Monday, October 19, 2009


I love visiting job sites. The structured chaos of running bulldozers, swinging boards and dripping mortar is invigorating. Each crafts person is working toward their own ends yet participating in a collective goal, not unlike the master builders of medieval cathedrals. Although our drawings guide the final outcome, the contractor choreographs the work being done on the project. Nothing lets me sleep easier than talented, experienced, professional contractors running my jobs.

It is common to hear horror stories at cocktail parties about the construction project that has gone wrong. While I would not deny that these catastrophes do happen, my experiences could not be more different. I have been involved with countless construction projects and nine hundred and ninety nine out of a thousand projects have been a success because there was a dedicated construction company running the job. Interestingly enough we have had great success with both very small construction companies as well as large ones. About half of our projects use fixed bid contracts and half of our clients prefer using a construction manager. Again, we have had great outcomes either way.

Contractors have an almost impossible job as the nexus between the architect, the owner, craftspeople and suppliers. They must balance high quality, cost, and usually a tight schedule while at the same time dealing with forces beyond their control which impact the job such as weather, design changes, and basic human interaction.

Occasionally we do require contractors to redo a part of a project that was built incorrectly. Most often the contractor is on top of the issue before we even have a chance to know there was a problem.

Mistakes and oversights happen with all human endeavors. The contractors I work with are quick to fix any problems better than new and have been known to return to their projects years later to make minor adjustments and become personal friends with the people whose homes they have built.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cutting Costs on Construction Projects -5 Ways to Stretch Your Construction Dollars

When designing a home or addition, part of the fun for the owner is imagining the project finished without any compromises. When bids come in from the contractors, many home owners are eager to look at ways to reduce the price without loosing space or the character of the project. As the architects, our job is to help bring the price down as far as possible without loosing the qualities that the owners loved in the first place. It must be understood that some money saving choices could diminish the long term durability or energy efficiency of a home or addition. The following are 5 ways to either design the most cost effective project from the start or adjust a design once the bids come in:

1. Keep it simple: Generally the simpler the overall details and structure of a home, the less expensive it is to build-the exception are extremely precise modern details.

2. Consider cost effective materials both on the exterior and interior of the home. There can be a $20/square foot or more difference between higher priced flooring materials and lower priced choices. The same is true of exterior materials. Before making those choices be aware of the trade offs, sometimes they are minimal.

3. Keep built-in cabinetry to a minimum. In the long run those elements can be added, but in the short run they are expensive. You may need to buy more furniture to take the place of cabinetry.

4. Explore the trade-offs of lower priced windows and doors. For exterior doors and windows the savings may not always justify the change. Make certain that the alternatives are durable, attractive, and energy efficient before making those changes.

5. Review choices for the mechanical system. There are many ways to heat and cool a home. Not all systems are designed equal, but the cost differential between the most expensive and the least expensive is substantial.

Bonus idea: Add a porch. Few additions to a home add as much beauty, functionality, and pleasure as a porch and for a fraction of the cost of interior space.

We help our clients make these choices quite frequently. In my experience, an informed client is a happy client-make sure you know the trade-offs and look at as many samples of alternatives as possible.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

FineHome Source

Once again we had a beautiful day, a great crowd of interested visitors, and a tent full of enthusiastic professionals showing their work. This year like last, kids had a blast painting birdhouses while their parents learned the details of geothermal heating and cooling, solar hot water heating and how a Windsor chair is made by hand(I bought two of those).

It is hard to describe the synergy created by over 40 experts and craftspeople in one place talking about what they know best - creating a comfortable, beautiful and efficient home. Whether you were looking for concrete countertops or limestone, they were there. If you want to walk up a beautiful set of stairs, we had some talented stair builders and if you wanted to go straight up to the second floor, there was an elevator manufacturer. We had experts on security, home automation, sound systems, and a company that installs the best whole house generators to keep those things running.

In a sluggish economy we had a great turn out, showing there is always a market for high quality products and service providers with integrity.

I would like to thank everyone who came to visit and everyone who spent their day talking about all the things that make up a fine home.

Jimmy Crisp