Plans are an important item in being able to describe your project.  With plans you can get more accurate estimates for the scope of your work. 
Plans are generally formatted on 24"x36" in a standardized way that consists of:

  • A title block- Project location, type, designer with licenses, date, scales and any revisions.
  • abbreviations page- describes any abbreviations used on the plans
  • General conditions- this describes general methods of construction as well as any unique conditions for the project.
  • site location-  This is usually a plot plan of the site (1/8":1') with North Arrow, lot lines, footprint of the structure, roads and walkways, and a scale.  Sometimes this will have a picture of the site or a locating map.
  • Title 24- in California an analysis of the energy load is required for each project.  This is required to modernize the housing stock.
  • Floorplans-  These are plans that show the layout of rooms, fixtures and appliances.  These are often created by an architect, engineer or designer.   They can also show electrical and plumbing layout.  A reflected layout is sometimes used to show ceiling layouts of the light fixtures and any unique ceiling details.
  • Elevations-  These are drawings that show elevations of exterior and sometimes interior areas.  This gives a better idea of the scale of the project and requirements to complete the work.
  • Details-  These are close up drawings sometimes with a cross section that shows the details of how to perform the work.  Often these are coupled with structural drawings designed by the engineer to detail the actual physical requirements of the structural work.  These are very important and can significantly impact the cost of the project.
  • Window and Door Schedule-  this is a description of all the windows and doors that are necessary for the project.
  • Finish schedule- this is a specification of what the requirements for finishes in each room.

Computers these days can also show a variety of other information.  One format is the glass house where you can see through the walls in a 3D floor plan, as well as video walk-throughs and materials lists.  This allows you to play before you pay.   Have fun!

A quick look at what the different layouts might look like

A quick look at what the different layouts might look like


Permit Card-front-page-001.jpg

Permits to have them or not?  That is not the question.  They really are for your protection, but there are a number of drawbacks to getting them.  Typically, they require plans or drawings that the contractor or some other professional needs to create.    This can add to the cost. 

Additionally, they cost money for the actual permit.  In Berkeley and other locals, they are divided into the planning portion and the building portion.  They each charge fees.  With Berkeley, the building permit also has sub-categories of mechanical, electrical and plumbing categories.  Oftentimes the cost can range dramatically up to 12% of the contract amount.

Inspections are necessary for each category; each typically have a rough and a final inspection.  A job card is issued for the permit and building inspectors need to initial and date each completed category.   Giving the inspectors donuts doesn't work, but it is great to have a good cordial relationship with them.  They are there to protect both the client and the contractor.  This can slow down the contract completion, but offers peace of mind that another professional is ensuring code compliance.

The upside to having a permit is that everything on the contract is allowed by the city, it is ensures safety for the client and the property value increases.  You might have a little higher tax bill, but you get to claim that value at the sale of the house.


Estimating versus budgeting

As clients work to understand the nuances of manifesting their dream project, they are sometimes confused by actual costs of things.  As a contractor I work to educate them on the realities of what the job entails.  Oftentimes there is a difference between a "budget and an estimate."  If you have a professional designer they are usually pretty well versed in what things cost.  They can help you specify the scope of your project, so that when you get an estimate from a contractor you can compare apples to apples with different bids.   We will sometimes charge a nominal fee to develop budgets, since this is often before any final bidding.

Estimates are costs after all the items have been specified by a professional and you have working drawings.  Drawings allow the contractor to give a better estimate based on the "fit and finishes", which are costs based on the level of workmanship and the quality of the fixtures.  If you want the Taj Mahal with gold finishes it's going to be more expensive than chrome with a standard finish.  The contractor can often provide "an allowance" for some fixtures without knowing what the actual specifications are.  These are placeholder estimates to allow for a final lump sum bid.