Designing a building with a design team works best if you set clear goals and targets for your project, provide clarity and candid feedback, a realistic budget, and keep up the momentum during the design process. Here are a few pointers to start a conversation about a fruitful process based on past project experience.
Be on the same page.
Before you start work with us, make sure you and your partners, or stakeholders agree on some critical aspects of your building:
Having a building site is a must to start the planning process. Since you cannot pick up your real estate and take it with you, this is perhaps the most important decision you make. Additionally, site selection impacts your overall cost significantly. Not all lots are created equally and the so-called “site development cost” are easily overlooked, or under-estimated when making initial budgets. Build an understanding for access, utilities and the general conditions on your site to ensure that making the site buildable is covered in your overall budget.
Size is usually the biggest cost driver and opportunity to meet your budget. We encourage to distinguish between what is a room and what is a function to optimize the scope and scale of your project. We have decades of experience in assisting with this conversation and helping you create the most sustainable design to meet your program and budget now, and create a building that meets and exceeds your expections well into the future.
Who is building the house?
Your selection of a general contractor, or builder is another significant informers of cost and process. It therefore deserves a lot of your attention. We generally assist our clients with contractor selection. As pioneers in the Passive House space, we are also used to very actively supporting our project contractors—at times helping with unique and specific items all the way through purchase order and delivery to site for installation.
The perceived quality of a build is in the finish level, fixtures, amenities and its durability; it can impact cost significantly. Since the quality of a project manifests itself in the things you experience, see and touch, you may have more firm expectations here and be less willing to compromise. It is therefore important to communicate clearly what quality expectations you have right from the start. The good news for a Passive House project is that you get unparalleled comfort, indoor air quality and resilience out of the box, and high-performance components are generally better made by design, and offer enhanced durability at no additional cost.
Initial investments in comfort and energy efficiency have a smaller impact on the project cost but inform performance and operating cost for the life of the building; therefore, they need to be looked at as an investment that produces significant value and money in your pocket from day one, which grows over time.
Having clarity and alignment on project parameters is paramount and will help the project start smoothly.
We recommend that you make a list of what your expectations for the project are, and then rank them to help the design and build team to catch up with you. Examples of important project parameters are:
- Program (room list)
- Room vs. function: Which activity needs its own space, or can be combined with other activities in other rooms
- Form/ looks/ style
- Features and amenities
- Finish level and materials
- Fixtures and equipment
- Durability, maintenance and replacement
- Energy efficiency
- Project certification
Once your list is complete, take a break, and revisit it to add a qualifier for things that are “must-haves” versus things that are “nice-to-haves”.
Providing a realistic Development Budget for the project is your number one responsibility as owner and developer.
Know & communicate your budget.
Do some prep work. Look at your current finances. Talk to others who have done projects in your area, or similar projects to gain an understanding for cost and cost ranges. TE Studio’s designs are very unique in regards to performance, so the final product may not compare easily to the bulk of what is being built out there. At the same time, we strive to utilize construction methods and materials that most builders are very familiar with—optimizing construction cost. Talk to a financial advisor or mortgage loan officer. Understand what you currently have to put towards your project and how much you are willing to loan, or spend. From these numbers, we can help you build a budget.
It is key that we know what your Development Budget is, or are able to assist with the creation of a meaningful Development Budget before we start any work. This allows us to design and give you advice so that your project stays financially on track.
If we detect that the size and finish expectations for your project and your Development Budget do not align, we will let you know. It is then your decision to either increase your budget, or decrease the scope of your project. Simple as that.
Your overall budget includes everything. We call it the “Development Budget” and it typically includes a number of key cost items:
Site cost refers to the cost of your property purchase.
Site Development Cost
The properties of your site have great impact on the opportunities, challenges, level of complexity, and ultimately the cost of your project. Site development cost includes the work it takes to preparing a site to build and live on. It is often overlooked but can be significant—particularly on rural sites, urban sites with limited access, or sites with extensive topography.
This cost includes the products, materials, labor and fees to construct your building. Most people have construction cost in mind when they talk about the project cost; it is typically the biggest line item.
Site Work and Landscaping Cost
This is the cost to enhance your site and make it whole again after construction including planting of trees, building of retaining walls, outbuildings, installation of sod, restoring native landscapes, and any other site and landscape related efforts. Basic restoration of a site is always required following a construction project.
Design, Consulting and Engineering Fees
These costs include architecture, interior design, landscape design, civil engineering, structural engineering, and/or any other consultancies needed to plan your project.
You can chose to certify your project under a voluntary program such as Passive House, or GreenStar. Certification cost is usually the aggregate of a couple of line items: The effort to prepare your project for certification and submit it to the respective agency for certification, and the third-party certifier’s effort to review and certify your project.
This could be the cost of a construction loan for instance. Your financing partners will be able to advise you on the extent of financing cost to consider for your project.
We recommend that you keep a line item allowance in this category to be able outfit and decorate your new building to your liking and complete the experience.
Only you can give direction on priorities, so this becomes one of your key responsibilities.
Be able to prioritize.
Designing your dream project is exciting! You’ve likely been thinking about all the things you want it to be for some time. Often, dreams don’t match the financial reality of what you are able to afford. This is OK, and is the case for most people. In order to bring your dream to life, you will need to be able to prioritize (Do you really need that fourth bedroom? Could the kids’ playroom double as the family game room?) so that the project can keep moving and align with your budget.
We rely on your feedback and input to make a great project for you.
Give honest feedback.
We are your partners and want to design a project you will love. In order to do this, it is vital we receive honest feedback in real time. Design is an iterative process, and it will take a few iterations and rounds of feedback to land on the solution that is just right for you. If you can articulate what is and isn’t working for you while we work through the process, it will help us reach the desired goal faster.
Keep a “worry list”.
Staying on the same page with your team is key. Keep a list by the bedside table and record the items you feel need addressing. Your professional partners can only respond to questions they are aware of, and it is your responsibility to keep them posted on your concerns. On the same token, let your team know when they are doing a great job and presenting you with designs that excite you. Much like any relationship, the client-designer relationship benefits from an open line of communication and shared experience.
Keep up the momentum.
We ask that you get back to us in a week from when we provide you with design, or other information for review. That way, we can keep up the momentum and remain focused on your project.
Pay your bills on time.
If you stall on payments, your project will be put on hold. We juggle multiple projects and will dedicate our time to those that are being paid.