Designing the plans
How to put your ideas to paper and make your dream home a reality.
Different designers might give them different names, but there are usually three stages during the design process:
- Initial sketch plans
- Developed designs
- Final documentation
By the end of this process, you should have a set of detailed and priced designs from which your chosen builder and tradies can create your new and improved home.
Phase 1: Initial sketch plans
After your initial meet-and-greet with your chosen designer, they’ll go away and draw some initial sketches. These might also be called concept plans, or preliminary or discussion drawings.
These won’t be detailed and could even be drawn by hand – depending on how they work – but they will give you an idea of how the designer sees your renovation taking shape. The drawings are likely to include a floor plan and perspective drawings from various angles. They will also consider site conditions, your budget, and any local planning requirements.
While this is only the first phase, it’s important to nail down the details.
What’s definite and what might change?
Be clear about what you know you want and what you might want to change later, as once the detailed drawings are done it’s harder – meaning, more expensive – to change. That’s especially the case once construction is under way.
Have some technical limits been discovered?
Are there any new height restrictions, boundary or site situation issues that mean you have to alter the plans?
How will your design deal with your site’s environmental conditions?
Can it be sheltered from the wind, yet still take advantage or the sun or the shade?
Does it fit your budget?
Be sure to ask for rough cost estimates to see how the design suits your budget. Many renovations start aspirational but get scaled back from the initial designs. Building costs per square metre fluctuate, so keep checking that estimated cost to minimise surprises.
Will it be easy to maintain?
Ask whether any of the proposed materials need special maintenance. Think about what access might be needed to maintain or fix things in the future.
Will the council OK it?
Apply for a project information memorandum (PIM) from the council, which is confirmation you can build what’s designed subject to the necessary resource and building consents. While your designer should do this for you, it pays to check.
How’s it going?
At this point, you must decide if you feel comfortable with your designer. Do you feel good about going through the whole process with them? Are they listening to you? Do you like their work so far? That’s includes their manner and how they’re communicating with you, as well as their designs. If you aren’t happy, don’t feel bad about letting them go and trying someone else. It’s entirely usual to go through this initial phase with more than one designer. Remember, building is expensive and stressful. You must have someone you trust alongside you.
Phase 2: The developed designs
Once you’re happy – both with the designer and the initial or concept plans – they’ll draw up developed designs. These build on the initial plans and include any changes for which you’ve asked.
Now is when you confirm what materials to use. What will you choose for the exterior cladding, flooring, roofing, windows, doors and interior fittings and fixtures? Also discuss where essentials such as power points (you can never have enough!), cable jacks, exterior taps, lighting location, attic access will go.
That includes considering things such as what type of audio you’re setting up or where is the TV going so it can be wired with cabling for internet access. Do you need to think about where you’ll place the WiFi router?
Do you need a second opinion?
If your designs are cutting-edge and innovative, a second opinion to check the designs are workable might be a good idea. Consider getting another architect or building consultant to review it just in case your or your designer’s ideas aren’t achievable – as much as you might want a distinctive and eye-catching home.
How much could it cost?
Surprises during a renovation are almost inevitable, but you don’t want cost to be one of them. While it’s impossible to pinpoint costs to the dollar, for more certainty at this stage it could be good to get a quantity surveyor (QS) to give you a solid estimate of your job.
While your plans aren’t yet finalised, try to be as accurate as possible at this point so the QS has the best quality information to work with (more about what a QS does, especially to support the tender process, is on pX).
Renovation vs rebuild
It’s worthwhile, at this point, thinking about whether doing a massive renovation is the right thing. Are you better off knocking your house down and starting with a clean slate? With a new home, the design and build process is generally quite straightforward if it’s planned well, as there are few surprises to deal with as construction progresses.
In comparison, a renovation or house extension means your designer must work with the existing footprint and style of the home. They also won’t know the state of everything until construction gets going – by which time it’s expensive to make sudden changes. It’s not unusual for the designer to go back to the drawing board and start over if the home has serious structural issues.
If it’s your beloved family home or the house has heritage value, it’s a different equation. However, it’s worth taking time to balance the costs and benefits of renovating versus rebuilding.
Phase 3: Final plans and specifications
This third phase in the planning process is when you finalise all the documentation. This includes the detailed drawings, showing all specifications, including claddings, ventilation, natural lighting, wall and roof bracing.
Your plans must be very detailed by this stage as they are used:
- in the tendering process to get quotes from contractors, subcontractors and quantity surveyors (if you choose to get an estimate)
- to gain building consents
- as a blueprint for construction when the build begins.
It’s a no-brainer how essential accurate plans are. The designer likely won’t be on site every day – if at all, depending on what you’ve contracted them for – so their plans must be completely clear for the builder to follow.
Detailed and correctly drawn plans can save all sorts of arguments – and costs – during construction. If there’s a dispute over what should go where, what wasn’t priced, or what products should have been used, things can get messy and expensive. It can also create difficulties in getting a Code Compliance Certificate.
Check costs against the budget
A cost estimate by your designer or a quantity surveyor may have already sparked a rethink of your designs, but you may need to do that again when the tenders come in. If you need to scale back, talk to your builder and designer to see where savings can be made. Don’t hold back – the earlier in the process that variations are made, the easier (and cheaper).
Builders are skilled and practical people who have likely faced almost every kind of design and construction conundrum, so they can often provide practical solutions. But be aware that only licensed building practitioners can design certain aspects of your home that constitutes restricted building work. These are things, for example, that affect weathertightness or the building’s main structure. It also covers most plumbing, gasfitting and electrical work. If you have an excellent idea passed on to you from an unlicensed source, you can always pass the message back to your designer to check and make the change.
Check your consents and finances
If you already have your building consent but have made substantial changes to your plans, you may need to apply for a building consent amendment.
Double check your finances, too. Do you need to go to the bank for more money? You do not want to run out financing during construction, so make sure you have enough to cover your costs.