News and Views

Addition & Alteration in Historic College Park featured in Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article

We are delighted to have an article on one of our designs featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, along with photographs. It was written by Lori Johnston of Fast Copy News Service. Please check it out at this link, and click in the article to see the 25 pictures of the home:

If you’ve followed our occasional blog posts, you’ll have seen this project as we followed its progress from design through local permit review, to substantial completion, and now at last to become the home it is designed to be!

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Repair & Renovation in Historic Westview

“But I already had that extra Kitchen upstairs. I never have rented it out as an apartment — just use it for my kids’ craft room.”

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The Plan Review Intake Official at the City would not allow the set of drawings to be submitted for permitting until the so-called “illegal second kitchen” was either approved by the Zoning Department or else shown as being demolished.

The owner reluctantly agreed that it was quicker to show the extra “kitchen” to be removed, so that she could get her house repaired and move back in. Read on to find out what we did.


Many repeat clients trust us to deliver on renovations and repair projects. Our firm provides architecture and related services for many new commercial buildings and custom residences, as well.

We understand the nitty-gritty of construction and aren’t afraid to be immersed in a scene to document existing conditions. We’re familiar with permitting in areas we serve. We assist, first, with compliant documents, plus offer submittal services and address comments and questions from local plan reviewers.


The anecdote at the beginning of this post is an example from one of our past projects. Here are some further details about that project.

Awhile back, Southeast Studios designed, documented, and permitted renovations to a damaged property in the City of Atlanta neighborhood of Westview, a beautiful, older section, now seeing renovation. The rear quarter of a 1930s bungalow had been crushed by a falling tree during an intense storm.

We met a construction superintendent on-site on August 5 of that year, performed field observations & related services, then produced documentation in CAD that included required demolition, framing and construction docs. This took about 3 weeks, after which we submitted to the city for permitting, processing them through the reviews on behalf of the insurer's GC.

We responded to delays by zoning and site development reviewers because:

  • no survey had been done by the owner or GC, as required by the City;
  • the project was within Atlanta's Beltline Overlay District, a complex zoning condition recently imposed on top of existing zoning requirements — all of which were met, but which needed verification;
  • the house (built in the 1930s or earlier) intruded into its right side yard by 2" (yes, two inches) — side yard setbacks weren’t imposed here until the 1960s, but this required documentation on a survey.

So, of course, everything ground to a halt until we resolved these issues. We procured a survey, pronto, submitted it to the authorities having jurisdiction, and it was reviewed.

At the plan reviewer’s request, we submitted further documentation that no changes were being made by the supposed “intrusion” into the side yard of the existing building being repaired.

And what about that “second kitchen”? It was one of a couple of un-permitted remodelings made in the past by a prior owner. Unfortunately, authorities required us to call for their removal in our drawings, which we did in short order, in the demolition plan.

Once issues were addressed, the permit application was approved, fees were paid, and construction commenced.

The permit was issued by September 18 — just over a month-and-a-half from our start, which was reasonably good for the City of Atlanta at that time, especially considering delays to obtain a survey. We perceive that they are working diligently to improve upon this.

Would you like to have a copy of our infographic, “Building Permit Process Guide”? There is no charge for this, just CLICK HERE to download your copy of this handy reference!

"Why can't I find a Contractor?” —a Recent Dialog with someone who wanted to Alter his house & Build a small Addition

Recently, I addressed a question from a consumer on a forum about altering his home and adding a very small addition. Paraphrasing for brevity, he asked,

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  • “I don’t know why this is so difficult. I had three quotes for upgrading from a half bath to a full bath, but then the builders quit responding when it came time to start the job! Thankfully, I'm smart enough not to have given them any money up front. Please help with suggestions on a reputable contractor or handyman. I have a half-bath. I need to demolish a wall to make it three feet bigger, then add a tiled shower, enclosed with glass, etc.“

While I don’t know the exact reasons why this person’s contractors all disappeared, I had a few thoughts related to this.

  • A lot of contractors are busy right now, as are many architects. This may slow in the Fall and Winter, if you're able to adjust your timeline. A wee bit of scheduling flexibility could put you in a better position.
  • I have a question. Did you sign a written contract with any of these “contractors”?
  • As for money, once one of them starts work, you’ll have more leverage over a licensed contractor who gets paid but walks away than over a non-licensed one doing the same. This is because taking money for a construction project without performing the work jeopardizes a legitimate license and may rise to the level of a crime that could end a career and even result in jail time.
  • Contractors who bother to obtain a license are careful to maintain it in good standing, as it's hard to get and more difficult to get reinstated after a sanction.
  • Those who act as fake "general contractors" without a license are already in serious violation of the law if licensing is required in their jurisdiction in order to build. Some of these don’t care about adherence to basic, sound building principles, either — they want only to get in, get paid, and "get away with it". If they don’t escape, they face big fines and jail time, indeed!
  • Your project could require a licensed residential contractor and a building permit in your jurisdiction. (Everyone should check their own!) As a precaution, ask your home insurer ahead of time if it covers work done by non-licensed firms, or work performed without a permit, where required by local ordinance or code.
  • For example, if a non-qualified person wires a new switch and ceiling light in your addition, what happens if that faulty wiring sets off a fire that burns down your entire home? What if a legally added part damages a non-permitted portion of your home? Would your insurance still cover you?
  • If your friendly insurance agent isn’t so friendly about these situations, you’d better be careful!
  • So what, if your insurance doesn’t cover some loss to your property? Ask your mortgage holder if there may be potential foreclosure ramifications if your property’s value happens to be reduced, for any cause at all, related to those mentioned here. Why take such a risk?

Be sure to obtain services from licensed, insured, and qualified providers, who meet local codes for all alterations and additions to your home.

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Sketch credit: Section Sketch of an Addition to a Medieval French Country Manor by Greg Mix. Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved.

(Updated from August 18, 2016, at 4:47 PM)

3D Design & Mid-Project Changes, or,"What is my Architect Doing to Me?"

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Would you rather pay lots of money to design a project, and then pay that money all over again because you discover the design isn’t what you expected? Or would you rather be able to see the it in 3-dimensional drawings from early in the design process?

The most expensive time to make changes in construction is after something has been built — it’s cheap to make changes during design. In the same way, the most expensive time to make a change in a design is after it’s already fully designed and detailed — so you’ll want  to learn as early as possible what your architect’s solution will look like!

We begin to generate 3-dimensional drawings very early in the design process to help you see what you’re getting before we go too far along a path that you may not prefer. You’ll benefit when you:

  • See what you’re getting more clearly;
  • Understand a proposed design with greater certainty;
  • Make clearer decisions;
  • Make decisions sooner to help the project go faster;
  • Save money by making decisions earlier;
  • Show other project participants & investors the design to gain support.
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The use of clear 3D design drawings was recently made very clear, when we were asked to improve a 19,000 square foot home off of West Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta. What designer actually drew this? Was it the lowest-bid drafter? If the designer, indeed, presented the owner readable drawings, did he explain the effect that the design would have on property value? Apparently not.

When a home like this goes up for auction, something’s wrong! Indeed, the developer upgrading this structure for resale sought to improve the curb appeal of this mansion to match its many good features. It was important for him to understand how our proposed new details would add value by giving the home greater street appeal.

Then, before we got very far along, disaster struck — a huge old tree was knocked down in a storm and destroyed the front portion of the foyer. This necessitated not only an aesthetic re-working of the surface materials, but now a complete structural upgrade to meet current codes in the portion to be rebuilt.

Arden Road Sketch

Our familiarity with the procedures in the insurance industry and documentation of damage repair came in to use, although unexpectedly.  With the added costs and unexpected delays, it was even more important to help the client understand how our redesign would improve his property’s standing in the market when done.

We first did a few quick, sketchy overlays to test our ideas. Then, we quickly moved to our 3D modeling program. Based on early design drawings, the developer and contractor were able to offer feedback and approvals for us to proceed with design development and refine our details. With those phases completed, we proceeded with construction documents and assisted with submittals for the building permit.

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We showed him very clear 3D views, gained approval, and gave his GC early design docs to allow review of the feasibility of our proposed design without having to await full construction drawings that would be more costly to change.

Since the 3D model embodies most of the drawing of the building, we were well under way toward the construction documents when given the go-ahead. Thus, the latter portion of the process is also made more efficient by using the 3D model. Check out how we build our drawings on our earlier blog post, if you’d like more info.

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This project  brings home some important lessons. Hire experienced and capable architects who have a mastery of the ways of documenting and communicating the proposed appearance of your project. Pay them to spend enough time designing and showing you options through their drawings and other documents, so that you understand what you’ll be getting in the end. Bring your contractor to the table early to assure constructibility and reasonable costs.

As of this writing, the project is under review by the local building department, with our submittal assistance. We hope to update this post as it progresses through the permit, into construction, and a delighted new owner!

If you’d like more information on the permitting process, CLICK HERE.

Aging in Place — the Accessible Bath

Much is made of the term, “Aging in Place”, these days. Many adults are approaching the age where we may not need to work any longer to maintain our lifestyle, while we’re still healthy and active.

Here’s a question

While you’re active, would you rather stay in the familiar surroundings of your neighborhood or relocate away from your established roots and those you know?

While some are choosing retirement communities, where all residents must be 55 years or older, increasing numbers are remodeling to make it easier to stay home as we age.

Many of us are considering whether to leave our current homes or stay, or we’re deciding between building nearby or going to a “retirement community” that consists only of older folks.

Not too long ago, some clients contacted Southeast Studios, regarding the design of a new home in their rural Georgia community. He’s very fit, in his early 70s, and she’s in her early 60s with progressive conditions that may increasingly limit her mobility.

Both of them are highly independent and want to stay close to family and friends. They have no intention of leaving their home permanently unless medically necessary, so adjusting a few features in their bath design should meet both of their needs for quite some time, going forward. Here’s what we did.


We made sure all the spaces are open enough to be wheelchair-friendly. Even if you’re not in a wheelchair, this can help with mobility. Walkers, crutches, and canes often need a bit more floor space to maneuver, as well. We made sure that certain spaces had at least a 5’ diameter clear area, so it’s easier to turn around. For example, getting into the shower or tub, or transferring to the toilet may require designated space for a chair or walker.

Watch for more pointers on how our architects design to meet the particular needs of our clients, especially making sure that you’ll be able to enjoy your home when you’re in top shape — or even when you aren’t!

If you’d like to be sure you know when we have more info, sign up by clicking here and we’ll give you a free bonus.

Why do I need an Architect? Part 2

Last week, we wrote about the pitfalls of starting a building project without an architect. So, what, exactly, does an architect do for you?

First, we protect all the parties by establishing standards that apply to your project.

For a typical project, here’s how we set standards so that you, our client, get the results you want:

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• To help you avoid surprises, we analyze and evaluate your needs and wants, so your project turns out the best way possible — and we verify the codes your project needs to meet. This is called the “Pre-Design Phase”.

• So you can have a general idea of the layout and look, we sketch it roughly, while it’s still easy (and far less expensive!) to change. We make these adjustments on tracing paper or in a computer sketch. This is called the “Schematic Design Phase”. You’ll be able to make lots of changes here.

• To make sure everything works and is buildable, we adjust and refine the design with your input along the way. This is called the “Design Development Phase”. It’s still very inexpensive to make changes at this stage, and it’s where we work with you to tighten dimensions of rooms, based on your needs. We help you establish what you’re trying to accomplish and enable you to visualize your project through sketches, drawings and our 3D images before you ever commit to go forward with construction. You can make further changes here.

• Once you approve the design we’ve done for you, we show it with greater detail in technical drawings and written specifications. This is called the “Construction Document Phase”. These become a major part of the contract between the owner and the builder to construct the building. They’re also used for submitting to local permitting authorities to seek a building permit, so we often make adjustments to address their comments, helping make sure your building conforms to code requirements. You can still make changes here, since cost ramifications may be slight, compared to changes during construction.

• Construction documents then go to the builder for pricing, and we answer questions to assist this process. Once your building is under construction, we visit the site on occasion to observe and help ensure that construction complies with ideas shown in our construction documents. There are always variations, and substitutions that may be proposed. We’re ready to help work through these details with builder and owner. This is the “Contract Administration Phase”.

This is a tried and proven process that has been developed and refined over the years between the AIA (American Institute of Architects) and the rest of the building industry. It protects good clients and good contractors, so that everyone achieves the sturdy and useful satisfaction of an excellent building with a long, useful life.

Most of the services provided by an architect precede producing the construction drawings, or “blueprints”. Those are just the way we communicate our services. Here’s what they should do for you — a good set of construction docs:

• is based on adequate Pre-Design due-diligence by the architect — this identifies potential issues such as zoning, setbacks, regulations and land configuration to be addressed in the design and document phases;

• is an essential part of the agreement between owner and builder, so everybody knows what the built result will be;

• sets a baseline standard for the project that honorable builders and owners respect but that can be used as a last resort to protect all parties legally;

• protects the public, above all, from harm, and thus shields the owner from liability due to code violations;

• helps the owner, even if a change is needed, by showing where and how extensive the change may be;

• helps identify issues early, during the design phase, when it’s MUCH CHEAPER to make changes than during construction;

• reduces bad surprises, such as unexpected code violations that can shut down a project and delay completion;

• reassures local officials who otherwise might take a “hard line” against property owners who present inadequate documents to get a permit;

• allows the project to run with fewer delays to answer unnecessary questions;

• reassures quality builders that they’re bidding “apples-to-apples”, encouraging the best to work on your project;

• assures good GCs that their work is clearly defined — if they know what standards to meet to get them paid on time, they’ll work faster and more efficiently, saving time and money for the client.

A logical, straightforward process always works best; it avoids call-backs, warranty claims, and outright liability for damages caused by hidden defects.

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Blueprint for Getting a Building Permit!

Why do I need an Architect? Part 1

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If you find this content useful, please sign up for an occasional email update — PLUS you’ll be able to download our free guide, Blueprint for Getting a Building Permit!

So, someone just urged you not to hire an architect. Why is that?

If you’re a property owner, maybe it was a contractor. Or if you’re a builder, your customer may have asked you to build without “wasting time or money on drawings” — he just wanted to “tell” you what to build without an architect. How would you do that?

Some cities don’t review plans before issuing building permits. This leaves the owner, the contractor, and the public exposed to those who fail to adhere even to the lowest standards of construction. Why would a contractor try to persuade you not to hire an architect? And why would an owner not want a GC to work from a clear set of plans? In the combined 75+ years of experience of our partners, we’ve seen this pattern many times, and it’s a red flag!

Partial Building Section at entry porch.

Both owners and builders involved in projects, especially smaller ones, often ask, “Why do I need an architect?”

Southeast Studios, Inc., works with and for many excellent general contractors. I know this won’t offend the majority of those who do a great job. We’re happy to refer and give them good recommendations — and happily we earn theirs, along with our many other clients’ good will.

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A few contractors try to discourage project owners from using a thorough set of contract drawings. Really? What kind of contractor ignores his contract? After all, these drawings and specs are the contract between Owner and General Contractor and protect both parties’ interests.

Inexperienced owners may believe that an architect just “gets in the way” of the actual construction. They try to rush the process and often find their match in a builder who does not take time to plan, either. These projects usually have an extra phase, called the “litigation phase”.

Architects’ services seem like a big ticket item, so it’s tempting to go along with those (from both sides) who claim they "don’t need blueprints” — until you’re amid a giant change order with no backup. Penny wise and pound foolish!

Even a minimal set of documents prepared by your architect gives you a basic contract to get your building built right. There are many more reasons than just a good set of contract documents, but you should hire an architect at least for that. A decent design and set of construction documents is essential and saves money for both owner and builder. Your savings are likely greater than the fees paid to your architect.

Good GC’s want an architect to do a decent set of plans, but mediocre ones hate the very thought. Good builders often walk away from projects that don’t have good construction documents. As an owner, do you want to see the best contractors refuse your project?

A contractor with an obviously incorrect bid once offered my client a $10,000 reduction in construction price to eliminate my services from that point forward!

I’ve repeatedly heard some of the worst builders swear they don’t use “blueprints” — and I’ve believed them when I saw their work.

A couple approached me to provide a set of construction documents, supposedly to be so strict that the builder would inevitably “make a mistake”, supposedly allowing them to sue him and get their house “for free”. When I explained how the documents protected both parties — as my obligation by law — with the builder allowed to correct errors — they left, quite upset.

One builder had a clause in his contract that specifically excluded any obligation on his part to build in accordance with any drawings or specs provided by the client or architect.

Sometimes, we even protect our clients from spending money on our own construction documents when our up-front, “Pre-Design Phase” research reveals problems.

Of course, the best set of construction documents in the world won’t fully protect you from a real crook, but it helps!

Our documents’ clarity recently helped a client win a legal case against a truly awful builder who had sued him after being fired for failure to perform; then the owner won a $10,000 judgment against the bad builder for damages. His building was finished by an excellent builder. Yes, anyone would rather avoid such unpleasantness, but at least good “blueprints” can avoid a more major loss.

You need good design, you need good permit & construction docs, you need a good builder, and to get these, you need a good architect!

Why You need a Survey

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As architects, we have worked on hundreds of projects over several decades. We often hear questions such as, “I just bought a house. I’d like to do a little upgrade and addition. I need to know where to start. What do I do?” The short answer is, “Get a survey.” Read on for more details.

A. What Do I Own?

1. Boundaries

A basic Boundary Survey answers this question. It will let you know where your property lines are located so that you don’t build on someone else’s property. It can also tell you if someone else has built on your property, whether inadvertently or on purpose.

Not too long ago, we advised someone in a situation where a neighbor had built a garage on her mother’s property after her mother was placed in a nursing home. He apparently believed no one would notice. He used an unlicensed builder and built without a permit. The owner’s daughter obtained a survey and used it to force the neighbor to demolish his unwanted building, compensate her mother for the trespass, and recover her attorney fees.

Maybe you bought your house and you didn’t have to have a survey when you bought it. That’s the case in many places now, even though it’s unwise. You should get a survey because you’ll need it sooner than later. Southeast Studios Principal Architect Greg Mix mentioned the following:

“My father and mother were in the real estate business all of their lives.  A survey used to be required before one could apply for a mortgage.  After all, how could you know what you were buying without having it surveyed?  At some point in the late nineties this requirement was dropped.  This seems very irresponsible.”

A good survey by a competent, state licensed surveyor is the best way to provide your architects with essential information they will need before they can begin the design process.  In fact, we recommend that you consult an architect and a surveyor before you purchase the land.

Yet that isn’t all that needs to be shown in a survey if you’re planning a project. To be useful in designing your building, the survey should describe features of your property, legal and other restrictions, and show nearby utility access.

B. What Features are on my Property?

The features of your property that need to be shown on your survey for planning purposes include:

  1. Topography, Soil Conditions, & Erosion Control;
  2. Flood Plains, Wetlands, & Waterways;
  3. Trees, Archaeological Sites, and other conditions.

1. Topography, Soil Conditions, and Erosion Control

Topography shows how much your property slopes. This is a very important influence on the cost of construction, type of foundation (slab, crawl space, basement, or piers, for example), good drainage and moisture management, views onto and off of the property, and other factors.

Recently, some clients purchased one of the last remaining residential lots in an older golfing community and inquired about our design services for a custom residence. We found that there was a reason why no one had built on this lot.

We asked them to get a survey and referred them to a Civil Engineer/Surveyor whom we trust.  We reviewed their survey with the Civil Engineer and discovered it to be very steep, seventy-five feet up from front to rear, plus it had a Stream Buffer running down one side of it.  The cost of building on the site was simply too high — and that’s if we could even design a driveway that was not too steep to meet safety standards!

These folks are now stuck with a piece of property that will be very difficult to sell. It’s hard to sell a piece of land once you discover it is unsuitable for your intended purpose, especially if zoning legally restricts it to one type of use.  Having learned about these conditions, real estate disclosure laws may now require that they inform any prospective buyer of them.

You can see from this illustration why it’s important to ask for a Topographic Survey, as well as a basic boundary survey. It will show the contours of your land, usually for every two feet of rise or fall, and your architect will use those to help place the house for maximum advantage.

While surveys do not show hidden soil conditions, obvious surface soil features, such as rock outcroppings may be recorded. If these visible conditions so indicate, you may choose to have geotechnical engineers test your soil either before purchasing the property or before planning a construction project. This can save you from cost disasters, such as having to blast underground rock, or correcting for soil that’s too soft to support your foundation.

Nowadays, our society is very concerned with the quality of water. It’s shown that soil erosion is a major contributor to pollution of our rivers, streams, and lakes, and the law requires individual property owners to protect others off of their property from anything that flows off of their land. “This means YOU!”

Another function of the topographic survey is to allow for the design of erosion control measures in the final site plan of your project, and it will almost certainly be required in order to obtain a building permit. Worse, if it isn’t done, anyone nearby, such as neighbors, and some folks far away, such as river advocacy groups, can file legal complaints against you and can sue you for substantial sums of money.

It may seem a bit more costly to obtain a survey that includes this information, but it’s cheaper than fixing the problems later.

2. Flood Plains, Waterways, & Wetlands

Surveyors are required to identify the presence of known flood plains, based on maps from the government. You will either see a note on your survey stating that the property is not in a flood plain or you will see a contour on the topographic portion identifying the location of the flood plain. This has very important building placement, construction cost, risk, and insurance implications, so be sure you are aware of these.

Federal, state, and local governments now place substantial restrictions on how close construction may come to creeks, streams, lakes, swamps, and other protected bodies of water. These restrictions were not always there, so you may see older construction that intrudes into such areas. In some instances, it may mean that you cannot add onto an existing building, much less build anything new. Be sure your survey identifies any such waterways that may affect your project.

The Federal Government severely restricts any form of land disturbance in any areas identified as “wetlands”. These areas are major filtration areas that help keep other waterways clean, and their ecological balance is often very sensitive to any intrusion. This is why these restrictions carry such extreme penalties. These areas are administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must consider any request for a permit to disturb them. Just because you get a local building permit does not mean that you are clear to build in a Federally identified wetland, so be sure your survey identifies such areas on your property or states that no such conditions exist.

3. Trees, Archaeological Sites, and other Conditions

This is a catch-all, but it’s a reminder not just to use this or any other list blindly.

sample survey by Gaddy Surveying and Design

Many communities are concerned about excessive tree loss, so there are often ordinances to protect against their undue removal. Often, there are fees for this removal and even more substantial fines for removing trees without first obtaining a permit. You will want your surveyor to identify any trees larger than a bole diameter of about 3”-4”, or whatever size your local tree ordinance may specify. From that, a “tree-save plan” will be prepared, if required as part of your building permit documents.

Sample Survey by Gaddy Surveying and Design

More rarely, places of significance may be discovered that can interfere with successful completion of your project. If you are in an area known for past presence of ancient cultures, old battlefields, cemeteries, and similar cultural artifacts, it may  be prudent to try to identify the possible location of such places ahead of time, rather than having construction halted, offending those with an interest, or having the future value of your property affected negatively.

C. How am I Restricted?

Not all restrictions will be recorded on a land survey, although some are able to be shown, while others must be shown on a site plan in order to receive a municipal building permit or permission from a homeowner association (HOA) to start construction.

1. Zoning

Zoning restrictions occur at the local government level. These include:

a. usage restrictions;

b. building envelope restrictions;

c. lot coverage & floor area ratio limitations.

Usage restrictions regulate activities on a piece of property and are enforced by withholding building permits for non-conforming uses. For example, it is usually difficult or impossible to establish hazardous manufacturing facilities immediately adjacent to single family residences without substantial distances and buffers. It is common for a survey to cite the “zoning district” from the local zoning map. You should ask your surveyor to provide this information.

Common pieces of information on surveys will include “building setback lines” and similar building envelope restrictions. These establish closest distances from the property lines at which owners may locate their buildings. These “no-build zones” are called front, side, and rear yards in most zoning ordinances. Ask ahead of time to be sure your surveyor will show these.

In addition, there will likely be setback lines from various easements that might cross your property. These could include underground utilities, waterways and certain protected features such as trees, cemeteries, and others.

2. Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CCR’s)

CCR’s are additional restrictions on the use of property in planned communities. These are in addition to zoning regulations and are enforced by the homeowners association (HOA) of the community. These rules will be registered with the county, and the HOA will have legal authority to enforce them. Among many others, they may include:

a. architectural guidelines, often aesthetic, or setting home size ranges;

b. accessory structure & fencing limitations;

c. landscaping requirements;

d. parking and other activity restrictions.

These are not readily shown on land surveys. Landscaping requirements sometimes require that a landscape plan by a Registered Landscape Architect  (RLA) be submitted for review by an Architectural Control Committee prior to being allowed to start construction. This may be produced as an overlay on your survey, so you may wish to put the RLA in touch with your surveyor.

D. Utilities

Utilities are important pieces of information on your survey for several reasons. First, your architect will need to know where they enter your property in order to show connections to your proposed building. Second, if any utilities cross your property, there will likely be restrictions on your uses of the property in those locations. (You really didn’t want to rip open that gas pipeline to put in your foundation, did you?)

a. water supply;

b. sanitary sewers;

c. storm drainage;

d. power supply;

e. buried cable;

f. fuel supply (often natural gas).

Some of these will be underground, such as water supply lines, sewers, and storm drainage pipes, while others may either be buried or overhead, such as power lines and cable. Be sure that your surveyor shows these conditions, as they may substantially affect your building design and placement on your land.

Reviewing your survey is part of our standard Pre-Design Phase services. Look for future posts on steps to take in preparing to work with an architect in designing your building construction project.

Avoid Costly Mistakes in Your Building Project —From the Outset

In our last post, we identified the phases of a project. To finish a project the most economically and efficiently, start with a good foundation. This is true of the building, but it’s even more true of the planning process. The beginning of a project will determine the outcome and have impacts proportionally greater than almost any subsequent activity. For that reason, we spend a great amount of time up front in what’s called the “Pre-Design Phase”, particularly assessing the needs and opportunities to be answered by building or altering a structure. 

Some need or opportunity compels businesses and individuals every year to begin a construction project. Naturally, the first impulse for some is to call a builder and "just get started", though in truth this type of rash action costs thousands of dollars lost and wasted due to poor decisions. (In fact, we regularly get referrals from knowledgeable builders who have received such calls, where no architect had yet begun the planning process.) Planning a project ahead of time identifies your needs clearly and clarifies most issues before they arise, helping you budget more accurately and reduce unexpected costs.

Your architect is uniquely trained and experienced to assist you in this through services called the "Pre-design Phase". This is part of your project when information is identified, collected, assembled, and organized — before the Design Phase can begin.

Over the years, we have seen, firsthand, the disastrous results of those who failed to go through these simple, low-cost steps early in the project. We've often assisted folks in getting back on track after such a misstep, but it's always more expensive than doing it right the first time. By then, some hasty drafter and under-qualified builder are long gone with the project owner's funds. That’s why we’re writing this series — to help business owners and homeowners anticipate what may be encountered in a typical project.

The main parts of the Needs and Options Assessment are:

  1. Pre-review of property survey by email;
  2. Pre-interview with owners by phone;
  3. Property visit and review;
  4. Identifying authorities having jurisdiction;
  5. Researching applicable regulations;
  6. Code assessment of proposed improvements;
  7. Identifying other professionals that may be required to perform certain services on the project such as engineers lighting designers landscape architects and others;
  8. Determining if other codes, covenants, or regulations may affect the property;
  9. Summarizing findings and suggesting next steps for the project.

Look for future posts, where we will break each of these down into the simple steps we take with our clients. Then, read on and find out the process for getting it right.

What are the Steps in Working with an Architect?

People ask us what steps to take to start their building projects. We break these down into Phases. The Phases of most construction projects are:

  1. Pre-Design;
  2. Schematic Design;
  3. Design Development;
  4. Construction Documents; and
  5. Construction Contract Administration.

A few years ago, less experienced clients might call an Architect and say, “Draw me some blueprints,” or “I need a set of plans.” Neither of these phrases was ever quite correct, and still isn’t, but they became vernacular ways of viewing Architectural services. Unfortunately, many people think that an Architect just “draws plans”. We do far more than this, of course, though we expect to deliver a practical, buildable set of Construction Documents as part of our services.

If you read the list above, the Construction Documents are the fourth Phase of how Architects assist clients in getting their projects built the right way. It’s interesting that this is the next-to-last phase of a project — yet many other tasks must precede it. It’s only one part of the overall process, though an important one.

With increasingly rare opportunities to obtain desirable properties in most areas, ever more restrictive regulations impact what can be built. Our Pre-Design services help find how your Project may be built to meet such requirements.  In posts to follow, we’ll break each of these into simpler pieces and identify what happens with each.

The extensive experience of our Principal Architects leads us to realize how important the Pre-Design Phase is to every project. With emphasis on this essential, “due diligence” part of every building effort, we’ll expand on each of the phases of construction projects in future posts. But, Pre-Design holds the key to your project. Read on to see how!

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