Planning Your Project Schedule
When Should You Start Designing Your Project?
If you’re planning an all interior project, you can start any time! The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have your house in the condition you want it to be, and the sooner you can start enjoying it.
If you’re planning on phasing your project, please be sure to read about phasing before you decide to bulid in phases.
If you’re contemplating a new house, addition, or exterior alteration, it’s ideal to start planning your project early. Starting early will give you (and us) time to develop the design and drawings on a more relaxed schedule, submit your project for Planning Department approval, and negotiate a contract with a contractor. It will also give you time to solicit some preliminary pricing on larger projects, and pivot on your project scope if needed before we develop the designs in detail and apply for permits.
For a new house or other major projects you’ll want to start designs in the winter or spring about a year (or more) before you plan to break ground. (Some jurisdictions have lengthy review times, for instance in San Francisco new homes and additions may require two years or more of planning time before you would expect to break ground.) For some additions and exterior alterations you can get away with starting your designs in the summer or possibly fall and still break ground in the spring or perhaps a little later in the construction season.
If it’s almost spring, don’t despair! Depending on your project and your jurisdiction you still might be able to start construction later the same year. This would require that you’re certain of your project scope and plan to move quickly through all phases of design, making quick decisions. It would also require that you can find a contractor with room in their schedule. If it’s already spring or summer, let’s just start planning for construction next year.
When Should You Start Building Your Project?
No matter when you start your planning, it will be lowest-risk for you to build during the right time of year. As discussed in the risks of construction section, starting additions and exterior alterations during the rainy season is not optimal and can be downright problematic. We’ll want the house to be water-tight before the rains come. It’s better to get an early start on the design process by selecting your architect now, and setting a relaxed, stress-free schedule for the design process, then starting construction the following year than it is to break ground during the rainy season. That said, our climate has changed in the last decade to include a few summer rains each year, and during several recent winters the rains held off (for the most part) until January or ended in January for the most part. So even though one never knows what will happen, we don’t want you to rely on luck. We still recommend (at least for now) observing the traditional SF Bay Area construction season and starting in the spring. if you miss the spring, it may be ok. Contractors can break ground about half-way into August and still make many additions and exterior alterations water-tight before the rainy season.
How Long Does a Project Take? What are the Steps?
That depends on the project. Since every project and every client is different, there is no standard length of a project. However, if you contact us and let us know what you have in mind, we can give you an idea of how long your project might take. But there is a general schedule we can tell you about. We list the major steps below, and provide some estimates of the time required for some of them.
Choosing Your Team
Getting the right team together is the first thing you should do. We talk about selecting your architect in another section.
if you have a new house project in mind, or will be expanding your existing house, you will need a property survey. A land surveyor will make a map of your property with varying levels of detail depending on the project, the site, and the requirements of your local governing agency. It’s a good idea to start your survey right away, since many surveying companies are backlogged. We can help you find a surveyor for your property.
If you already have a trusted contractor who’s capable of building your project in the correct style, the architect, surveyor, and contractor will complete your team for now. If you don’t have a contractor selected yet, let us help you with some names. Klopf Architecture works with many contractors who specialize in modern homes, Mid-Century Modern, Eichler, and Sea Ranch construction. If it’s Net-Zero Energy or Passive House you’re looking for, we have contractors in mind for that, too.
Starting the Design
For a new house project we will need the survey before we can start designing. For an addition project we need the survey, but we also need to measure your house. This is called the Existing Conditions (or As-Builts) phase. At Klopf Architecture we create a 3-D model of your house in the computer. The model helps us all visualize the designs as we proceed, and also makes it more efficient for us to create the technical drawings. This phase can take about 2-3 weeks from the day we measure.
After the Existing Conditions are modeled and/or we have the survey in hand, the design can begin in earnest. This is the Conceptual Design Phase. We draw floor plan layouts by hand or in our CAD system in this phase, and sometimes create perspective views, elevations, etc. At this stage we’re working on the flow of the building, the admission of light, and the connection to nature, the massing, and the preliminary proportioning and materiality. This phase can take as long as you want it to, or we can rush it for you (not recommended for most clients). If you want to let the designs soak in so you really get to know them before moving forward, we’ll take our time between meetings. If the project is big or complicated it can take longer. We create the initial designs for new house projects in about a month or more. Remodels or addition-remodel projects can projects take between 1-4 weeks for this phase.
Deciding on Your Design
Once you’ve reviewed the initial conceptual designs, we invite your honest criticism and feedback. Providing clear direction about what you like, don’t like, and would like to add really helps us move your design forward efficiently. The objective is to get going in the right direction as much as possible from the get-go. It’s easy to change the designs now when they’re no more than a few lines “on paper.” Changes get progressively harder as the project goes on.
We usually meet with you via zoom to review the concepts together. We will then take your feedback into account as we make our next round of designs for your project. Usually 2-3 rounds are all it takes to get down to a design direction that we’ll develop.
Once everyone has agreed on a single design the Schematic Design Phase starts. From that point on the time each project takes will vary significantly. Some projects can go from here to preliminary pricing in 6 weeks. Others can take 6 months. Larger and more complicated projects will take longer; the longest we’ve seen so far is 12 months. Some projects are too small for preliminary pricing, and some contractors are not able to provide it, so depending on your project we may or may not solicit preliminary budgeting input from builders.
Once you’ve had the opportunity to finalize your project scope and you authorize us to continue developing the design, we work toward your construction start in two parallel paths. One path usually takes longer than the other.
On the longer path, we design the project in more detail, usually including interior design, materials selection, construction details, specification writing, and drawings that show alignments and dimensions. The purpose of this path is to create a construction set of drawings that allows the builder to know what most elements of the project are, and where to put them. They’ll use this detailed set of drawings and specifications to create their final price.
On the shorter path we handle the technical side of the project. This includes code compliance, coordination with other professionals, coordination with the local governing agencies, and applying on your behalf for planning and building department approvals (and sometimes other related approvals).
At some point along the way, we’ll tell you if your project requires a separate Planning Department review. If so, that review can add anywhere from a couple months to more than a year to the schedule of a normal project. In some areas (like San Francisco) neighbor complaints during the Planning Review process can cause serious delays, making a year-plus-long approvals process last for much longer. Hopefully this will not happen to you!
Once the Planning Department approves the project, the Building Department needs a chance to review everything. They usually distribute your plan sets to Public Works, the Fire Department, and the County Assessor. Depending on the project and the jurisdiction, your building approval can be as quick as over-the-counter (instant approval), a “pre-Covid” schedule of about 4 weeks for the first round of comments, or even a few months in the post-Covid environment in some jurisdictions. Almost always there are comments, although Klopf Architecture has gotten a few projects through with no architectural comments. Each member of the team (usually the structural engineer and the architect) will respond to their comments quickly and re-submit to the Building Department for what is hopefully the final review. This could add another 2-4 weeks to the approvals time-frame.
Entering into a Construction Contract
Once the drawings are at the appropriate level of completeness for your project, contractors will need roughly 4 weeks to create fixed-price bids, or maybe a bit longer for a complex new house project. This is true whether you’re competitively bidding the project or just asking one contractor to bid. You’ll probably spend another couple of weeks agreeing on a contract and signing it. This can be done along-side of project design and documentation if you enter into a negotiated situation with a contractor instead of bidding the project competitively once drawings and specifications are complete. We usually allow for roughly 2 months from the date we send out the pricing documents to bid and the start of construction.
Construction time varies significantly depending on the project. A bathroom replacement could be done in two months or less, but an addition / remodel of a Mid-Century Modern home could take 8-12 months (or longer if the project is extensive). The Manzanita House took about 9 months to build; the Cupertino Net-Zero Energy Modern House took about 17 months. New homes these days will be on the longer end of that spectrum.
What Else Can Make a Project Take Longer?
That is covered in the risks of construction section. Be aware that increased demand on labor has and will continue to make it difficult for contractors to build quickly. We expect this to continue for the near term given the high demand for housing and housing-related construction in our area.