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Building a New House – Initial Steps in Developing Plans in Florida and Other Areas
Buildings in any area of Miami or South Florida are completely different from buildings in any area of the country. While most of the East Coast of the United States and the rest of the country build homes with wood framing and brick or wood siding finishes, South Florida builds with concrete block and concrete.
Quality vs. Price
Structures in this area should be very strong due to storm surge. While the rest of the country looks down on us because they only use concrete block in their basements, for my money, I really like concrete and block construction. Concrete blocks do not get termites and do not rot. Hence, a concrete block structure lasts for 100 years or more with almost no maintenance. Unfortunately, most homes in Miami have wooden trusses with plywood sheathing for the roof, followed by roofing paper and shingles or concrete tiles on top. This type of construction is not particularly good at resisting hurricane wind conditions. Although the Florida Building Code has done its best to improve the requirements for installing roof sheathing and roof finishes, it cannot begin to compare to the strength of the roof if concrete slabs were used for the roof structure.
So why, if we know this, don’t we build with concrete slab roofs? Cost – The only reason is cost. It is very expensive to design and install a concrete slab roof, especially to get a concrete tile finish on a slope.
So the first thing a homeowner should establish at the beginning of the new home design process is how much the owner wants to spend on construction. There are cheap and expensive ways to build a house. This is an issue that will come up many times during the design and construction process.
But to determine the budget, the homeowner first needs to establish the square footage of the new home. To establish the total square footage, he will need to generate a schedule for the house. The program is a list of rooms with their corresponding sizes.
See a sample list as follows:
Living Room 240 square feet
Dining Room 120 square feet
Kitchen 170 square feet
Family Room 240 square feet
Master Bedroom 240 square feet
Master Bath 64 square feet
Bedroom No. 2 216 square feet
Bedroom No. 3 192 square feet
Bath No. 2 36 square feet
Laundry Room 100 square feet
Linen closet 9 square feet
A/C Closet 9 square feet
Total Square Feet = 1,636
Circulation and walls 20% = 1,634 square feet = 327 square feet
Total = 1,634 + 327 = 1,961 square feet
So now we have a basic idea of the major spaces of the house and approximately how many total square feet a home owner will need for a house.
Also, this is a good time to decide if there will be any outdoor spaces, such as a covered terrace or pergola. These are especially nice additions to indoor spaces in Florida. There’s no reason to spend all your time in air-conditioned indoor spaces with the wonderful temperatures during winter.
So what will a house under 2000 square feet cost in South Florida? There is no magic formula to determine this. The cost of the house depends on many things that are related to the design, such as: the type of roof, the height of the ceiling(s), the complexity of the design, the finish, whether it is going to be septic. Type of tank or sewer, and foundation. Then, there are those costs that have nothing to do with the design, such as the location of the home, how busy the contractors are, how familiar and reliable the contractor is, etc. Because of all the items discussed above that vary wildly, at this time a range of $150 to $250 per square foot can be used for a house that is not very elaborate with standard construction. So if we go back to the example. 2,000 square feet of real estate will cost between $300,000 and $500,000.
The Miami-Dade County Building Department does not require plans for single-family residences to be signed and stamped by an architect or engineer. This is not true for all municipalities in the region. For example, Coral Gables requires all plans to be signed and stamped by the architect. But for all practical purposes the amount of information that must be included in a set of plans in any municipality within Miami-Dade County, most of the time, requires the hiring of several professionals: an architect, an MEP engineer, and a structural engineer. MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. A mechanical engineer designs air conditioners, an electrical engineer designs electronics including lighting, and a plumbing engineer designs plumbing. A structural engineer designs the structure and provides the necessary structural calculations for the building envelope. The architect designs the entire house and coordinates everyone’s work. Coordination of all disciplines may be the architect’s most important role because without coordination there can be real conflict during the construction phase. Although it is legal to produce plans on your own in some parts of the county, it would be a daunting task to produce construction drawings for a permit (unless the homeowner has a construction background with actual experience and knowledge of the Florida Building Code. Local zoning codes).
What do these design services cost the homeowner? They also vary greatly but there is also a range between good, established professionals. This range will be from 6% to 10% of the construction cost for the permitted schemes for all subjects. Services during the construction phase are usually charged separately on an hourly basis or in a separate package.
The style of the house
Another important decision to make early is the style of the home. There are basically three styles popular for home design in South Florida – modern, Mediterranean, and Key West.
Once the homeowner has decided what styles they want, it is important to communicate the style and details to the architect. The best way to get an architect to understand what he wants is either through magazine photos or actual photos of other homes.
Choose an architect
Now that you have the basics, the next step is to choose your architect. This is very important because this is the person with whom you will work very closely in the next year.
Take a survey from the land that has existed since the time you closed on your mortgage. If you have lost it or it is too old or incorrect, the architect will arrange for you to update it or make a new one.
Ask to see photos of his work. Ask for references. Ask questions. Ask him/her how he/she approaches the project. Start by understanding if this is someone you can work with. Do you like the dominant style of the architect’s work? Do you like his work? Ask about the process. Ask what you should expect in the way of his services. Ask him to show you plans for a similar project.
People are individuals and all are unique. I remember how many people hired me because they liked my “Mediterranean” or “Spanish” style or my modern or post-modern style. One person told me he hired me because I returned his phone calls promptly. The chemistry between people is meaningful. Don’t discount your initial impressions.
Generally, construction documents consist of several parts: drawings, specifications, instructions to bidders, and appendices. Typically, when an architect handles the construction bid phase for an owner, he or she selects the type of contract the owner will have with the contractor. This document is also part of the construction document.
Drawings are a key part of the job, serving as a step-by-step guide for the contractor to use during construction along with the specifications. Sometimes on larger projects, the specifications are kept in a separate book called a project manual. In most residential projects, specifications are usually covered as notes on the drawings. Detailed interiors are packaged separately by the architect and charged separately.
Construction documents are generated in stages from general to detailed. I like to divide my projects into 4 phases: preliminary design, design development, 50% construction documents, and 100% construction documents. Each step builds on the previous step until the architect feels that the drawings are coordinated across the various disciplines and are ready to be submitted for permitting.
With careful planning and communication with your architect, his good drawings and coordination and the careful selection of a reputable contractor, your new home project should flow without major problems. Although there are often times when orders change due to unforeseen circumstances or changes the owner wants to implement, most issues must be resolved before construction begins.
For more information on the role of the architect during construction, see my other article on the role of the architect during the construction process posted here.
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