The Design Process | Mother-in-Laws / ADUs | Basements | Green Remodeling


By Alan Ness, Principal, Ten Directions Design

If you want to remodel or expand your house, start with the design process. This process can help you identify what is lacking in your house, and how to correct those problems and improve your home. Only then are you ready to hire a contractor and get it built.

Working with a professional designer or architect is a great way to go through this process and come out with blueprints you love. And further on, I will share the secret of sticking to your budget. A professional has a degree in architecture or interior design, but normally it is only the architect who can help you with moving walls and other structural parts of your house. LET'S GET GOING IN 7 LUCKY STEPS.

STEP ONE: Create a program, or description of your needs and goals. Start with a description of what doesn't work, as well as some of your dreams. Write down groups of 'must haves' and "dreams," or a numbered priority list. Bring out the tape measure, and estimate how many square feet you want to renovate or add.

STEP TWO: Here is the first part of budgeting. Do some research to find out the costs of similar projects. Ask friends and relatives. Also ask about design professionals they can recommend. One good reference source is Seattle’s Eco-Building Guild Green Pages. Factor in cost bump-ups if other projects are more than a few years old. In a few steps we will have more information and ask a contractor - but not yet!

STEP THREE: Hire a designer or DIY, it is time to begin the Schematic Design Phase:

  • Measure your existing house.
  • Draw it up on the computer.
  • Create schematic designs. These are floor plans that look at space planning: what goes where. No decisions on countertops yet! Remember these principles:
    1. Function
    2. Circulation
    3. Site Conditions
    4. Massing: Exterior and Interior
    5. Light
    Good references are the Sarah Susanka books, and Pattern Language by Alexander.

STEP FOUR: Get a cost estimate based on your schematic design. Instead of waving your arms around, you can hand a contractor a floor plan with some overall dimensions. Along with some information on finishes, he can use this information to create an estimate of what your project might cost. If the cost is too high, then you need to cut back on scope or quality.

STEP FIVE: Again, Hire a designer or DIY. Draw the blueprints, called Construction Documents. These need full dimensions, notes, and satisfy all zoning and building codes. Prepare according to your locality's requirements. Along with blueprints, prepare written specifications: fixtures, appliances and finishes. This is a great opportunity to think about 'greening' your project with sustainable materials, energy efficiency, and good indoor air quality measures.

STEP SIX: Get your building permit. Make multiple sets of drawings and submit per your local regulations.

STEP SEVEN: While waiting for your permit, go ahead and contact contractors. Give them copies (3) of your drawings and (1) of your written specifications. And ask for a fixed bid. You should be able to compare 'apples' to 'apples.' Pick the best bid. Congratulations, you are ready to build (after picking up the approved permit).