Tag Archives: construction contract documents

Understanding Construction Costs: Estimates vs. Bids

When planning a home remodeling or new construction project, one of the first things homeowners usually want to know is how much the work will cost. While costing is squarely in the domain of the contractor and decidedly not within the realm of the architect, explaning how contractors structure the means of costing is part of the job of the architect in educating the client as to the available approaches, and quite often advising which might be the most appropriate for their particular project. Continue reading

Choosing A General Contractor

Most medium and large construction jobs are handled by a general contractor or G.C. The general contractor may be called a builder, building contractor, remodeling contractor, etc. What makes him a “general” contractor is that he enters into a contract with the owner to complete a project and takes full responsibility to get the job done for the bid price. In general, he purchases the materials, hires the tradespeople, and brings in subcontractors to get the work done. The subcontractors are responsible to the general contractor, not to you, the owner. Continue reading

2016 California Building Standards Effective January 1, 2017

califbldgcodesThe 2016 Edition of Title 24, the California Building Standards has become effective as of January 1, 2017. The codes are revised every three years and are in conjunction primarily with the Code Change Cycle for the International Family of Codes and other Standards.

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Integrated Design Process (I.D.P.)

LEED NC 2.2-registered SLVWD Facilities Consolidation Project exemplifies results arising from the IDP process.

LEED NC 2.2-registered SLVWD Facilities Consolidation Project exemplifies results arising from the IDP process.

Integrated building design or Integrated Design Process (I.D.P.) is the name given to the high levels of collaboration and teamwork necessary to the delivery of a high performance green building project.

Charles Kibert in Sustainable Construction: Green Building Design and Delivery describes I.D.P. as design which, “considers site, energy, materials, indoor air quality, acoustics, and natural resources as well as their interrelationship with one another. In this process, a collaborative team (architects, engineers, building occupants, owners, specialists in indoor quality, materials, and energy and water efficiency) uses systems thinking to consider the building structure and systems holistically, examining how they best work together to save energy and reduce environmental impact”

IDP shown diagrammatically, depicting the ongoing feedback loops in which the original intent is considered holistically, the goals that original design intent are re-examined, tested, reconfirmed, and then integrated towards the intended result.

IDP shown diagrammatically, depicting the ongoing feedback loops in which the original design intent is considered holistically, the goals that original intent are re-examined, tested, reconfirmed, and then integrated towards the intended sustainability goals for the project.

The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building defines a truly integrative design process as one which “optimizes the interrelationships between all the elements and entities associated with building projects in the service of efficient and effective use of resources.”

Traditional design process, in which results deemed irrelevant to the design outcome are gradually eradicated from the design result over the course of the design process.

I.D.P. is characterized by early, intensive collaboration between key members of the design team. Those design decisions fundamental to the intended goal of obtaining a high performance green building are identified and substantively mapped. They are then conscientiously revisited and strengthened through mapping against other competing priorities throughout the entire duration of the design process, thus resulting in the highest, best result within the scope defined for that performance.

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District Facilities Consolidation Project located in Boulder Creek, CA is a LEED NC2.2-registered design exemplifying the benefits of implementing Integrated Design Process. Green building design goals were identified, qualified, and then sorted along with all other priorities,  early on. These initial goals were then shared collectively through the LEED charrette and other collaborative communications with all key members of the project team, resorted, and re-prioritized among all the values brought to the table by the project team, most especially those having to do with projected construction costs. This regimen of evaluation and re-evaluation was adhered to from schematic design, through design development, and culminating in having those goals manifested in the 100% construction contract documents, thus assuring the responsible implementation of those goals once the built project is realized.

More detailed discussion and updates to the status of S.L.V.W.D. Facilities Consolidation Project can be found here. For more information about Integrated Design Process, the American Institute of Architects has identified I.D.P. to be an essential to sustainable design practice. The resources they have compiled are available here.

The Cost Estimator’s Role in Architectural Design

It has been said that the only real building material is money.images

For an architect, the three key components informing the design process from day one forward are: what is the client’s program, what is the schedule, and what is the budget.

Establishing and then tracking the project budget is often the most underrated of these three considerations, and yet it is equally if not more important than any of the others. For it is the most assured of follies to proceed down the design path without knowing how much money is available to the project, design the project, and only then come to terms with the actualities of construction cost. For this reason, including a construction estimator on the design team is essential to the success of the project.

This is not a hard and fast rule, of course. Surely for the average residential bathroom or kitchen remodel ball-parking the construction cost may not be so difficult. But it is the rare case where the residential client has the wherewithal or the luxury to dispense entirely with obtaining periodic and reasonably accurate estimations of the projected cost of construction along the way. The old saw, “a fool and his money are soon parted” pertains especially to construction, and it’s the height of foolishness to ignore the realities attending to any construction budget.

Our firm’s small business, corporate, and institutional clients know this, and so it is routine for our firm to refer our private and public sector clients to 2-3 professional estimators, knowing that they will select among them to find the one most qualified to manage their construction costs on their proposed project from the moment of inception of our design. In that manner, working with the estimator to run budget figures at each phase of the design process we can be relatively assured that when the design is completed and is let to bid – having done our homework along the way – there are unlikely to be any surprises on the day of bid opening.

The homeowner is in a more challenging position in this regard. Often, the margins of their budget are thin and so, to shave costs, they refrain from retaining an estimator, avoiding what they might perceive to be an unnecessary expense. Inevitably in these cases they ask the architect to ballpark the costs for them. Being eager to please, all too often the architect is all too willing to accommodate this request. But architects are eternal optimists, and this well-meaning optimism can undermine the objectivity necessary to the task. More importantly, we architects are not as acquainted with the vagaries of the marketplace nor do most have the resources necessary to produce an accurate estimation of cost.

What is the necessary resource? For most builders, this resource is their network of local subcontractors. These are the “antenna” of the contractor, the eyes and ears on the ground. By relying on his/her subcontractors the estimating contractor is in a position to obtain up-to-date information and then furnish an approximation of the construction cost likely to accrue to the latest iteration of the design.

By analogy, the estimator can be thought of as the navigator charting the fog-shrouded waters of the construction budget. And that being the case, who would ever leave the anchorage of a safe port towards the farther shore without having a navigator on board?

A Brief Overview of the Construction Permit Process

building-codeAs anyone who has built any project knows, obtaining a building permit is a fact of life. Yet fewer people are aware that their dream of building or remodeling may also need to include obtaining a discretionary permit as well.
The permit process is divided into two realms, the zoning regulations and building codes. Building codes and the building permit process address the life-safety aspects posed by any new structure, including structural soundness, earthquake resistance standards, fire protection, etc.

Obtaining a basic building permit (also known as a ministerial permit) is a relatively simple, straightforward, and direct process. In the vast majority of cases, a ministerial permit is the only permit required.
Yet increasingly, obtaining a building permit may be only the second part of a two-stage process, and obtaining discretionary approvals are an increasingly apparent fact of life for permit-seekers.
Zoning standards regulate the impact any commercial or residential remodel has on the neighboring properties, and concerns the project’s outward i.e. public aspect. Zoning therefore regulates qualities such as height, massing, scale, appearance and aesthetics, and attempts to ensure that the improvement will “fit” into its surroundings, not overscale the immediate neighbor’s, interfere with views they may enjoy, nor with their inherent rights to sunlight, air, and privacy.
The approval obtained in this process is called a discretionary permit, so-called because its granting is at the discretion of the regulating authority – it is generally regarded as a privilege conferred, not a right granted to a property.

Understanding the fundamental structure as to how the permit process works is amongst the most important aspects informing any project. Having an overview of the generalities of the permit process and more specifically, a complete picture as to how your project will wend it’s way to the ultimate goal of obtaining approval, stamped and signed by the regulatory authority, is critical to your success.

Project Closeout: Planning Ahead is Key

1568864Whether you are a homeowner building your dream home, a business owner building a new headquarters, or a facilities manager charged with construction of a municipal facility, planning ahead is your key to success in terms of your orderly project closeout process.

What Is Project Closeout?

From the owner’s perspective, project closeout essentially means the closing out of the Owner-Contractor Agreement, effectively relieving the contractor of their responsibilities to the owner in terms of the physical realization of the project.

Thus, among other considerations, it entails transfer of responsibility and control of the jobsite from that held temporarily by the contractor during the course of construction back to the owner. It does not entail nor relieve the contractor of any post-construction obligations pertaining to the contract for construction, such as attending to any warranty considerations or any other obligations required of the contractor under the Owner-Contractor Agreement.

What Items are Tangential to Project Closeout?

Project Closeout signifies the end of a long-term transaction, a winding down as the owner prepares to assume occupancy.

During this interval a number of corollary transactions need to take place, including final payment to the contractor, issuance of the Certificate of Substantial Completion, obtaining the Occupancy Permit from the regulatory authorities, transfer of maintenance manuals from contractor to owner, the contractor’s attending to the punchlist, filing of Notice of Completion with County Recorder, obtaining Consent of Surety, avoidance &/or clearance of any mechanics liens, and releasing the contractor’s retainer.

Identifying these tangential items and approaching them in the right sequence and in an orderly and systematic manner can make the difference between success and failure in terms of project closeout.

The pitfalls accruing to ineffectual planning prior to this critical phase of the construction can be illustrated by the following three examples.

Memorializing the Final Completion Date

Identifying the specific date when the building is fit to be occupied for it’s intended use is an important milestone in the closeout process. The Certificate of Substantial Completion document (e.g. The American Institute of Architect’s Document G704) if used, memorializes the specific date and time of this occurrence.

If this date is not identified and signified by written instrument, the date on which all project warranties commence will not be identified, nor will those for owner’s obligations regarding operations, maintenance, security, insurance coverage, and utilities for the building.

Thus a gap can be created between the contractor’s and owner’s insurance coverage, leaving the parties vulnerable.

Consent of Surety

If the project is bonded, Consent of Surety Form will be required at the appropriate time in the closeout process. This form is normally submitted to the owner by the contractor along with the request for final payment. The contractor’s surety company executes this document, which is required to be notarized.

If the contractor omits to transfer this document, the owner’s failure to obtain this document could result in the surety company rejecting any claims the owner may have against the contractor’s bond.

Having a step-by-step procedure in place from the beginning will help avoid this worst-case scenario.

The Case of the “Never-Ending” Punchlist

Lack of communication between the performance and quality expectations of the owner and those the contractor can lead to vast misapprehension of Project requirements during execution of the punchlist during closeout.

If preparation of the Owner-Contractor Agreement is the beginning of the project and Project Close-out it’s ending, the time to identify expectations is at the beginning, before the contract is executed.

The notorious “never-ending” punchlist issue can easily be avoided during construction contract negotiation by making clear what quality standards will pertain to the Work, who is responsible for punchlist generation, when the punchlist is to be generated, and even details such as how many punchlist revisions may be required.

This forces both parties to be precise as to what is expected and protects the contractor from punchlist “creep” that expands its work.


The two most important considerations for owners of construction projects are 1). reliance upon the contractor’s project budget, and, 2). reliance upon the contractor’s schedule.

Considerable time and energy are invested by owners in coordinating the development of a new facility, and this investment involves much more than its physical construction – precious resources are brought to bear in developing the project concept, designing it, obtaining the requisite entitlements and approvals of the regulatory bodies, and bringing the facility to fruition.

Ineffectual prosecution of project closeout increases the owner’s costs. Closeout delays can cost administrative time for owners, dissatisfaction from building users, tension between project parties, and cash flow problems for smaller contractors and subcontractors.

Proper planning from the inception of the Owner-Contractor Agreement and adherence to a procedural format will help ensure that things do not go awry during the final, and perhaps most critical phase in the owner’s realization of their project.