Getting a Building Built: Introduction

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A building begins as a concept of need in someone’smind. If the need is a simple one and the person dexterous and ambitious,the steps needed to realize the concept are simple and direct. In someprimitive societies, one or more members of the family or tribe scratcha floor-plan circle r rectangle of suitable size on the bare ground andassemble locally gathered materials—mud, stone, reeds, snow, logs, orpoles—into a building on the spot. The design and details of the buildingrequire little thought because they are traditional to the society. Thesuburban American do-it-yourselfer, whether needing a tool shed or anentire house, generally takes somewhat more elaborate steps. He or shespends time developing plans on paper or spends money purchasing ready-madeplans in order to resolve as many functional problems as possible before startingconstruction. The paper plans also allow accurate estimating of the necessaryquantities of building materials and labor and facilitate negotiations withthe local building inspector for a permit to build. Once everything is in order,materials are bought and delivered, tools are prepared, and construction canbegin.

Residential-scale buildings are sometimes built by the owner but usuallyby a builder, a small construction company that oftenconsists of only three or four workers and buildsonly one project at a time. A custom building isone that is planned by an architect or residential designer for a specificowner and built under a simple contract or agreement to build. Somebuilders specialize in speculative building, erecting buildings thatwill be sold to a buyer who is not known at the time construction commences.Speculative builders may work on a one-at-a-time basis, or they maybuild dozens or hundreds of houses at a time on large tracts of land.

Builders often work from stock plans, ones that are purchased fromresidential designers for a small fee. The builder, who often works physicallyon the project, usually builds the frame of the building and applies the exteriorfinish materials to the walls. The builder hires specialist subcontractorsto excavate and construct the foundation, apply the roofing material, installplumbing, heating, and electrical services, install thermal insulation, applyinterior wall and floor finishes, install cabinetry, and do site and landscapingwork. The builder comes back to apply interior baseboards and trim, after whicha painting subcontractor finishes the building.

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