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By Before The Architect  Copyright 2003-2007 Before The Architect


This e-article is mostly about ways to tell how not to develop home plans.  The point: avoid this stuff and you're advantaging successful home design program. 


Do you know a swell way to ruin a good day on a home building construction jobsite? Maybe even a lifetime of residence? 

I do. I do: screw up the designer home plans, either in their preparation or their application.  Home building construction problems will surely follow.

Ways to tell:

. . . does the roof have to look like that?

. . . why does it seem like the house leans left?

. . . what gutters?

. . . why's the front door so far back?

. . . didn't know the main floor had 2 levels, did you?

. . . don't you think we needed another half-bath?

. . . why's it so dark in here?

. . . always thought there'd be a door here, right?

. . . what happens when my heart and legs aren't as strong and those stairs are still here?

. . . pool table?  Hah, no way.

. . . this kitchen doesn't work for me, see?  How tall do you think I am?

. . . how come the wall's so close, there almost no door moulding?

. . . there's no place for a bed in here, is there?

. . . so the living room is the kids' playroom, too, eh?

. . . how do you get this door out of the way of that one?

. . . see how those windows aren't symmetrical to anything?

. . . who knew that the bathroom opens to the dining room?

. . . why's the baseboard so skinny?

. . . isn't that the toilet flushing on the other side of the house?

. . . where do we hang up guests' coats?

. . . our refrigerator/freezer in that space?

. . . really, no room for Mother?  Ever?

. . . huh? what style?

. . . you think that the kids'll hear us in here?

. . . feel the floor bounce?

. . . why's the switch way over there?

. . . why'd we have to get custom cabinets everywhere?

. . . what's this space for, anyway?

. . . so our entertainment room is their playroom, too?

. . . how're we gonna make the new washer and dryer fit?

. . . what do you mean, ‘where's your closet?'

. . . what do you mean, ‘where's your vanity?'

. . . how's my family's antique table ever supposed to fit in the dining room? 

. . . a home elevator’s gotta cost more than that!

. . . can they see in here?

. . . did you know that room would be so hot with the sun on it?

. . . can you make a single, clean sweep into the garage?

. . . who put that column in the middle of our beautiful view?

. . . what's a Fire Marshall got to do with my windows?


There are 3 major dimensions to designer home building construction problems:  

bulletPoor home designing discipline and commitment – a non-collaborative enterprise, unshared, non-vicarious experience
bulletThe home designer goes one way
bulletThe clients don't know where to go

bulletThe home building construction or residential contractors do it the way they're used to doing it  
bulletPoor home drafting output - a shortfall of expression between understanding, intent, drawings, and guidelines
bulletThere are disconnects of un-involvement in bridging between –
bulletThe possible
bulletPhysical safety
bulletFuture contingencies
bulletAppreciation for thoughtful dream home design  
bulletInattention to detail borne mostly of disrespect for the home building construction plans, which disrespect is earned
bulletMisunderstanding between folks with different day jobs
bulletThe onsite obligation to make home builders into home designers for lack of the home designer's and owners' guidance that is translated into builders' language
bulletOutright ignorance or avoidance of the home building construction plans in aspects of dream home design standards and custom home building construction standards – ‘they won't know the difference,' ‘that's not the way we do it around here,' ‘just get ‘er done.'  
It's all about the designer home plans; custom home design and home building construction plans have to be good and well understood. No home building construction plan's perfect; what this is about is how imperfect designer home plans can be. 

Here are some designing and drafting lessons from a lifetime at the granite knee of experience – personal, storied, observed. 

Custom home design a while, draft a while, custom home build a while, home repair a while, and you'll collect your own legion of horror stories of custom home building construction problems - things gone terribly wrong.  

Real problems can arise anywhere between the dream of an idea and its presentation on site.  It is this custom dream home designers conviction that a well-designed, well-drawn designer home plans set taken seriously by everyone directly involved – client, home designer/draftsman, residential contractor – would have avoided the lizard list of common custom home building construction problems that I have personally witnessed, among them:  

bulletA few thousand watts on a 15-amp  electrical circuit wiring – 10 basement home lights, 2 flights of stairway home light, and L2 home light overall, 2 bath's heating lamps, fans, and electrics
bulletBig headers with butt joints
bulletBright nails as fasteners in exterior decking
bulletToe-nailing used for permanent fastening in lieu of hangers, connectors, and face nailing
bulletA house remodel mostly wired with lamp cord – inside and out 
bulletPaid-for, professional house plans set without a foundation plan, roof plan, and electrical plans
bulletLong-span floor joists on the plans as 2x12s at 12 linear inches on center and framed 2x10s at 16 linear inches on center.
bulletHouses – big houses – built without using a level
bulletThe same concrete steps screwed up not once, not twice, but three times running for lack of adequate footings and reinforcement, and they still aren't right
bulletNew stairs with 8 linear inch treads
bulletPlans wherein three passage doors conflict in the same space
bulletPainting crews hard at it all day in very cold, very dark, very wet houses
bulletOn a rainy day, oak flooring straight off a wholesaler's delivery truck to chop saws and nailers in a cold, damp house
bulletDrainage that'll only draw when water runs uphill
bulletA builder in my neck of the woods who commonly passes off 8d nails for 10ds and 10ds for 12Ds
bulletTrue masonry clad wythes without air gaps and weep holes
bulletA 6-month old mansion's kitchen floor deflected 5/8" on 4' for inadequate joisting below a huge center island and an unspecified natural stone floor
bulletA bedroom with no convenient place for a bed
bulletA dining room too small to even squeeze around a seated table
bulletA roof over a cathedral ceiling in Maryland that's been replaced 3 times in 8 years and in its 9th year is rotting out again, because of persistently inadequate rafter bay ventilation and inadequate rafter bracing
bullet2 doors at a head landing that not only conflict, but also sweep the travel path
bulletMajorly under-illuminated interiors
bulletA garage floor with no slope
bulletFooting drainage laid atop footings and not beside them
bulletInsufficient and poorly applied reinforcement – or none at all – to concrete slabs-on-grade
bulletA home design in Rhode Island with all four chimney caps 2' below a large belvedere not 4' away
bulletPlans detailing doors and windows subsequently determined to have been out of production for years
bulletPlans detailing windows that the specified maker never made
bullet2"x10" joists notched 8" and unsupported at their bottoms of face
bulletBadly over-sized dormers
bulletCustom kitchens with active travel patterns passing the main sink
bulletCustom kitchens with wall ovens in an active hallway
bulletCustom kitchens with wall ovens opening across a passage
bulletCustom kitchens with 48 linear inch refrigerator freezer facing 3 linear feet to an island, kitchen sink and stove or main sink at opposite sides of the island
bulletBearing walls several feet away from subordinate support
bulletRaised brick and natural stone hearth laid on rough floor over common joists
bulletPlans so deficient and misunderstood that no one's really sure how the interior slab-on-grade floor got 2 elevations
bulletWindows undersized and set exceptionally high, in order to shave materials bucks and avoid time spent setting cripple studs
bullet24 linear inch on-center trusses with ½ linear inch OSB decking gaw-ron-teed to sag substantially within weeks of installation  



What I'm not saying is that the bad  electrical wiring, plumbing, framing, masonry, foundation, roof, traffic patterns, lines of sight, kitchen work flows or anything else that goes wrong with custom home building is entirely on the guy who designed or drew the custom home plans.  

The home designer could be a party to it; could be not the only player; could be out of it somehow (the author's grasping).  

Custom home building is complex in regard to home building materials, means, methods, individual and group interrelationships, the site, the weather, the money, the time, community standards, comprehension of style, and on and on. There are plenty of opportunities in custom home building construction to get it wrong. 

What I am saying is that the single, substantive, significant common thread of communication between all those directly related to building a custom home is the designer home plans set.  

Takeoffs, materials' orders, labor and skill level, means and methods of application, physical association of parts both absolute and relative, sequence of work on site, durability of structure, safety of use, convenience of habitation, expectations realized – all these facts and behaviors relate one way or another to the designer home plans set - some causal, some derivative, none casual unless the plans are no good. Get it mostly right and life is good.  

Get it wrong, and everyone can suffer. That's what I am getting it.  


There is a vital centrality to dream home building construction plans: everyone in home design and home building construction communicates based on home building construction plans.  

All the major players in custom dream home building construction focus on the home building construction plans – doesn't matter whether they communicate directly with each other, because they communicate via the home building construction plans

Let's check off the major players in custom home building construction to get this story straight:

bulletClients (owners) can work with most others, except unusually with subcontractors, where the actual custom home building construction is done.
bulletAlbeit that owners can be the least familiar with the designer home plans sheets themselves (in the author's opinion, owners should be the most familiar) and that is ruefully and irresponsibly on them, the owners themselves)
bulletFinanciers at the very best know only what they can see on designer home plans sheets and that's it
bulletBuilding authorities sometimes inspect on the basis of designer home plans, sometime don't, and sometimes don't inspect, and still the designer home plans had most often better reflect at least more commonly recognized codes and common building standards
bulletResidential general contractors use the designer home plans as the basis for bidding, distributing work and its sequencing, gauging performance of theirs and others and
bulletSubcontractors may rely solely on the home building construction plans, possibly with little or no other direction
bulletSuppliers usually have nothing but home building construction plans with which to work, either on their own or in client company, guiding them through product choices and options based on those plans  


So here's the test – 

Q: What is the sole and unique basis for universal communication of custom dream home building construction expectation among all those involved in a dream home building construction project?

A: The custom dream home plans.  The plans.  The plans. 

Got it? The custom dream home building construction plans. The custom home building construction plans.  Custom home building construction plans are the basis for expectation, for necessity, for sufficiency shared among and between all the players in custom home design and custom home building construction.

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