boo-boos, WTF and “a little to the right”…. Lessons in changing the design

We’ve all made the omelette with the left-overs in the refrigerator,  sometimes it turns out great other times awful.  You had the opportunity to follow the recipe and could have left little to chance.

Yes, this is the analogy – the blueprints, plans, construction documents or whatever you want to call them are the recipe for the construction of the project. The items in the plans or ingredients should not get thrown together like a re-run of  “Chopped”  (you know- the reality TV chef show)

The specifications, the drawings, the details all have to work together to make the building complete. Once the job is under construction, or the cake is in the oven, it’s really tough to make changes without a ripple effect. The extra planning and time that go into the plans always yields a better project at completion.  More thorough drawings and specifications lead to fewer areas of misunderstanding and a reduction in costly extras.

Among the more common problems:

  • 1. Substitution of materials, i.e. the iconic Friday afternoon “Hey,  Lenny what do we have in the truck?” instead of what’s specified and not “in the truck”.  I had a contractor on a recent project install masonry anchors with a fastener that would rust away in a few years…he had to remove hundreds of square feet of brick and rebuild…totally preventable.
  • 2. “That looks odd, can we move it a little to the right?”  Well sure, except that we have to rebuild the walls and redo the electric and plumbing inside them.  This is where really paying attention during design, before construction makes a big difference-well before the guys are there with the tools.
  • 3. Model #2331 has been discontinued….Happens frequently.  A manufacturer no longer makes the specified item and the new “replacement” may not fit.
  • 4. “What do you mean we can’t extend the addition that far?”…yep…the rules are subject to change. A few years ago we designed an addition, did the usual zoning analysis (how big it could be, how close to the edge of the property etc) and developed the drawings through a solid preliminary design…then.. the project got put on hold for a few months and when I resumed the design just 3 months later…yep, the rules changed and my entire effort in the preliminary work was useless. Lesson learned.
  • 5. When you are in the process of gathering municipal approvals, many planning boards, zoning boards, Design review committees will have differing opinions and you’ll have to be ready to defend your design,  but keep an open mind to possibly heed their advice as many of these boards have addressed similar situations.

So the advice here is:

  • a. do not to rush during design-take time and explore the different schemes
  • b. look at the options while they are on paper or on the computer screen
  • c. Get lots of physical samples, do small mock-ups (built sample), visit similar projects, get feedback from others who have done similar work..think about using the new space or site…from watering the plants, to taking away the garbage, to acoustical privacy, removing the snow
  • d.If you need to change something during construction: let everyone know as soon as possible-it will minimize costs, delays and hard feelings.
  • e. Check and confirm your assumptions.
  • f. Meet frequently : in person , on the phone, webex computer style…but there is no substitute for good and regular communication.
  • g. get all the information early in the design process.

There’s always some new lesson waiting around the corner.