Custom House Plans - Finding a Good Designer
The field of drawing custom house plans is a crowded and competitive one. There are many architectural and design firms out there vying for a "piece of the pie." However, if you look closely at examples of their finished product, you will find huge differences among them. The better ones offer quality designs and highly detailed plans.
Drawing a good set of custom home plans involves integrating many different concepts and ideas into a solid and useable working plan. Many designers are able to come up with a unique or interesting preliminary design, but fail to deliver when its time to detail the house structure. They draw a pretty picture but have little or no understanding of how to translate that nice design into a working plan which the builder can understand.
Having been in the business for more than 30 years, we have seen a large number of house plans which looked good at first glance. However, upon closer examination, many of these plans were found to be lacking large amounts of needed information. If a house plan is not easy to navigate or is not thoroughly detailed, then the builder is left to guess at the designer's intentions. This often means that he will "pad" his bid to make sure that he covers any unknown construction costs that may arise.
One item to look for when evaluating a house plans' quality level is the number of structural sections which are shown on the plan. Highly detailed sets of plans will always cut lots of sectional views through the house to show every different roof framing situation. This might mean that 10 or 12 (or even more) sections need to be drawn for a large house plan. And even a small house plan should include 3 or 4 sections minimum. However, many home plans available today (especially plans purchased through inexpensive plan directories) cut corners in this department and only show one or two house section views. This means that the builder will have to guess at the rest of the house framing.
Another item which is often missing or lacking in a set of house plans is comprehensive and accurate dimensions. We have always strived to provide more than the minimum amount of house dimensions so that it is easy for the owner and builder to layout a home on its building site. We will even calculate point to point dimensions (using trigonometry) for homes which have lots of odd angles to them (as opposed to a simple rectangle layout). Not all architects or designers will go this "extra mile," so it pays to check these things out beforehand.
Every set of custom house plans includes several items which need to be blown up and detailed for further clarification. If a set of plans does not provide additional close-up drawings (for things such as beam connections, deck railings, stairway construction, etc.), then it is not a complete set. It is very easy to cut corners during the planning process. But the end result will be higher costs for the home owner - and lots of frustration for the building contractor.
There are some architects and designers who seem to think that its the responsibility of the building department to check and catch any omissions. But the best of the breed takes it as a matter of pride to produce the very best plan and design they can. It is the only way to build up a loyal clientele and to get referrals for future work. And that vote of confidence from former clients makes all the difference in the world.
Steve Minkler has been drawing high-quality custom house plans in the Southern California area for more than 30 years. Visit Minkler Building Design for examples of his work and photographs of custom homes. Steve also enjoys travel photography and features a number of his travel photos at Minkler Photo Gallery.
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