What’s the Scope and What’s the Cost? How to get to the Design

What’s the Scope and What’s the Cost? How to get to the Design

As the economy heats up we’ve found ourselves discussing the design process and what to expect with potential clients repeatedly. We decided it would be good to share some of this information with you. We know many of you want to build or do a remodel but, like most of our clients, have little idea how much it will cost, how to budget for it or how the process works. In addition, clients also have little idea about how long the design and construction process takes. They may have a rough idea of a scope of work but not how much money is needed to execute the project. It is for this reason that we try to enter into contract with a client that allows for an initial period of design exploration and client education. Many times the project changes as we move through this initial work.

In this post, we offer some advice from the architect’s side.

Let’s say it is the very beginning of the design process and you are meeting with an architect for the first time. What is the scope of the project? First let’s define what a scope of work is. It starts with a program, or a set of problems and then after analysis and synthesis, becomes a list of solutions. For example, we like to cook but the kitchen does not function well. Additionally, we like to entertain and use our back yard but there is no connection to the exterior from the kitchen. The scope of work in this example is to remodel the kitchen, or move it to an addition that opens to the back yard. It is a back and forth kind of process.

The preliminary work of the architect is to look at the program and a client’s initial scope of work, analyze, then see what opportunities and constraints exist. We usually charge an hourly fee and set number of hours during which we get to know each other, ask questions, and explore design ideas. The result is a preliminary or schematic set of drawings mostly showing space layout and a rough cost per square foot budget number. This is a good number that can be used to re-define the scope if necessary.

Consider that after an initial investment in design time, you will have a schematic diagrammatic plan that shows:
1. opportunities laid out in a floor plan showing improved flow, better daylighting, and a refined space configuration.
2. some strategies for how to do the work and which areas give you more bang for the buck.
3. preliminary cost per square foot budgeting to use in your decision.

This preliminary plan is only the beginning of design. It is the big picture- the master plan. It does not include the details or all the answers. What’s to come is how it will be constructed, how large it is, fixture specifications, lighting design, interior finish selections and all the elements of the design that need to be decided on. As we say, design is a process that adds layer upon layer of information though continuous editing.

In order to get a budget established in this early stage, we will use a per square foot cost. In the Bay Area, for residential construction, the multiplier starts at $350 to $400 per square foot and can easily go up from there. Multiply the area of the remodel and addition by $350 to get a base construction cost. Then add a contingency of 20 or 30%. Note this budget number does not include site costs, such as development costs, driveways, decks, patios, landscaping or the so called “soft costs” which are permit fees, architect’s fees, structural engineering fees, or any other consultants. We will state it here now: things cost money, and in the Bay Area, its expensive.

Now for a general discussion about project scope. In general terms, projects have the following three constraints: scope, time and cost. These constraints form a triangle, AKA, the “Iron Triangle”. Quality is a fourth factor that can be layered with scope. In other words, the scope/quality of a project is affected by time and cost. If you change any one of the factors, the other two are affected. Here is an example: if you increase the scope of the project, the time it will take and the cost of it will go up. If you want the project to cost less, the design will be of lower quality or it will be a smaller project (scope).

The Iron Triangle is a studied model for business and project management. Design is a process where decisions are made and problems solved. In a project, these processes, design and construction, are managed with orientation to these three elements of the triangle. The study of project management is an interesting field but we’ll save that for later.

In our next post, now that the scope of work is defined, we will discuss what comes next which is to develop the design further….

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