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Plans - a 3-stage process

There are normally three stages to the plans that the designer will draw. (Depending on who you are talking to they might give different names to these stages, so they are all noted here.)

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  • The initial sketch plans (or concept, preliminary or discussion drawings).
  • The developed designs.
  • The final documentation, (tender, building consent, construction or working drawings and specifications).

1. Initial sketch plans

After you have briefed your architect/designer, they will go away and draw up some initial sketches or concept plans. These will give you an idea of how they see the house taking shape. They are likely to include a floor plan and a perspective drawing from various angles. They take into account site conditions, your budget, and any special town planning requirements.

This is the time when you:

  • Sort out what you like and what you want to change on the initial sketches. Changing your mind later, when the detailed drawings have been done, or once construction has started, will be more costly.
  • Consider some of the technical limits that have arisen, such as height restrictions or how the house might fit on the section.
  • Discuss with your designer how the building will cope with the environmental conditions such as protection from the wind, dealing with weathertightness, and energy efficiency.
  • See how it is all going to impact on your budget. Your architect/designer should be able to guide you here.
  • Ask about future maintenance issues, for example, do the materials require special maintenance or what special access may be required.
  • Decide if you feel comfortable with your chosen person to go right through the whole process with them. Don’t feel bad about letting someone go. It’s not unusual for people to brief more than one person to prepare the initial sketch plans before finding someone they are confident to proceed with.
  • Apply for a Project Information Memorandum (PIM) from the council. A PIM will include confirmation that you can build the house subject to the necessary resource and building consents. This will normally be done by the architect/designer on your behalf if it’s in their brief.

2. Developed designs

Once you have a set of agreed concept plans, your architect/designer will draw up the developed designs which include the changes you’ve asked for in the initial sketch plans.

If not already done, now is the time to find out whether you will need resource consent, for example, if the house is going to be built closer to the boundary than allowed on the district plan.

At this stage, if the design is particularly cutting-edge, you might decide to get a second opinion for assurance that it is workable. One option is to pay another architect or building consultant to review it for you.

You will also discuss the materials you will use – the exterior cladding, flooring, roofing, windows, doors and interior fittings and fixtures - with the architect/designer. Also talk about power points, cable jacks, exterior taps, light location, attic access, etc.

At this stage you may use a quantity surveyor to estimate the costs of the project before you put the job out for tender and get closer to an accurate budget. To find out about the work of a quantity surveyor look at the New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors website

3. Final plans and specifications

The final documentation (tender, construction, or working drawings and specifications), includes detailed drawings as well as specifications for every feature, such as claddings, ventilation, natural lighting, wall and roof bracing, etc.

The plans are used:

  • In the tendering process to get quotes from contractors, subcontractors and perhaps quantity surveyors.
  • To gain building consents.
  • By the builder and contractors contracted to build the house as the blueprint for the construction.

Some design work will have to be done or supervised by a licensed building practitioner. For example, anything related to the main structure. Your council will be able to advise you on this, or you can go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

When the costs come in you may need to revise your plans and talk to your builder, architect/designer or quantity surveyor to see where savings can be made. If you have your building consent, changes to the plans may mean that you need to apply for an amendment to the building consent.

At this stage you can go to the bank to finalise your finance if you haven’t already done so.

Good plans will save arguments during construction – if the plans aren’t clear or full enough they can be misinterpreted by you or the builder, leading to disputes over what was or was not priced and which systems and products should be used. This could also create difficulties in getting a code compliance certificate.

Interior design

Many architects work with an interior designer or do the interior designing themselves.

Or you may prefer to hire your own interior designer, or do it yourself, but it is important that everyone is comfortable working together.

You can decide every detail, right down to taps, in the specifications for the final plans. Or the architect can set aside a fixed sum for some things, for example, hardware and light-fittings. These are known as prime cost sums (PC sums).

This leaves you to choose the items yourself. If you choose the most expensive items, you will need to find extra money over and above the PC sums to pay for them. which include the changes you’ve asked for in the initial sketch plans.

Case study

Doug used a draughtsman to design his new house in order to save money on more expensive designers fees. However, he got very frustrated over the amount of time it took to complete the plans, which were being drawn by hand, as apposed to using a CAD (computer automated design) system.

A CAD system would have enabled alterations to be made instantly, and let him see the effect. Instead, when he made changes, the plans were then re-drawn over the following weeks, and often required further revision and re-drawing.

By the time the plans were finished, so much time had passed that the building quotes Doug had originally received had gone up about 10%. He says that, in hindsight, he wishes he had gone to a designer/builder who used a CAD system, could have produced the plans quicker, and who would have had a more realistic and practical idea of the costs involved.


Specific, adjustable amounts allowed in the contract for the supply of required materials, for example, hardware and plumbing ware.

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