Home Renovations: Some Important Decisions

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Renovating your home can be challenging, stimulating, and , ultimately, very satisfying. The end product, a place that reflects your idea of “home” and your sense of style, should provide years of comfortable use. On the other hand, there is no denying that renovation can be a complicated, time-consuming, and difficult task. This guide has been designed to assist you with your renovation project. We guide you through the various phases (from the initial planning to the installation of the door hardware) so that you develop an under standing of how the process works. The information contained in the following sections should be very useful whether you are contemplating an extensive renovation or some minor changes, and whether you are working with a professional team (designer and contractor) or are planning to do as much of the work yourself as you can.

There are several options available when it comes to how much of the renovation you will attempt to do yourself. After reading this guide you may decide to design the project on your own (depending on its scope and the law) but leave the construction to a general contractor. Or you may decide to hire an architect, engineer, or interior designer to provide design and construction drawings, but you plan to administer the construction by purchasing most of the materials yourself and hiring subcontractors to do all of the labor. Yet another option is to take on many of the tasks that your design and construction skills (and the law) permit and hire others to do the rest. If you elect any of the above options you will need to consult additional resources (web sites, books and DVDs) written exclusively for each phase of the technical planning and construction. They will offer a wealth of detailed information that is beyond the scope of a single guide. A fourth option is to hire both professional designer and general contractor.

Whichever option you choose, this guide at tempts to demystify the renovation process so that you can become an involved member of the design-build team. We often recommend that even the handiest man or woman would be better off hiring a professional to undertake some of the more skilled or risky operations. Even in these instances, we include design and construction in formation so that you can monitor the work of the hired professional.

There are a number of reasons why doing it all yourself is not feasible, if not outright impossible. Realistically, most of us don’t have the time or the talent to tackle all aspects of the work. Legally, there are many areas of the design and construction process that are restricted to professionals. In terms of the planning and design phases, most municipalities require that plans for the renovation be filed with them and approved before construction can begin. More often than not, the building department will not take applications from an owner but will require that plans be filed by a licensed architect or engineer. In terms of the construction phase of the work, there are many areas of the project that by law you will not be allowed to touch. For example, most municipalities will not permit anyone other than a licensed electrician to wire the electrical panel box. Other communities require that a licensed electrician in stall all of the wiring. Not to be overlooked is that some of these tasks are outright dangerous and should be undertaken only by someone who has studied or apprenticed in the trade for years.

If you are planning a renovation, either large or small in scope, we suggest you read this guide from cover to cover before proceeding further. When you have finished you will be in a better position to decide which parts of the renovation you want to tackle by yourself and which aspects should be handled by a professional.

The rest of this section deals with what is in store for you if you do decide to hire a professional designer and /or a general contractor, and provides a general overview of the various phases of the project.


You may be considering doing all of the planning by yourself for the following reasons: (1) for the challenge and satisfaction of the work, (2) in order to save money, (3) because you feel that the job is too small to warrant the attention of a de signer, (4) because you are not sure what kind of designer to hire or what services to expect from a design professional.

All of these reasons are to some extent valid. The design process is very stimulating and you may save money by not hiring a designer. On the other hand, if you are not an experienced designer and you do all of the design work yourself, you may not turn out a very successful design. Furthermore, if you decide to do all of the planning by yourself, and you don’t know what you are doing, it may end up costing you more money instead of less. You may have to rip out and re build whole parts of the project because you did not allocate enough space for an item, or you were not aware of a legal requirement. It may be worth your while to extend your budget and hire a professional. As for the third reason, if you think your project is too small to warrant the attention of a designer, reconsider. Some very small projects, such as the redesign of a staircase or bathroom, may benefit by having technical and artistic input.

Before making a decision, you should be aware of the range of services a design professional can provide. First, he or she will offer assistance in organizing the project. Second, a design professional will explore a number of alternative solutions to a programmatic or aesthetic problem. Third, he or she will develop a set of construction drawings and will help you find a reliable con tractor with a competitive price. Fourth, the de signer will be your agent when it comes to dealing with the contractor and all other authorities.

In almost all cases, you contract separately for design and construction services. You hire a de signer, and when the design work is complete, you hire a contractor. The design professional, like your lawyer, is your representative. The de signer works for you, helps you find the best and most reasonably priced contractor, and protects your interests when dealing with suppliers and contractors. A very different approach is taken by design-build firms that design and build the project for one fixed price. The advantage of this system is that you have an estimate of the total project cost somewhat earlier in the game. The disadvantage is that if you don’t like the quality of construction, you can’t rely on the designer to fight for you, since he is working with the con tractor as a team.

*Architect, engineer, interior designer, or interior decorator


If you decide to hire a design professional, you may have trouble deciding which professional to hire—engineer, architect, architectural designer, interior designer, or interior decorator? * This question is complex and the answer will depend on the nature and scope of your project. Although their services often overlap, each of these professionals has a particular range of expertise.

Because they offer a wide spectrum of services, it's somewhat difficult to articulate the differences between the design professionals. A project that is purely technical in nature (either structural, mechanical, or electrical) will be suited to an engineer. For example, if you are renovating a house for the primary purpose of rewiring, an electrical engineer would be the professional to take charge of the project. Engineers are technical planners but have no training in visual design. Almost all engineering schools have four-year, post-high-school programs. In most states a graduate engineer must work for at least two years before sitting for the licensing exams in his or her engineering specialty.

Projects that involve both technical planning and aesthetics (such as the redesign of most of the house, the relocation or radical alteration of kitchen and bathrooms, or the addition of one or more rooms) are best suited to an architect who specializes in renovation or residential design. An architect is trained to organize a building functionally, spatially, and technically, giving equal weight to its interior spaces, exterior form, and structural/mechanical systems. An architect de signs the renovation in its entirety, integrating input from consulting engineers, and prepares plans and details showing floor, wall, and roof construction, door and window details, mechanical systems, door hardware, and plumbing fixtures. Architectural services often go beyond the overall design and planning to include the design of built-in furniture, the selection of paint and upholstery colors, carpeting, and other furnishings. In most large towns and cities you must use an architect or engineer for any job that requires filing.

An architect is a professional who is registered (which is the same as licensed) by the state in which he or she practices after having passed the registration examinations. For the most part,* to qualify for the exams a candidate must have graduated from an accredited architectural school (five years as an undergraduate leading to a B.Arch. degree, or three years as a graduate student leading to an M.Arch. degree). In addition, a candidate must have worked under the supervision of a registered architect for at least three years before qualifying to take the exams.

A graduate of an architectural school who does not have a license is called an architectural de signer, but he is not permitted by law to call him self an architect or to practice architecture.

Interior designers are professionals trained in interior-space planning and design, historical context, interior materials and finishes, cabinetry and furniture details, color and pattern, and (de pending on the school he or she attended) some level of education in lighting and mechanical equipment. Many interior design firms have access to ancillary professionals to cover the technical areas of the projects. An architect, mechanical engineer, or lighting designer may be part of the design team.

The education of an interior designer is not as standardized or as regulated by the state as that of an architect or engineer. Most interior design programs are either two or four years long. Most states don't have a licensing procedure for interior designers.

A decorator helps you coordinate finishes and furnishings reflecting your specific requirements and taste. He or she organizes all the elements (color, texture, and pattern of wall and floor coverings, window treatment, accessories, lighting fixtures, furniture, and fabrics) and presents appropriate possibilities for you to choose from. The decorator may place the orders and arrange for fabrication of custom items, oversee the delivery and installation of all these items, and take care of all of the related bookkeeping. Decorators recommend painters, wallpaperers, cabinetmakers, and other tradespeople and may coordinate their work.

Selecting a design professional need not be an either/or proposition. Many people planning a renovation hire both an architect and an interior designer (or decorator) and have them collaborate. This sometimes works, and sometimes leads to problems. We have found it advantageous to clearly outline the distinct responsibilities of each professional at the very outset of the project. This tends to avoid unnecessary argument later on.

*You may not have a choice in the selection of a design professional. If your renovation project entails changes in the roof- line, an alteration of the structure, a change in the room count, or the relocation of plumbing fixtures, etc., the law may insist that you hire an architect or engineer whether you want to or not. Many municipalities require that plans for these renovations be filed with the building department, and only licensed architects and engineers (and in some states, with limitations, interior designers) are permitted to file. The law ensures that any item of design that may affect your health and welfare, such as a building’s electrical wiring or structural framing plan, is designed by someone whose expertise is certified.

* There are some variations from state to state.


Once you have decided which of the design professionals is best suited to work with you on your renovation project, you are left with the task of selecting a specific designer or firm. There are a number of things to look for when you hire a designer or architect: quality of design work, similar renovation experience, references, personality compatibility, license to practice, and fee structure. Unless you have a special relationship with a particular designer, you may want to interview three or more professionals.

In finding candidates to interview, the best source is references from your friends, especially from people whose projects have been completed. They will have had direct experience with the designer during both the design and construction phases, and if they are still saying good things about him or her, you can count on the recommendation. If you are new in town, you may have to resort to the phone book, or to a recommendation by a contractor. If these are your sources, you must be especially careful in investigating the reputation of the recommended professional before signing on.

Call the design professional and make an appointment. Generally, if you visit the firm’s office for the initial interview, you will not be charged.

If you ask the professional to come to your house or apartment to give you “ideas,” you may be expected to pay for the consultation. If you want to consult with a great many designers to see who has the most innovative ideas, expect to pay for the privilege. Generally, an interview is not the best time to pick the designer’s brain. Some de sign professionals will give you some wonderful ideas on the spot that may prove impossible to execute for legal, structural, or other reasons.

There are other, more reliable ways to determine the creativity of the designer.

Ask the design professional to show you a port folio of work already completed. This portfolio may be in the form of a loose-leaf binder of 8” x 10” glossy photos of projects or may be in the form of slides projected on a screen. Ask specifically to see renovation projects similar to the one you are contemplating. Don’t worry too much if the designer has not done a project exactly like the one you have in mind. Designers should be somewhat flexible and their portfolios should reflect the various functional and stylistic requirements of their former clients.

You can learn a great deal from the portfolio. If you are contemplating renovating your brown stone to restore most of its original Victorian charm, you might think twice about a designer whose work is strictly slick marble and mirrors. There are some designers who have one vision, and one vision alone, and tend to impose that one style on their clients. On the other hand, a single- style designer might be your best choice if you happen to like his particular style. For example, in your search for a designer to renovate your brownstone you may find a professional with extensive brownstone experience and a flair for Victorian design. If you love each and every one of his or her projects, hire that designer (after checking references, of course) to renovate your brownstone.

That doesn’t mean necessarily that a contemporary designer or one who has never worked on a brownstone is incapable of doing an excellent restoration of your house. When you look at the portfolio, note the versatility of the designer. If all of the projects have the same look, and that is definitely not the look you want, you may wish to interview more designers. If the portfolio has a diversity of projects, each one reflecting a some what different personality (demonstrating the de signer’s ability to integrate the sensibilities and tastes of the owner), it's a good indication of the designer’s willingness to develop your vision for your brownstone.

If you are looking for a knock-your-socks-off design, search the portfolio for innovative and creative ideas, such as new uses for ordinary materials, unusual use of space, and the like.

It is not enough to judge the quality of a design professional’s work from photographs. Photo graphs tend to blur sloppy detail work, so that it's not noticeable. Ask to see one or two of the projects. You will be concerned about the de signer’s ability to monitor the contractor. If the construction work on most of the designer’s projects is poor, it may not speak well for the de signer’s ability to create good construction details or to monitor the contractor.* There are many designers who have brilliant vision but are unable to execute that vision in drawings and details that can be read by a contractor.

In addition, ask for a list of references. Ask for the telephone numbers of the owners of projects that are similar to yours. Call at least three of the references and ask about their experiences with the designer:

• Was the professional sensitive to your needs and re quests?

• Did he or she execute the project to your satisfaction?

• Were services provided in accordance with your agreement?

• Would you use the designer again?

• How did the designer interact with the contractor? Did you feel you were well represented?

When speaking to the references, keep in mind that almost no renovation jobs progress 100 % smoothly. Most jobs take longer to build than expected and often cost somewhat more than what was anticipated. This is especially true for renovations, since many problems can't be anticipated because they are hidden in the walls.

One of the most important, and often over looked, qualities of a design professional is his or her personality. it's essential that you feel comfortable with the professional you are working with. After all, this is a collaboration, and you must feel that you will be an equal partner. We have heard many stories of clients who were to tally intimidated by the designers they hired. The initial interviews and conferences are like a court ship. If you are uncomfortable with the designer at the beginning, your relationship with him will probably get worse, not better.

During the interview with the design professional, be sure to ask for his credentials and check whether he is licensed or affiliated with a professional organization. Also, request a review of how the work will be organized and determine how often you will be consulted before the design is finalized. Inquire about his fee structure, frequency of billing, and the designer-owner con tract he prefers to use. Ask about the contractors he usually recommends for these kinds of projects and if he thinks it will be difficult to attract a very experienced contractor. (Your job may be too small for a specific contractor.) If you want to use a specific contractor, ask the designer if he or she is amenable to the idea.

Last but not least, you should discuss the scope of the work, what you expect to be done, and your budget. Perhaps your budget is unrealistic for the amount of work desired. Don’t expect the designer to be able to give you a price for the remodeling of an as yet undesigned kitchen or bathroom. The range of renovation costs for these items is so broad that no one will be able to give you a price until all of the items are designed and specified. (Even after the design and working drawings are complete the designer will not be able to provide you with much more than a guesstimate of the cost. Remember, the designer is not the builder, and only the builder can provide a price.) You may speak to five designers about your projected job and your budget. If four out of five of them tell you that your budget can't possibly cover your projected renovation, don’t hire the designer who says that your budget is sufficient.

We suggest that when you get a copy of the contract you have your lawyer review it before you sign it. Most architects use the American Institute of Architects (AIA) form, which is regarded as standard. Some professionals use a letter of intent for very small projects. Discuss all of the above with your attorney before proceeding.

*Very often a poorly executed job is the fault of the contractor. Although it's part of the designer’s responsibility to make himself familiar with the work of the bidding contractors, very often a client insists on hiring a contractor whom the designer does not recommend. it's sometimes the case that the low bidder’s price is so tempting, the owner believes himself able to forgive a multitude of construction sins. There is very little justification for hiring a bad or sloppy contractor. It has been our experience that the client who claims to be “not fussy” when he accepts the lowest bidder is the one who makes the most noise when the job does not come out right.


As a general rule, it's hard to say which type of design service (architect, interior designer, or interior decorator) is the most expensive and which is least costly. The various design professionals use different fee structures. A design professional may use one of a number of systems to determine how he will charge.

The most common fee structure, used by architects and many interior design firms, is based on a %age of construction cost derived from competitive bidding on a project. For a small residential project this %age can range between 12 % (considered very low) and 20 %, with an average of about 16 %. This fee covers full services: * design schematics, sketches and models (if called for), consulting engineering fees, working drawings and specifications, ad ministration of the bid, the writing of the con tract, and administration of the construction. Not covered by this %age are the cost of a survey, building department filing fees, the cost of a building permit, and printing, mailing, and photographic costs. Before signing a contract with the designer you will agree to a billing and payment structure. For example, an architect generally charges about 5 % of the estimated fee when he or she is retained. The client is billed monthly or periodically on %age increments: 10 per cent more when the schematic planning is completed, 20 % more for preliminary design, 40 % more for the contract documents (working drawings and specifications), 5 % more to conduct and review the bid, and the final 20 % for administration of construction. The retainer is credited at the end of construction. All of this is based on a %age of the estimated construction cost. If the job turns out to cost more or less than the original estimate, the amount paid to the designer is adjusted accordingly. Also, if the client makes radical changes or alters the scope of the work after the majority of the drawings have been completed, or asks the designer to provide drawings for built-in furniture, the designer may be entitled to additional compensation.

Another common method of billing used by design professionals is based on an hourly rate. This fee structure charges the client by the hour at one price for experienced, licensed personnel and another, lower price for drafting personnel. You are billed monthly in proportion to how much effort was expended on your behalf by the firm. Very often there is an upset cost, based on a %age of the actual cost of the project, so that the fee does not go through the roof. The upset fee is generally a bit higher than the ordinary % of estimated cost would have been, had that method been chosen. Many design professionals prefer the hourly rate to the %- of-estimated-cost method for small domestic projects. To put it bluntly, some clients absorb huge amounts of time in deliberating the alternatives available, selecting finishes, or changing their minds after the drawings are done. This, of course, is the prerogative of the client. The de signer, however, likes to know he is being paid for all the time consumed by changes and deliberations. The client who knows what he wants, makes decisions easily, and tends to stick to them can profit handsomely from this method.

Some interior decorators and designers have an entirely different method of billing. You buy the wallpaper, carpet, or sofa from the decorator at the gross (retail) price, and the decorator buys the item from the showroom at the discounted wholesale (net) price. The markup at the show rooms varies from 20 to 50 %. If you pay $10,000 for a carpet (whose net price is $6,000), $4,000 may be retained by the designer as his fee for services rendered. Although these %ages seem high, these fees are often justified by the enormous amount of time it takes some people to select furniture and finishes. If the decorator spends four days shopping for $400 worth of powder-room wallpaper, even a 50 % profit is low.

Some decorators split the markup with their clients. They purchase the $10,000 rug for $6,000, charge the client $8,000 for the item, and keep $2,000 as commission. (The tax due on the rug, which is additional, is paid to the decorator, who passes it on to the state. Sales tax is a %age of the retail price, which in this case is $8,000.)

Another variation on the %age theme is the designer who bills by the hour and charges an additional amount, about 10 % of the wholesale price, for any showroom item purchased. In the case of the carpet, you pay the designer by the hour for the shopping time and you pay about $6,600 for the item ordered. In this case, the advantage goes to the client who can make quick decisions.

Another compensation structure is the fixed fee, agreed on in advance by both client and de signer. The contract signed to seal this agreement should carefully outline all of the services expected by the client for the fixed fee.

*Each designer’s contract is different. it's important to read your contract thoroughly and not depend on the very general outline of services and fees that we include in this section.


The Design Phase

Once you have outlined the general scope of the work, established a budget, and signed a contract, the design professional should begin to take accurate dimensions and photographs of the areas under consideration for renovation, research the files of the building department or historical preservation societies for existing plans and photo graphs, and sit down with his clients and prepare a detailed program of requirements. it's some times helpful to provide your designer with a “wish list” of items that you would like included. Make sure the designer knows which items you definitely need to include and which are pure fantasy. In addition, the designer should be made aware of the number of people living in your household, their ages, and their special needs.

Simultaneously, the design professional should be investigating the legality of this renovation. If you are planning an extension, the building and zoning codes must be examined to determine the boundaries and criteria for the extension. If you are planning to make exterior changes to a building located in a historic-landmarked area, the appropriate preservation authorities must be consulted. If the house is in a rural area, wetland and floodplain maps must be checked. In addition, fire, environmental, and building codes must be strictly followed when redesigning both the interior and the exterior of the building. The design professional should be familiar with the rules. it's best to find out in advance if the authorities will allow you to go ahead with what you are planning. Unfortunately, you will not get a final go- ahead until you have officially filed the drawings. We have found, however, that advance research and informal visits to the various authorities tend to minimize potentially expensive disappointments in the end.

With a drawing of your existing house or apartment in one hand, a list of your requirements in the other, and the building code open on the desk, the design professional can begin to examine the options. There may be more than one way to redesign the layout. The designer should present you with the various options at your next meeting. It may take a number of sessions to finalize the design direction. After a direction is chosen, appliances and plumbing fixtures should be selected since these influence the size and shape of the rooms they are in.

The final stages of the design process are often frenetic and time-consuming for the client since many small decisions must be made, often entailing visits to supply houses and showrooms. The material and color for all the floor finishes must be selected, as well as the faucets and towel bars for the bathroom, the counter and backsplash for the kitchen, and all the lighting fixtures. All of these items must be checked to see if the colors work well together and the items are available within the time frame, and to make sure that the items selected are appropriate, Of course, there are the inevitable blunders. A classic example involves the renovator who ordered an antique brass faucet for his bathroom lavatory. The fitting took months to obtain because it was out of stock. When it arrived, the renovator realized that the antique brass looked out of place with all of the chrome fittings in the room. This was a moot point, however, since he had inadvertently ordered a set with handles spaced 4” apart that could not be installed into the holes on the lavatory, which were spaced 8” apart.

Every construction project has a thousand little details that must be coordinated and it seems in evitable that some mistakes will be made (by you, the designer, the contractor, or the supplier). On a well-run job, however, these errors are kept to a minimum and are corrected without acrimony and long delays.

It is a good idea, if possible, to have all of the finishes and fixtures selected before the drawings are sent out for bid. If every item has been specified on the drawings, the contractor is able to give you a fixed price that covers the complete renovation. If you have not chosen the faucet sets (which can cost from $60 to $600 per set) or the kitchen flooring ($200 for vinyl sheeting, $2,000 for granite tiles), it will be hard for you, the de signer, or the contractor to establish a fixed price for the total project.

If you have not selected all of the fittings and fixtures before the job goes to bid, you may ask the contractor to provide you with an allowance for each item. For example, if you have not selected the door hardware, the contractor may provide you with a $100 allowance per door. If the hardware you finally select costs more than the allowance, you will have to pay the contractor the difference. If it costs less, he owes you a credit.

Another option is to specify that the contractor will provide the installation of the fittings, fixtures, or hardware as part of the bid price, but you will supply these items.

The final set of drawings produced by the de signer are the Contract Documents. These documents consist of the Working Drawings, written Specifications, the General Conditions, and the actual contract. The Working Drawings consist of the plans, elevations, and details of the construction. Dimensions and notes should be included, such as the size of the bathroom, the location of the light switch, and the model number of the toilet. The Specifications are a book of notes that outlines the expected quality of the work. The wood type and the finish for the cabinetry are specified, as are the door hinges and pulls. The contractor is instructed to use specific materials and methods in the installation of the ceramic tiles, and even the composition of the grout is specified. The General Conditions cover general notes, common to all jobs. One important condition is that the contractor must visit the job be fore he submits a bid. A bidder must take into account the conditions on the job: Is there electricity? Are the roads wide enough for his equipment? Will the family be living in the apartment while the renovation is in progress? The contract is either written by the designer or provided by the contractor. This is a legal document that binds owner and contractor (the designer is not a part of this agreement), committing the contractor to de liver the renovation at a fixed price and within a time frame, and the owner to pay. There are other contract options, but this fixed-price document is the most commonly used.

If you expect to use the services of a general contractor, the Contract Documents (now called the Bid Package) are sent out to a number of contractors (recommended by the designer or by people you trust), who will do a breakdown cost analysis to determine the price of the job. After each contractor has submitted his bid, you and the designer have to decide who will be awarded the contract. You are not bound to select the lowest bidder. If the prices are not too far apart, you will be better off selecting the contractor with the best reputation for quality work or for delivering the job on time for the price agreed upon. If you have a contractor that you know and love, you need not send the job out for general bid at all. The price can be negotiated. This is an informal process. The contractor gives you a preliminary price. This price should be checked with your designer, who has experience with similar projects, to see if it falls in line with the general market. If the price is fair but above your budget, sit down with the designer and contractor and see which items can be cut or which materials substituted. Most design professionals, however, feel that you will get the best price from a contractor who knows the job is being competitively bid.

Generally, the drawings required for filing are not as extensive as those required for a bid. Since most building departments don't require such specific details as finishing materials and hard ware, the plans of the project can be filed before they are a complete bid package. Hopefully, you will have the plans approved when your contractor is ready to begin construction.

The Construction Phase

A general contractor (G.C.) schedules the job, hires the subcontractors, purchases the materials, and orders the fittings and fixtures. If the construction company that successfully bids your job is large enough (unlikely on a small, domestic renovation), all of the electricians, plumbers, tile installers, and plasterers work directly for the G.C. Most likely, the G.C. that you hire is a carpenter who works on the job alongside his or her workers (or a manager who heads his own carpentry crew) and subcontracts the electrical, plumbing, fine cabinetry, or tile installation to companies that specialize in these trades.

The contract between owner and contractor will specify the work (usually the drawings, specifications, and general conditions in the bid package) and a schedule for payment. Most con tracts require that at least 10 % of the con tract price be paid in advance of construction, and 10 % retainage be withheld until all of the work is complete. In between, the schedule out lines the %age to be paid after rough partitions are installed, the wiring completed, the plumbing finished, etc. Periodically, the contractor submits payment requests to the design professional for review and approval. If a request is in order, it's approved and transmitted to the owner for payment.

It is the G.C.’s responsibility to schedule the plumber, electrician, or plasterer when that trade is needed on the job, and to call for scheduled inspections by the building department as required by law. On the average, general contractors charge between 15 and 30 % above labor and material costs as their overhead and profit for managing the job. You may be tempted to eliminate these management costs and oversee the project yourself. Think twice before considering this option, especially if you have had no previous construction experience. In the first place, you will have to learn the sequence of activities on a construction project so that you will know when to call in the various trades. Second, many of these subcontractors are working on other projects and may not come on the day you need them. A G.C. can hold a carrot of future work over their heads as an inducement; you don’t have that leverage. Third, a contractor has established a network of sources and suppliers, whereas you will have to start from scratch. Fourth, some municipalities will allow only insured contractors to pick up the building permit. The insurance premiums (providing you can get workman’s compensation and liability insurance) may exceed the cost of hiring a general contractor. In spite of these drawbacks, we have known some astute people who have undertaken the management of their renovations and have actually enjoyed the process.

An alternative to hiring a G.C. is to hire a construction manager at a weekly salary or on a time- and -materials basis. A construction manager performs all of the G.C. functions, but you handle all of the payments to the subcontractors. A con tractor who works on time and materials charges you by the hour for his managerial functions and submits bills to you for all materials purchased and all subcontractors hired.

One of our clients divided the functions of a G.C. between himself and an experienced builder. He paid the contractor a weekly salary to manage the day-to-day, on-site aspects of construction while he managed the financial end. The builder prepared a detailed list of every item and every trade that would be needed for the job. The client arranged for the purchase of all the materials and supplies and negotiated prices with all of the sub contractors. The builder, himself an experienced carpenter, was on the job site at all times, receiving deliveries, calling in the subcontractors when required, and making sure that everyone was working. They were both very satisfied with the arrangement, and , frankly, so were we.

Some people are under the impression that the designer will manage the construction. This is not the case. The contractor is legally responsible for constructing what has been detailed in the plans. If there is a discrepancy, he must point it out to the designer. The designer’s responsibility ex tends to periodic site visits to ascertain if the con tractor is building the project the way it was designed and specified. The designer must be available to answer the contractor’s questions, correct discrepancies, solve unforeseen problems, and comment on the quality of the work. In addition, the contractor submits requests for payment periodically as the work progresses. The designer approves these requests on the basis of satisfactory completion of the work and in conformance with the schedule of payments outlined in the contract. The approved request is paid by the owner. The chain of command is from you to the designer to the contractor, and vice versa. If you want to make a change while the job is in progress, you should speak to the designer and not directly to the contractor. The designer negotiates a price with the contractor and , with your approval, issues a Change Order. The designer is not responsible if the contractor takes shortcuts that are not easily seen, on inspection, or if the project comes in late, or if you approve a change (without consulting the designer) that turns out to be illegal.

When the project nears completion, the de signer issues a Punch List, outlining what still must be completed before final payment is made. The contractor calls for final inspection by the building department (if required) and all bills are settled. A certificate from the Board of Fire Underwriters is given to the owner, if one is needed. If required by the municipality, a new or revised or amended Certificate of Occupancy is applied for and issued. When the contractor completes all of the items on the punch list and all bills are paid, the project is considered complete.

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