Mulick Construction and Design is a CalFinder certified, full-service architectural design and build firm for new homes, additions, remodels, and site improvements. Ron’s article will help you get the most from your remodeling plans, demonstrating how a good set of plans can save you money and help you differentiate one contractor’s services from another. He also defines two different types of plans and goes over the language and specifications to look out for. If you plan to remodel soon, this article may help you streamline the process! Here’s Ron’s post:

Mulick ConstructionProbably the most important tool in a construction project is a complete and detailed set of plans and specifications. A well-thought out design incorporates aesthetics, flow, and function. Aesthetics are what you see: the stones, wood, and paints. Flow involves traffic patterns, work area ergonomics, and ease of movement throughout the project. Function takes into account proximity of doorways, work stations, ventilation, lighting, durability, and service.

There are generally two types of plans that are offered by design pro’s:

“Builders Set,” which generally lacks details and addresses only the structural and size issues. These plans are sometimes used by “speculative builders,” who just need plans to submit to Building and Safety and will be making the decisions on the finishes (tile, flooring, doors, etc.) as they build the project out. These plans cost far less money than a “complete” set of plans.

“Complete Set,” which are also used for submittal to Building and Safety, but include much more detail and clarification about the project. A complete set of plans will include a detailed electrical plan, interior elevations (drawings of interior walls that have cabinetry or other features), door and window schedules (detailing the types of doors and windows), flooring schedules (room by room description of flooring type and material selection), finish schedules for tile, stone slabs, hardware, and even paint colors. Whether the designer or the homeowner is making the selections, the information is in the plans.

A good set of plans will actually save you money on your project. If the plans contain all of the answers for the methods of construction and the materials used, then it is easier to obtain an accurate estimate or bid for the construction. The more information in the plans, the more accurate the bid can be. Undefined or not unresolved issues in plans will cause the bidding party to “pad the bid,” so when it is time to do the work, he does not get hurt.

Lack of detail will lead bidders to submit bids that are not “apples to apples.” An example is one bidder may bid to tile the shower the correct way, over a cement mortar float, and run the tile up the wall, all the way to the ceiling. While another bidder may bid to install the tile on top of the drywall (instead of a cement float), and only run the tile up the wall to the height required by codes (usually around 6’ high). You can see that the two bidders are not bidding apples to apples. And worse yet, if the owner selects the lower bidder, then he will end up with a sub standard job, all because the details were not in the plans and specifications.

A final element to a good set of plans is the “specifications.” Written specifications are a verbal description of any element that is not included in the plans. An example for a tile shower would include “install stone tiles (use a material allowance of $5/sq.ft.), run the tile up to the ceiling over a cement mortar bed, straight laid (as opposed to diagonal laid or brick laid), with 1/8” grout joints. Include one shampoo niche and a tile liner detail (a special line of tile running horizontally as a decoration). Seal the tile and grout after installation.” Now you have very clear direction for bidding, and also for installing. The tile material is now included, and an amount is specified for the bidder to use. The builder or contractor cannot come back to you and charge extra for that shampoo niche or sealing the tile during the project, because it is clearly outlined up front.

Often, the homeowner has not selected finishes for the project at the time that the plans are being completed. Examples are the tile, carpeting, kitchen appliances, and plumbing fixtures, etc. A good set of plans and specifications will either call out specific materials for the bidder to quote, or, it will include “allowance amounts” to be used by all bidders. An allowance is a “best guess” as to the cost of the material. It will be used as a place holder in the bid for the undetermined material. Later, during the project build out, if the owner selects a material that costs less than the allowance, then the owner gets a refund; if the material costs more, then the owner pays the difference. Either way, at least there is a “place holder” in the bid, so when the time comes to purchase the material, the contractor does not put his hands in the air and claim that “I did not include the materials in my bid.” Typically, there are 10-40 different trades on a project, and if each trade has an up-charge for items not in the bid, then the over-charges can add up to a very large number.

When developing a set of plans, it is advantageous to obtain budget pricing in the early stages. Once you have determined the amount of square footage of the improvement, settled on an idea of the structural issues, and have an idea of what finishes you want to apply, then you can have a professional prepare a “budget estimate” for the preliminary plans. By doing this, you will obtain a fairly accurate price for the project that you are designing. If the budget estimate comes in lower than your budget, then you can add more features or upgrade finishes. If the budget estimate is higher than your budget, then you will need to reduce the scope of the project. Either way, it is always nice to know where the project costs will land, especially before you complete the plans.

—Mulick Construction and Design, Inc. can be reached at www.mulick.com or you can email Ron at ron@mulick.com or call (818)889-0440. California General Contractor License #372231